In the days following a tragic shooting inside a California elementary school that left two victims and the suspect dead, news reports helped draw a clearer picture about alleged gunman, Cedric Anderson.
But one aspect of Anderson’s life that hasn’t been the subject of much debate ― and rightly so ― is his faith. And the reason for that is a religious double standard that’s become too consequential not to talk about.
Anderson was a devout Christian. And a very vocal one at that. What happened in San Bernardino was a tragedy in every way, first and foremost. There’s no justifying this kind of violence, no matter the religion of the perpetrator.
That being said, it’s also worth noting how coverage of the attack demonstrates the position of privilege that the Christian faith enjoys in this country.
Anderson’s public Facebook feed, which has been turned into a memorial account, is filled with long, sermon-like posts praising God, warning Christians to prepare for the Final Judgment, and sharing fiery passages from a book in the Bible that predicts the end of the world.
He would often share Facebook posts from a Christian life coach. It seems he was also a fan of Pastor Rick Warren, a popular Christian author and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, an evangelical megachurch with multiple branches in California.
Anderson was described as a pastor who would sometimes preach on the radio. Najee Ali, a community activist who knew Anderson, told The Los Angeles Times that the shooter was a “deeply religious man.”
But despite the religious fervor Anderson demonstrated before going on his killing spree, there were no calls for Christian organizations and leaders to publicly condemn the attack. There were no attempts to dig through the Bible for verses that tell of the abuse and subjugation of women (even though these verses certainly exist). President Donald Trump hasn’t linked the shooting to radical Christian terrorism ― in fact, he hasn’t mentioned the shooting on Twitter at all.
On the other hand, Trump found the time to tweet about another tragic attack in San Bernardino ― the 2015 massacre caused by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, which claimed the lives of 14 people.
A few days later, the then-presidential candidate called for a “total” ban on Muslims entering the United States. After issuing a modified version of the ban as an executive order in January 2017, the Trump administration has repeatedly pointed to the 2015 San Bernardino shooting to justify the president’s actions.
Because Christianity is familiar and widespread in America, it is easier for people to separate the violent ideology of Christians like Dylann Roof, Robert Doggart, Scott Roeder, and Robert Dear, from the prayerful and peaceful nature of the vast majority, and to point to other factors that may have contributed to the suspect’s state of mind. When violence is perpetrated by Christians in America, the default is to believe that religious identity is just a part of the whole story, and not a sign of extremism.
When violence is perpetrated by Christians in America, the default is to believe that religious identity is just a part of the whole story, and not a sign of extremism.
But this default isn’t always available to other religious groups, such as American Muslims.
America’s double standard on violence committed by Muslims and Christians has been documented by The Public Religion Research Institute. In a report released at the end of 2015, 75 percent of people surveyed said that self-described Christians who commit acts of violence in the name of Christianity aren’t really Christian. On the other hand, only 50 percent say the same about Muslims who commit acts of violence in the name of Islam.
The double standard was most evident in white evangelical Protestants, the religious group most likely to have voted for Trump. Only 11 percent said that Christians who commit violence in the name of religion are really Christian. In contrast, 45 percent believed that Muslims who commit violence in the name of religion are really Muslim.
This bias comes out in how white evangelicals think about policies that affect religious minorities. Many approved of Trump’s travel ban (76 percent) and say they are “very concerned” about extremism happening in the name of Islam in the United States (69 percent).
This despite the fact that, as HuffPost’s Melissa Jeltsen reports, there have been 71 deaths due to extremist attacks on U.S. soil from 2005 to 2015. In contrast, women are killed by their intimate partners in America nearly every day.
This bias also comes out in the way media outlets report on violence.
Take the 2015 attack in San Bernardino for example. After that tragedy, reporters from several news networks crowded into the couple’s apartment. On live television, they pointed out objects in the home that were signs of Farook and Malik’s Muslim faith ― a Quran, a tapestry with Arabic writing, a prayer rug.
In response, American Muslims began tweeting out photos of their homes with the hashtag #MuslimApartment. The organizers said this hashtag highlighted the “disgusting fetishization and fascination” reporters had with commonplace items that many American Muslims may have in their homes.
Yes, Farook and Malik were extremists. But these religious items are not in themselves evidence of extremism. Like Bibles, rosaries, and prayer journals, these objects are just examples of how people connect with their faith.
It’s important to call out these double standards because they are the biases that lead toward policies that unfairly target and dehumanize religious minorities.
In the end, does it matter that Cedric Anderson identified as a Christian? Absolutely not. His religious fervor, however sincere it may have been, does not reflect the fervor that inspires Christians around the world to care for the poor and homeless, fight for the rights of the marginalized, stand up for immigrants and refugees, and fulfill the Biblical command to take care of the earth.
It’s a matter of giving that same grace to Muslims, atheists, and people of other faiths and none.