The world’s trouble erupts in Nashville: Who can bear such a crime and its heartbreak?

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
April 29, 2023

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus told His disciples. Christians know this to be true, but sometimes the trouble seems more than believers can bear. On Monday, horrifying trouble came to The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., where an assailant killed six people—three 9-year-old children and three adult workers at the Christian school.

The Covenant School is a seriously Christian school that is housed at Covenant Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church in America congregation in the Green Hills area of Nashville. The peace of that school was violated on Monday when a 28-year old woman, reported to have been a former student at the school, entered the facility with violence and then unleashed deadly violence, killing the six victims before being killed by Nashville police.

The attack on the school was premeditated and carefully planned. Police said that the shooter had devised a careful plan and written some form of a manifesto. Though originally described as a teenager, the shooter was later identified as Audrey Hale, a 28-year-old, who had attended the school years earlier.

The sheer horror of the murderous plan staggers the imagination. Killing 9-year-olds? Shooting school administrators many years after being a student? Informed by Biblical realism and the Christian doctrine of sin, believers know that sinful humanity is capable of unspeakable sin. But this?

Very quickly, the story unfolded with unexpected revelations and unprecedented confusions. At first, media attention focused on the fact that the shooter was a woman. Emily Schmall of The New York Times reported on Monday that female mass shooters in the United States “are extremely rare.” The article cited Jillian Peterson of Hamline University as saying, “While there have been women and girls who have fired guns at school, this is the first female shooter to kill four or more people.” The Times report also stated the norm: “The archetypical mass shooter is young and male.”

The Associated Press reported that the assailant was “a female shooter.” Then the story quickly began to change. Many digital reports were altered to remove any gender reference or pronouns. Law enforcement and media statements indicated that Audrey Hale identified as transgender or as a “transgender male.” The national media, having focused on female identity as the first storyline, quickly sought to conform to modern gender and sexual ideology by changing “woman” to “transgender man.” The Washington Post referred to “the shooter” without gender but also indicated the transgender identity. In the same article, a spokesman for the Nashville police just stated, “Audrey Hale is a biological woman who, on social media, used male pronouns.”

A statement by Nashville’s police chief indicated that Hale had left a “manifesto” and that the transgender dimension may have played a part. “There is some theory to that,” he said.  

Within hours, some figures jumped on the transgender angle and argued that the shooting would be used by conservatives for political advantage. A trans writer in the San Francisco Chronicle said that media reports on the shooter’s transgender identity had sparked “panic among many in the trans community over potential conservative reprisals.” A Los Angeles Times report on the shooting put the focus clearly on “a growing culture war over LGBTQ rights,” noting quickly that conservative legislators in Tennessee recently “banned gender-affirming care for transgender youth and barred drag queens or other ‘male or female impersonators’ from performing anywhere near children.” All this within hours of the horrific murder of young children and school administrators. Many in the media joined LGBTQ activists in trying to bend the story from a female shooter to a transgender male shooter and then to set the context as a backlash to conservative Christianity and a threat to the LGBTQ community. 

Beyond that unfolding storyline was the urgent sense that some motive must explain this targeted attack on a school, including young children. Nashville police hinted at a motive without making any significant revelation, other than the existence of a manifesto (not yet released to the public). A London newspaper claimed that Hale had been angry that her parents had forced her to attend the school and later rejected her transgender identity. Interestingly, CNN’s Laura Coates seemed to defend the search for a motive by arguing (quite correctly) that a motive is not justification for the crime.  

Christians know that the hunger for a motive is explained by the fact that God made us in His image as moral creatures, and we cannot keep ourselves from the hunger to know some motive behind such a heinous crime. At the same time, we can learn of some motive only to realize that there is no merely rational answer to the darkness of the human heart. There is no way for us to know the depth of an individual’s depravity once a heart is committed to sin. Audrey Hale left behind a map of The Covenant School. Perhaps her dark manifesto will offer some map of her murderous heart. Even that will not answer all our questions.  

The transgender angle and the search for a motive will continue to fascinate the public and animate public debate. Media figures falling all over themselves to report the story while obeying the dictates of transgender ideologues will reveal that insanity. Police in Nashville responded with remarkable speed and professionalism in the face of danger, preventing a far larger death toll. All this demands our continued attention and concern.  

But Christians know that the real urgency is six grieving families in Nashville. Christian moms and dads, with brothers and sisters, are living a pain no one else would dare to understand. In Nashville, there is a wounded community and a congregation that has experienced unspeakable loss. A Presbyterian pastor with his wife and their children are experiencing the death of their little daughter and beloved sister.  

Jesus did tell His disciples that those who follow him would face trouble in this world. Big trouble. Heartbreaking trouble. Mind-bending trouble. But we must remember that Jesus went on to say: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Sometimes, remembering that promise is all that will get us through.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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