Saturday, August 15, 2009
The Martyrdom Of Cassie Bernall by Dave Cullen
Greg Scott took it hard.. He had seen horrible things in the library at Columbine High that morning, but he'd heard something wonderful. During the worst of it he'd heard a girl profess her faith. Amazing. Craig began telling his story that first afternoon. It spread like a brush fire. Among Evangelicals, e-mails, faxes and phone calls whipped across the country.
On Friday it hit the the mainstream media. Both Denver papers featured it. The Rocky's piece, "Martyr for Her Faith", opened with a play-by-play:
A Columbine killer pointed his gun at Cassie Bernall and asked her the life-or-death question: "Do you believe in God?"
She paused. The gun was still there. "Yes, I believe in God", she said.
That was the last thing this 17-year old Christian would say.
The gunman asked her "Why?" She had no time to answer before she was shot to death.
Bernall entered the Columbine High School library to study during lunch. She left a martyr.
The Post ran a similiar account. The national press quckly jumped aboard. On Saturday, an Evangelical Teen Mania rally in Michigan "turned into a Cassie Bernall festival" according to Weekly Standard writer J. Bottum. He described 73,000 teens in the Silverdome "weeping along with sermon after sermon about her death."
Sunday morning, April 25, the Columbine churches were packed. Afterwards, the crowds trekked down to the Bowles Crossing Shopping Center, across from Clement Park. Organizers had planned for up to thirty thousand mourners in the sprawing parking lot. Seventy Thousand showed up. Vice President Al Gore was on the platform, along with the governor, most of Colorado's congressional delegation, and a whole lot of clergy. The TV networks broadcast the ceremony live.
"Put your faith and trust in the living son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ", Reverand Billy Graham's son Franklin instructed the crowd. "We must be willing to recieve His son Jesus Christ".
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. There was a whole lot of Him tha day. Reverand Graham dominated the ceremony with a long, impassioned plea for returning prayer to public schools. He invoked the name of his personal savior seven times in a single forty-five-second flurry. He called upon God and Jesus nearly fifty times in the course of the speech. Cassie had been ready, he said. She stood before a gunman who'd transported her immediately into the presence of Almighty god. "Are you ready?" he asked.
The country was transfixed. In the first ten days, newsmagazines on the four main broadcast networks devoted forty-three pieces to the attack. The shows dominated the ratings that week. CNN and Fox News charted the highest ratings in their history. A week afterward, USA Today was still running ten seperate Columbine stories in a single edition. It would be nearly two weeks before the New York Times would print and issue without Columbine on page 1. And Cassie Bernall's martyrdom was showing the most legs.
"She's in the martyrs hall of fame," Cassie's pastor proclaimed at her funeral. That was not hypebole. A noted religious scholar predicted Cassie would become the first officially designated Protestant martyr since the sixteenth century.
Cassie's fame grew. Her pastor embarked on a nationwide speaking tourto spread the good news. "Pack as many onto the ark as possible", he said. By summer's end, the local youth group Revival Generation had blossomed from a few local chapters to an organization in all fifty states. The organizers's put on natonal touring shows with Columbine High survivors. Cassie's name sent teenage girls storming to the stage.
In the Weekly Standard, J. Borrut compared her to the third-century martyrs Perpetua and Felicity and "tales of the thousands of early Chistians who went joyously to their deaths in the Roman coliseums." And the response felt like the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century, Bottum said. He foresaw a generation of kids rising up to recast our cultural landscape. He later described a national change of heart, "trembling on the crisp of breaking forth...It's an ever-widening faith that the whole pornographic, violent, anarchic disaster of American popular culture will soon be swept away."
Christian martyr Cassie Bernall offered hope. In September her mother went on a national book tour. She Said Yes leapt onto the New York Times best-seller list in its first week. It has since been reissued in two paperback formats, a library edition, an an audiobook. It has sold over a million copies. The Web is loaded with sites unabashedy recounting the myth. The Evangelical churches have stuck with their story.