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Southern Baptist leadership condemns mosque massacres

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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (BP and local reports) — “Evil” and “horrific” are among the ways Southern Baptist leaders described the New Zealand shooting rampage March 14 at two Islamic mosques that left at least 50 people dead and 50 more people wounded. A hospital spokesman said 34 people remain hospitalized with 13 in critical condition.

“Religious liberty means freedom to worship according to one’s conscience without fear,” tweeted Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, senior pastor of multi-campus The Summit Church based in Durham, N.C.

“It is one of our most precious freedoms and should be enjoyed by all everywhere. We grieve with our Muslim neighbors, weep with them, and stand unequivocally against this evil act,” Greear said in the tweet.

Paul Chitwood, president of Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board in Richmond, Va., told Baptist Press, “We weep with the families grieving in the wake of this horrific attack. We join the entire civilized world in condemning this act of hate. We commit to pray for the injured and for these many heartbroken survivors.”

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville, tweeted, “The terrorist attacks in New Zealand are horrifying. We should pray and work for swift justice against these murderers, and for grace and comfort for those grieving the loss of family, friends [and] neighbors.”

The shootings occurred during the evening hours in the city of Christchurch as Muslim worshipers gathered at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque, according to media reports.

The alleged gunman, Brenton Harris Tarrant, is a 28-year-old male Australian citizen who has been charged with murder, National Public Radio in the U.S. reported. Tarrant was arraigned in court over the weekend, his face electronically concealed due to a New Zealand law.

Tarrant, a native of Grafton, New South Wales in Australia, had been living
sporadically in Dunedin, about 225 miles south of Christchurch, and had traveled extensively including to the countries of Pakistan and Turkey, CNN cable news network reported. His employment, if any, was not immediately clear.

Tarrant allegedly livestreamed the attacks from a helmet camera and apparently posted an online manifesto in the hours before the attack stating he had been planning it for two years, on behalf of white Europeans, as an assault against immigrants, according to media reports.

A weapon used in the shooting allegedly was covered in white-supremacist graffiti.

Two other people who were taken into custody shortly after the attacks have been released with no charges filed against them, according to media reports.

New Zealand’s 4.5 million residents are 44% Christian and one percent Muslim, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. Thirty-nine percent of New Zealanders claim no religion. According to the Joshua Project, an online resource that estimates the religious breakdown of world nations, 19% of New Zealanders are evangelical Christians.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the shootings a terrorist attack and said her country was targeted “because we represent diversity, kindness, [and] compassion.”

The number of victims in Friday’s shootings exceeded New Zealand’s total number of murder victims for 2017, which was 35 people, USA Today reported.

Authorities said they are rushing to identify the victims and perform autopsies so the bodies can be released for burial according to Islamic custom.

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