Churches face issues brought up by past week’s deadly spa shootings

Crabapple First Baptist Church, where the Atlanta shooting suspect Robert Aaron Long was an active member, in Milton, Ga., March 17, 2021. The man accused of killing eight people at spas was a churchgoer who told officers he was addicted to sex. Parts of evangelical culture imply that sexual sins are more serious than others. (Nicole Craine/The New York Times)
Crabapple First Baptist Church, where the Atlanta shooting suspect Robert Aaron Long was an active member, in Milton, Ga., March 17, 2021. The man accused of killing eight people at spas was a churchgoer who told officers he was addicted to sex. Parts of evangelical culture imply that sexual sins are more serious than others. (Nicole Craine/The New York Times)

Less than a week since a shooting spree at three spas in Atlanta and Cherokee County, metro congregations tackled the issues raised by the deadly violence.

Of the eight victims killed, six of them were women of Asian ancestry — which has led to a national outcry over racism and rising hate against Asians. One of the metro churches that dealt with the tragedy head-on also made clear its stand about one of its own being the man accused of eight murders.

Members of Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton voted Sunday to expel Robert Aaron Long, the suspect in the spa shootings, from membership.

The vote was taken immediately after Sunday services ended and the church later handed out a statement that the move was “in accordance with the biblical pattern and our church bylaws.”

It went on to state that the church would no longer “affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.”

Long, 21, of Woodstock, and his family have attended the conservative church for years.

Even before that announcement, services started out on a somber note.

Explore"A crime against all of us." Grief, outrage after deadly spa shootings

Associate pastor and elder Luke Folsom called the shootings “inexcusable” and described the congregation was “brokenhearted.”

A woman came to the front of the church to read the names of each victim, followed by a minute of silence.

ExploreSuspect's church call spa shootings a "rebellion" against God

Folsom said the congregation is reminded of the “enormity of the loss and destruction inflicted” on the eight victims, he said.

He said asked members to keep them and the Long family lifted in prayer.

Long, whom police said admitted he was the shooter but claimed he was battling a sex addiction, has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault — one person in the shootings survived with serious injuries.

ExploreSpa shooting suspects parents turned him in

Senior pastor Jerry Dockery said Crabapple members and the wider community are struggling with emotions as they seek answers.

“All our hearts are broken,” he said.

He said he has been in contact with Long’s relatives, who are filled with grief and sadness.

Dockery asked God to give the families “hope. Give them peace that is beyond human comprehension. Enable them to look to You for help as they walk this hard path.”

ExploreAfter shooting deaths, faith leaders grapple with deep questions

In Stonecrest, the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, used part of his second anniversary celebration at the megachurch to address the deadly rampage.

“We understand intimately what racism looks like in this America,” he said. “We know what it feels like to be judged by the color of your skin and not the content of your character.”

Maggie Mers, an official with the National Association of Chinese-Americans, joins the Rev. Jamal Bryant at Sunday's service at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church on March 21, 2021. (Photo: New Birth livestream)
Maggie Mers, an official with the National Association of Chinese-Americans, joins the Rev. Jamal Bryant at Sunday's service at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church on March 21, 2021. (Photo: New Birth livestream)

Credit: New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

Credit: New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

He said the Asian American and the African American communities “stand with a united front, realizing that America will never be able to divide us,” he said. “When we come together, we force America to be great.”

Maggie Mers, senior vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of Chinese-Americans, joined Bryant and other leaders from the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

Mers said in a later interview that it was moving to have such support from New Birth and the larger community.

“The whole purpose was to stand in unity and solidarity against the violence, hatred and discrimination,” she said. “You cannot just take innocent lives. We need take to live in peace, not fear.”

Also on Sunday, Hee Sung Shin, the English minister for the Atlanta Chinese Christian Church North in Johns Creek, read a statement to the congregation during the service.

He wanted to let them know that the leadership was there to offer words of encouragement and comfort “for those who are really struggling and afraid. In addition, for those who are inspired to do something about this, I affirmed their passion for advocacy and involvement. I also wanted to call them to pray for all that is going on and to know that the hope of salvation and change comes from Jesus Christ.”

In the statement, he said “It’s shocking and disturbing that these hate crimes took place in our own city. In fact, the young man who committed these murders was baptized in a church only twenty minutes away from our own. Sometimes these tragic events hit too close to home.”

He said there are members in the congregation who are afraid. “We do have small business owners, so there’s resonance there. We also have retirees and singles who are afraid. I wanted to let them know we understand. We emphathize and we want to help. Not everybody may share that fear and that’s OK.”

If anyone in the church wants to talk, he and others are prepared to be there. If someone wants a more professional setting, they can refer them to social workers, he said.

A service was held at one of the shooting sites Sunday, and pastor Jun-hyup Lee of Immanuel Korean United Methodist in Marietta told The Washington Post that faith leaders planned the service in an effort to organize the community to become more active around racial and social justice efforts.

He said he hoped the service organized by several metro Korean churches was just the beginning of such efforts.

Meanwhile, as Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church was celebrating its 135th anniversary, the events of the past week didn’t go unnoticed.

The Rev. William J. Barber II, who helps run the Poor People’s Campaign, was the guest preacher Sunday and he called on churches like historic Ebenezer to step up in such trying times.

”When we see people willing to strike down Asian women and murder them, the church must say, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute, that’s not right, that’s not love, that not God,” Barber said.

Staff writers Ernie Suggs, Kenneth Musisi and Asia Simone Burns contributed to this article.

In Other News