”Those who say that we’re in a time when there are no heroes, just don’t know where to look.”
– Ronald Reagan
On April 16, 1789, a hero left Virginia. His name was George Washington – a retired general who led the Continental Army in victory during the Revolutionary War. At 57, he left Mount Vernon for New York for his inauguration as the first American president.
On April 16, 2007, more heroes left Virginia. This time they were students and professors at Virginia Tech University – 32 to be exact. And like those on 9/11, they were martyrs in a war they weren’t fighting – unintentional patriots caught in a head-on clash with our culture’s values, denials and degradation.
What the families of the victims need most
Like the rest of the nation, my wife, Gena, and I sat stunned as we watched the television reports on what Virginia Tech University President Charles W. Steger called ”a tragedy of monumental proportions.”
We too join with the world community in praying for all the victims and their families. We also pray for the family of 23-year-old killer Cho Seung-Hui, who will bear a particularly haunting burden and unwanted brand for the rest of their lives. As the president of the National Clergy Council, Rev. Rob Schenck, recommended:
The best and only thing most of us can do for these victims is to offer our prayers for them and their families, mindful of St. Paul’s prayer to ”the father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” Prayer is not only a powerful healing agent in itself, but it sends a strong message of solidarity with these families.
Heroes from the holocaust to Norris hall
Most have heard by now of the heroic measures of people like 76-year-old Virginia Tech professor and Holocaust survivor, Liviu Librescu, who shielded his students when the shooter tried to enter a classroom. The Jerusalem Post cited his son Joe: “My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee. Students started opening windows and jumping out.” Librescu was killed by the gunman, and last Thursday he was given an honorable burial in Israel – one fit for a hero.
As one blog notes, there were several valiant students too.
During Monday’s tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, college senior Kevin Sterne grabbed an electrical cord and fashioned a tourniquet to stem the bleeding from the bullet wounds to his thigh. Twenty-year-old Derek O’Dell, who had been shot in the arm, shut the classroom door and along with some other students, pushed himself against it so the gunman, who had briefly left the classroom, couldn’t reenter. Twenty-year-old Trey Perkins used his clothing to staunch the wounds of bleeding classmates.
As time goes by, I’m sure that we will hear more heroic deeds. Truly, every victim of this reprehensible executioner is in some way heroic, for they were injured or died in the midst of a cultural war in which our schools increasingly have become a battleground. As Dr. Marisa Randazzo, a psychologist who contributed to an extensive study of school shootings for the Secret Service, concurred, ”… the intensity and frequency of the attacks have increased since the events at Columbine.”
Are we partially to blame?
Though one can point to Cho’s own psychotic behavior and our graphic slasher media as potential contributors to his deplorable murder spree, we must also hesitate to consider how we as a society are possibly contributing to the growth of these academic killing fields. I believe those who wield the baton of the secular progressive agenda bear significant responsibility for the escalation of school shootings. Even conservatives who refuse to speak when evil flourishes must acknowledge some culpability.
We teach our children they are nothing more than glorified apes, yet we don’t expect them to act like monkeys. We place our value in things, yet expect our children to value people. We disrespect one another, but expect our children to respect others. We terminate children in the womb, but are surprised when children outside the womb terminate other children. We push God to the side, but expect our children to be godly. We’ve abandoned moral absolutes, yet expect our children to obey the universal commandment, ”Thou shalt not murder.”
Though I respect the Buddhist, Muslim and Jew who shared at the VTU convocation, our country needs to return and call out to the God of our founders, Jesus Christ. As Reverend Schenck concludes:
When kids kill kids, there’s something desperately wrong in the culture. No amount of laws, police officers, courts or prisons can stop a murder from happening. Only a conscience built on the fear of God can do that. Whether it’s teaching the sanctity of life or God’s commandment against murder, Christian leaders must tell young people that accountability for doing wrong doesn’t stop with death. We will ultimately face God as a righteous judge. People who contemplate committing this kind of act need to know that.
If we are ever to restore civility in our land and our schools, we must turn back the clocks to a time when such shocking crimes didn’t even exist – when we valued life and respected one another much more then we do today. We must use the Bible (humanity’s blueprint for life and ”bluebook” for value) to retrain our youth about theirs and others’ value as children of God, made in His image. We must each contribute to rebuild the infrastructure of our homes, schools, and society upon respect. Instilling strong moral character is at the heart of why I started Kickstart in schools across Texas and hope eventually to fill the schools across this land.
Heroes and models of hope
While psychologists and prognosticators will continue for months to use investigative probes to understand the whys of this mass slaughter, I’m very concerned we don’t give another domestic act of terror an opportunity to intensify and even warrant our fears, hatred and bitterness.
I hope and pray, in due time, we personally can win the battle for our minds and hearts, like the Amish did when shooters came into their schools months ago and took their own. Rod Dreher, from the Dallas Morning News, wrote about how their faith brought them freedom, “But sometimes, faith helps ordinary men and women do the humanly impossible: to forgive, to love, to heal, and to redeem. It makes no sense. It is the most sensible thing in the world. The Amish have turned this occasion of spectacular evil into a bright witness to hope. Despite everything, a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Other great models of mercy and forgiveness are Darrell and Craig Scott, the father and brother of the first victim of the Columbine High School massacre, Rachel Scott. Shortly before her death, she wrote in a school essay, ”I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same.”
I agree with Rachel, and so does her family, who carries on her compassion and benevolent dare through Rachel’s Challenge, a nationwide school outreach program for the prevention of teen violence. I was so moved by her life and faith that I dedicated my autobiography, “Against All Odds,” to her.
Like I’m sure some heroes at Virginia Tech, Rachel refused to compromise her faith in God, even in the face of death. This poem, written by her father, Darrell Scott, aptly describes the problems we face, and provides the answer, for those courageous enough to believe:
Your laws ignore our deepest needs
Your words are empty air
You’ve stripped our heritage,
You’ve outlawed simple prayer
Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question, ”Why?”
You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed,
And you fail to understand
That God is what we need!
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