Pastor Bruce Porter chatted with Beliefnet about the Columbine tragedy and what's been learned from it on Yahoo, Wednesday, April 19, at 9 p.m. EST. As with all chats, this transcript is unedited.
Good evening and welcome to Beliefnet's talk with Bruce Porter, pastor of Celebration Church in Littleton, Colorado. Last year, Bruce founded Torchgrab Youth Ministries, established in response to the Columbine tragedy. He is author of the book "Martyr's Torch: The Message of the Columbine Massacre" and is active in ministry to teens.
Bruce, we're very happy to have you.
Hello, everyone. I'm glad that you're with us this evening. I will be glad to answer questions that you may have.
What is the hardest part of the whole Columbine thing?
The hardest part is seeing the lives of ordinary people shattered by such an incredible violence. And understanding why such horrible things were happening to such wonderful people.
Hey, lots of love to everyone! I just wanted to say that our youth group's thoughts and prayers are with EVERYONE in Columbine. I was wondering if all the media attention has made in harder for the victims, students, staff, and community members to heal with all of the media attention?
The media attention has made it more difficult for some people who are still in the grieving process. The images of the people in the school and the hard questions that are often asked make it difficult for people to feel that their lives are not being invaded.
Has the Columbine tragedy made the Littleton community more spiritual generally, or more Christian specifically?
Ironically, the Columbine massacre has not, as far as I can tell, impacted the numbers of people who have turned to Christ in our local community. But I have seen it make a large impact upon people outside of the community.
Do you think schools should use more security because of Columbine?
Security measures in the schools can only be regarded as a stop-gap measure. The larger issue of why people turn to violence must be addressed, or else there will no true security in the schools.
Do you think that parents are to blame for this happening?
I think that parents are the first line of defense for children to be protected from destructuve and self-destructive ideas and behavior. I do feel that parents have abdicated far too much responsibility to others and need to take a more active role as examples of moral behavior.
What does Torchgrab youth ministries do?
Torchgrab Youth Ministries was born as a response to youth violence by myself and Beth Rachel Scott's mother and a few others. We hold youth rallies around the country to encourage youth to see a higher destiny in their walk with God and to be powerful influences in their school.
What kind of support is Columbine still receiving from people around the country, and does it help any?
We're still seeing a substantial amount of support from across the country, especially during this season of the commemoration of the Columbine massacre. This has been very encouraging for the victim's families and the community.
Is Columbine still open?
If you mean open in the sense of classes being held, yes. The school opened last fall, and they only closed it starting tomorrow and Friday. Students will be able to attend various memorials.
Are certain areas where the students laid blocked off or anything?
The school library was sealed for the entire school year. No one was allowed to go in there.
do you believe having school days off for things of this nature is a good choice?
I think that it is important to allow the students freedom to spend time alone and with friends and to remember those who died or were wounded. It is stressful for students to continue on with their class schedules, especially with this anniversary.
How are the kids and teachers doing?
Generally, most of the students are coping. Sometimes there are times of grief and occasionally paranoia. From what I've heard, most of them have been doing well. One generally accepted clue in determining whether one has a notion for violence is to look at those who are excluded from the general population of the school. Those who are alone. Sometimes those are the risk.
Current articles mention that the worst part of the legacy that has been left behind is the idea that somewhere there is someone planning to "one-up" the incident at Columbine. How do you think other schools and administrators have been affected by that?
It's scary. Since January 20 last year, USA Today reported that there were over 5,000 bomb scares in schools across the nation. There are a lot of students in the general population that think that what these kids did at Columbine is cool. That is pretty scary.
It certainly is.
Do you think that we need tougher gun laws in the U.S.?
I don't think that more gun laws is the answer. These two killers openly violated over 19 federal and state laws. They had no care whatsoever about gun laws.
What about being bullied in school? Could that have anything to do with this?
There is a popular rumor that these kids were picked on, and this is why they acted in rage. This is a myth. Their fellow students said that they were not treated any differently than other students.
Do you think videogames had something to do why they killed there classmates?
Without question, some of the video games that he played had some influence on him in desensitizing him to violence. They had the Doom game look very much like the Columbine school. They were definitely affected by these games.
Have the parents of the 2 kids been arested or anything?
No, they haven't been arrested. There was no criminal activity that the authorities could identity on the part of the parents.
Do you think that the gunmen's families will ever be excepted as people who didn't know it was going to happen?
I think eventually people will accept them. There is a lot of forgiveness in our community. But I think people are frustrated because they communicated so little with others.
Do you feel Cassie is a martyr?
The greek word "martyr" is "martus." It means "a witness." Not necessarily someone who dies for her faith. Cassie said yes every day. Cassie had asked to take her out of Christian school so that she could be a light for the students. So Cassie said yes long before April 20.
Bruce Porter is pastor of the parents of Rachel Scott, who died in the Columbine shootings. He presided at Rachel's funeral and is founder of Torchgrab Youth Ministries, a Christian teen organization established in response to the tragedy.
Mr Porter, what are your plans to "reinstall" faith in the youth of today, when it seems that faith is no longer apparent in children?
I can't personally do anything. But I believe that God is moving by his mighty Spirit upon this generation of young people. I am convinced that the next great things that God will do will be by a large group of young people. It will be done not through fear...just to serve God.
Hi, I was wondering if you had any ideas about how I can start a discussion group that people can talk about high school violence?
I would say just start with a small group. Ask them what they would like to talk about. If God is involved with it, it will prosper.
Why don't you think that there is stuff like this going on in Australia?
I think it doesn't go on in Australia, but there is still a strong moral fabric there. I think there is a stronger tie between family and kids, that these things do not occur.
Reverend Porter, my daughter's school was threatened three times last year, and on each of those day's I kept her home. The school, however, did not understand and counted those days against her. What would you suggest for a situation like this?
That is a difficult problem. I would say if you exhaust every possibility to talk to the administrators about the fear your child is having, then you should consider transferring your child to another school.
Did parents move some of their kids away and now attend different schools?
Yes. They did move to other schools.
How many students died?
We had 12 students and 1 teacher killed.
Yeah, I got a question. I wear a trench coat, and I am generally a nice person, would never shoot anyone. Why do people always stereotype me???? It isn't right.
pastor_bruce_porter: They are afraid. And unfortunately, trench coats offer the possibility that you might be hiding something that people fear. You are associated with fear, and maybe you should change your wardrobe to avoid this paranoia by others.
Do you believe the music the kids listen to had anything to do with it?
I think that music is a powerful influence on people. We need to be careful about what we allow into ourselves. Just as how we are careful about what we eat and drink. We should be careful about what we ingest into our minds.
When I was in high school in the earlier '80s, stuff like Columbine was never thought of. What happened?
I think that the desensitization to violence has been escalating in the entertainment industry in the last two decades. It has given a psychological freedom to act out one's fantasies. Definately more in this decade than in decades before.
My questions is, why--though I agree it was a tragic event--do we keep bring it up? It is asking for someone to try to outdo Columbine, and that is the last thing we need.
I think that Columbine was a national wake-up call. Unfortunately, far too many of us have pushed the snooze button on the alarm.
What would be the reaction if this happened at a Denver school like Kennedy, Lincoln, West, North, etc.?
Columbine awakened white middle-class America to the reality that violence of this kind is not isolated to inner-city schools. And it is a pity that it took this kind of event to make us realize that minority students in the cities has been suffering this type of violence for a long time. I don't think that we can ignore the reality of this anymore.
Hello, Bruce. I am a Columbine "survivor." I was next to Isaiah Shoels before he was shot. People say I was lucky for not dying. I have been praying countless times a day, and it still affects our everyday lives. Will we ever be able to cope?
I think that time has a way of dulling our pain. But I don't think you'll ever forget or be able to put the pain completely out of your life. I think that the grace of God can heal your wounds and make you a stronger person.
What does the whole Columbine thing have to do with God?
8 of the 12 students that were killed were known to be believers or Christians. We know that by videotape that the killers had a special hatred for Christians. They were targeting Christians.
Reverend, did you know Rachel Scott?
Rachel attended another youth group. She was not part of our church. Her relationship with me was distant. I was her mother and stepfather's pastor.
So since tommorow is the anniversary of the shooting, is the school taking any precautions?
Yes. There is more security in the community. We are expecting 100,000 people to come to a candlelight ceremony in Clement Park, next to the school.
As a teacher, I try to reassure my students, but I don't think they believe me. How can I better help them deal with their fears?
I don't think that you can completely remove their fears. You can hope to reassure them that God loves them.
Is underage drinking a problem at Columbine?
Were any of the victims your parishoners?
I had two families in my church who had children in Columbine. The one family, of course, was the parent of Rachel and Craig Scott. The other family received their child unharmed.
How is Rachel's family doing?
I just spoke with her parents this evening. They are coping as best you can expect under the circumstances. Tomorrow will be hard due to the memories that will come back during the services.
Rev: Why do you feel that this was a religious crime when there have been so many things to show otherwise. It could have been just as easily racially motivated, but none of the students they sought out to murder off of their 'list' were actually victimized. Why do you say it is a religious crime?
Clearly, Harrison wanted to kill as many people as he could. They did not discriminate in their hatred. But for those who believe in Christ, that for those who reject the faith of Christ, it forms a foundation that makes this type of crime easier to commit.
Do you think that the violence in our schools will get better or worse?
pastor_bruce_porter: I live in a daily dread that we will see more Columbines take place. I do not see the root cause being addressed well by schools and politicians. The root problem is in the heart.
What's the big deal with detectors?
I suppose metal detectors would detect guns or bombs students would bring to school. They are not fullproof and people can find a way around these detectors.
Do you think further shootings would have occured had the media not covered the incident so heavily?
I do not know.
I use to hang out with a bunch of goth teens that are planning to do the same as what happened in Columbine. I stopped hanging around them because they wrote me notes saying how they were going to kill me. I told people about it, but no one really cares. What should I do??
You need to very careful. You need to find someone that you can trust. That you can pass this information on to. If these people are making these threats, they may actually carry them out.
I read Cassie's book. It was very good. In the book, it doesn't mention this, however, I heard it. I heard that it wasn't her who said yes--it was another person in the background. Do you know about this?
There is ongoing controversy about whether or not Cassie said anything before she was shot. The words that she was supposedly saying has now been attributed to Valene Schnuur. There was a lot of confusion when this happened.
Some students are confused about whether they heard Cassie yes or no. But there are some students who say that both Cassie and Valene said yes when they were questioned about their faith.
Is the school doing anything special for the anniversary?
Yes, the school is giving an excused dismissal to those who want to take the day off. They are holding a memorial for staff and students within Columbine at 9:30.
Is it true that you can be rewarded by a school for reporting a crime that has been organized by a student, with cash or something else?
I've never heard of any such reward. Wouldn't doing the right thing be enough of a reward?
I've heard that there is a connection between all the killings, such as the Oklahoma bombing and Columbine, and other incidents. Is that an assumption, or is it true?
I know of no direct connection between these terrible tragedies except the evil that is in the heart of broken humanity.
I live nearby, just a mile or two away from Columbine. Even though I have no real connection to the students or families, is there some way I can help out personally? Something tangible I can do to help?
You could try to make yourself known to one of the families and offer to mow their grass or do errands for them. I'm sure that any act of kindness would be appreciated.
Reverend, why does it seem that you are trying to place blame on anything BUT the kids that did the shooting?
You misunderstand. I am not trying to shift the blame from these two killers. They are fully responsible for their actions. They must be held responsible in the eyes of God.
What do you say to kids that are being bullied and the school just looks the other way?
This happens way too often in schools. There is no easy answer. Sometimes, this world is not a very nice place.
The people at the school I attend keep saying it could never happen to us. How do I make them see that it could happen to anyone anytime anywhere?
I don't think there is anyway to convince people that don't want to see the truth in front of their face. Don't give up. Don't be afraid.
How do you feel about the killers?
I feel pity for these two young men. I think that where they are now is not a very pleasant place.
Were the Columbine kids cult worshipers?
I have heard rumors that they were involved in witchcraft. So far, it has been just rumors, and there has been no hard evidence that this is the case.
Why does society seem to focus more on an event like Columbine, where 17 people end up dead, whereas today is the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing,where 160 people died, including even younger children???
Columbine represented a unique and historically unprecedented attack. What most people don't know is that the killers had placed over 95 explosive devices in the school. They put a bomb in the cafeteria that would have killed over 600 people. The sheer magnitude of what these two young men wanted to do was staggering. Guns were a second choice for them.
What do you think of the Michael W. Smith song "This Is Your Time"?
I love it. I'm going to be with him tomorrow and hear him play it live at the memorial service in Littleton.
Reverend, ever since the shooting, people have become more outspoken toward me and my friends. They seem to think that all "freaks" are going to go kill people. What do I tell them?
I think that we have to remember that we can't judge people on how they look. Some of the nicest people dress in punk or gothic choice. We have to make sure that we don't judge people who look different than us.
Are you saying that if you are not a practicing Christian that you are more likly to shoot people???
I think that when you have the added dimension of the grace, love, and mercy of Jesus Christ in your life, you are far less likely to do harm to other people.
Can we expect a miniseries about this soon?
I have no idea what some people may make of this.
Do you feel the victims' families should sue?
I have no opinion about that.
Has the Christian community within Columbine High increased and strengthened since this tragedy?
Yes, I believe it has. The "See You at the Poll" rally was twice as large after Columbine as it was the year before.
I don't have a question, but I do have a comment. At my school that I just recently moved to, every morning we have prayer, and since my first day there, they pray for the people in Littleton. I just want y'all to know we haven't forgot.
Thank you so very much for that. We appreciate all your prayers and support.
And we'll end with this question:
Do you think anything positive has come from Columbine?
Yes, I do. I'm convinced that Columbine was a spiritual event that has awakened a large number of young people in this nation that there are some things worth dying for. Unless you have something worth dying for, you can't live. I believe that a great movement of youth will rise up out of this tragedy, so that these lives will not be lost in vain.
Thank you for being with us tonight, Pastor Porter.
You are very, very welcome.
beliefnet_ellen: If you'd like to contact Pastor Porter, go to www.torchgrab.org