The church attended by the white man charged with killing eight people at three Atlanta-area massage businesses, most of them women of Asian descent, condemned the shootings Friday and said they run contrary to the gospel and the churchâ€™s teachings.
Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia, also announced in a statement that it plans to remove 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long from its membership because it â€œcan no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.â€
Previously the church had only issued a brief statement expressing condolences, without mentioning Long. It also shut down its social media accounts and made its website private.
On Friday it said those measures were taken to protect the safety of its congregants.
Congregants were â€œdistraughtâ€ when they learned the alleged shooter was a member of the community, the statement said. His family has belonged to the church for many years.
â€œWe watched Aaron grow up and accepted him into church membership when he made his own profession of faith in Jesus Christ,â€ it said.
â€œThese unthinkable and egregious murders directly contradict his own confession of faith in Jesus and the gospel.â€
Investigators are still trying to discover what compelled Long to commit the worst mass killing in the United States in almost two years.
Police say he told them he was not racially motivated and claimed to have a â€œsex addiction,â€ and he apparently lashed out at what he saw as sources of temptation.
Crabapple First Baptist said it would continue to grieve, mourn and pray for the families of the victims and that it deeply regrets, â€œthe fear and pain Asian-Americans are experiencing as a result of Aaronâ€™s inexcusable actions.â€
â€œNo blame can be placed upon the victims,â€ Crabapple First Baptist said. â€œHe alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires.â€
The church also said it does not teach that acts of violence are acceptable against â€œcertain ethnicities or against womenâ€ or that women are responsible for menâ€™s sexual sin against them.
â€œMurder, especially, is a heinous evil and grievous sin. We also explicitly denounce any and all forms of hatred or violence against Asians or Asian-Americans.â€
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