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4 Lessons When Domestic Terrorism Struck the Heartland

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On April 19, 1995, I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

As I walked into my midmorning class that day, a television was broadcasting a scene that confounded me. Breaking news indicated an explosion in downtown Oklahoma City.

As a native Okie, the news was very perplexing. An explosion in my home state? Surely, it was a natural gas accident?

There was no way it could be terrorist activity in Oklahoma. The Sooner State was too rural, too neighborly and too peaceful to attract terrorist activity.

I excused myself to the hallway and tried to call my father. My parents lived in Tulsa, a little over 100 miles northeast of Oklahoma City.

My father’s receptionist answered the call. “Hello,” I said, “this is Mitch Randall, Rod’s son.” Her response sent chills down my spine.

“Your dad is fine,” she began. “He and another employee were at the capitol this morning in Oklahoma City. They heard the blast from the parking lot. They have shut down the entire city. Your dad is heading home.”

In an age before cell phones, I would not talk to my father until later that day. He told me about making his way to the capitol through the parking lot when, all of a sudden, repercussions from the blast echoed from downtown. Minutes later, black smoke billowed over the skyline.

As grateful as I was to have my father safe and sound, others were not as fortunate as my family. The blast killed 168 people, including 19 children, while injuring more than 680 others.

The explosion caused insurmountable damage, destroying one-third of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and marring 320 buildings across a 16-block radius.

It was quickly becoming apparent the explosion was not an accident. Terrorism had hit the heartland.

Many quickly concluded the attack was conducted by radical Islamic terrorists. However, as my good friend, Imad Enchassi, can attest, the Muslim community in Oklahoma City was just as distraught as everyone else.

When Oklahoma Highway Patrolmen reported the arrest of Timothy McVeigh, white domestic terrorism became a stark and frightening reality in the United States.

McVeigh and his accomplice, Terry Nichols, both former U.S. Army veterans, manufactured and detonated the bomb in response to the federal government’s raids at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and the Branch Davidian Compound in 1993.

In the last 25 years of hearing the news about the bombing in my home state, and now living 20 miles south of downtown OKC, I have learned several lessons.

First, evil can emerge and wreak havoc anywhere.

For much of my life, I thought evil existed in other places – faraway places. However, I was wrong. Evil does not respect barriers but emerges anywhere sin permeates.

The psalmist once wrote, “Even on their beds, they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong” (Psalms 36:4). Evil is not a world away; it is conceived in nearby rooms and lurks in the shadows waiting to pounce.

Second, white Christian nationalism is a vast and continuing threat.

Most of the country immediately thought the OKC bombing was conducted by radical Islamic terrorists. However, when a young white man walked out for the world to see, they were shocked.

White Christian nationalism continues to be a clear and present danger. From the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the deadly rally at Charlottesville, Virginia, white Christian nationalism has left the shadows to visit more evil upon the world.

White Christian nationalists operate under the false notion that God favors particular people and countries, based upon a perverted understanding of the Bible.

While much attention has been given to McVeigh and Nichols’ anti-government attitudes, they were also involved in the white Christian nationalist movement that championed a “race war.”

As the Apostle Paul declared in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

While Jesus respected ethnic identities, he also understood the importance of prioritizing everyone’s shared humanity with the common goal of loving each other (both with attitude and action).

Third, the Muslim community is similar to the Christian community.

Before the OKC bombing and 9/11, I did not know very many Muslims. Again, I grew up in Oklahoma very sheltered from the diversity of other places in the world.

However, after those terrible moments, I intentionally started searching for Muslim colleagues and acquaintances. Never in a million years did I think this endeavor would bless me as much as it has.

Returning to Oklahoma in 2007, I quickly became friends with Muslims from the Raindrop Turkish House. From those relationships, I met a Muslim imam that would become a good friend.

Through these relationships and experiences, I learned the valuable lesson of common humanity. While shared humanity emphasizes the importance of communal solidarity, common humanity recognizes the common attributes we possess as the human race.

Believe it or not, we have so much more in common with one another than we have differences.

My imam friend worries about his kids just like I worry about mine. He sweats about the bills as much as I do. He likes chocolate ice cream as much as I do.

We are unique in our own ways, but our shared values and lives provide a common bond I cherish to this day.

Speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus responded to her question about religious and ethnic differences. “Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem,” he answered (John 4:21).

Jesus knew more than anyone the importance of the common bond, the love of God and the love of others.

Fourth, there remains a need for good people practicing good faith to unite behind the goal of creating diverse, just and peaceful communities.

Good people practicing good faith can be silent no longer. When we fall silent on issues of justice, we awaken to bombed buildings and white Christian nationalists marching in the streets.

People of good faith must sound out and act upon the dual truths of radical love and uncompromising justice for all people.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), Jesus offers a story about an unorthodox hero demonstrating love and enacting justice for another human being.

The parable directly follows one of his most famous universal teachings: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and, love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

Twenty-five years have passed since I walked into that seminary classroom and watched the smoke rising over Oklahoma City.

At 9 a.m. Sunday, it will have been 9,132 days since 168 souls perished at the hands of evil. That is 13,150,080 minutes since the world changed on that spring morning on the Southern Plains.

While much has occurred over this period of time, one truth remains. When good people practice good faith, then good things can still happen.

Just as darkness cannot drive out the light, neither can evil drive out good. Love can overcome hate, but it’s up to us to speak up, step out and do good.

Mitch Randall

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com.