The make-believe tale of Cassie Bernall’s “martyrdom” at Columbine has exerted a powerful grip on the imagination of Christian teenagers.
After Columbine, martyrdom became a powerful fantasy for Christian teenagers
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But if you were a Christian teenager in 1999, the word “Columbine” doesn’t just make you remember feeling suddenly unsafe in places you thought were okay. It’s synonymous with both a whole cottage industry that sprang up around the shooting, a raft of commercial products that retold its stories — sometimes with dubious connection to the facts — and an ethos of martyrdom that seems in retrospect to have summed up what it was to be a youth-group kid at the turn of the last century.
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And as the public mourning began to fade and the FBI conducted its investigation, it started to become clear that the story about Bernall, in particular, was probably falsely reported. It was likely another girl entirely, Val Schnurr, who told Klebold — not Harris — that she believed in God before he shot her in the school library. (Schnurr survived.) Bernall was also in the library, though further from Klebold, and Harris did find her. But later eyewitnesses stated that Harris found her cowering under a table, said “Peekaboo,” and then shot her, without Bernall uttering a word.
The eyewitness accounts seemed to point to the fact that Bernall was tragically murdered but that the martyrdom story was built on false evidence.
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“You will never change the story of Cassie,” says Dave McPherson, the pastor at the Bernalls’ church. To illustrate how far it has gone, he tells a story of traveling to a remote church in Sudan a few months after the shooting. The congregation’s first request was that he tell the story of Saint Cassie.
“The church,” he says, by which he means Catholic and Protestant, worldwide, “is going to stick to the martyr story. It’s the story they heard first, and circulated for six months uncontested. You can say it didn’t happen that way, but the church won’t accept it. To the church, Cassie will always say yes, period.”
This would be a good time to pick-up a copy of Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution, an outstanding book that shows that most of the so-called martyrdoms under Rome were embellished and arose not from persecution but prosecution. That is, Roman Christians who obeyed the law were left alone, and those who wouldn’t obey the law were prosecuted.
Don’t miss the story about the crowd of Christians who showed-up at some Governor’s home one morning and demanded martyrdom, and were told to go home.