Christian Today needs to learn how to report about domestic abuse. San Bernardino killer Cedric Anderson was NOT a ‘deeply religious’ pastor.
According to Christian Today, the San Bernardino killer Cedric Anderson was a ‘deeply religious’ pastor. This article by Mark Woods is a classic example of really bad reporting of domestic violence by journalists. Mark Woods is Managing Editor of Christian Today and a Baptist Minister.
Here is the full text of the article.
San Bernardino killer Cedric Anderson was ‘deeply religious’ pastor
Cedric Anderson, who shot and killed his estranged wife Karen Smith and an eight-year-old pupil at the San Bernardino school where she worked, was a pastor who often posted about his Christian faith on Facebook. [That link takes you to Cedric Anderson’s FB page]
Anderson, 53 and a navy veteran, turned the gun on himself after killing his wife and Jonathan Martinez, 8. He also shot a nine-year-old student who is expected to recover. He had signed in at the school’s office and opened fire in the classroom without saying anything, witnesses said.
Anderson had a history of domestic violence and gun arrests and according to Karen Smith’s mother ‘came out with a different personality’ when she decided to leave him.
He appeared as a ‘guest pastor’ on a local radio show and wrote on Facebook about leading Bible study groups. He wrote of his wife: ‘Her strength is not in worldly wisdom, head games and manipulation. Her strength is in the essence of her purity,’ he said. ‘Her anchor is that she sees God. It is a joy to have a conversation with her. I praise God for such a wonderful Lady!’
According to the LA Times, a neighbour reported the couple were overheard praying together. It also quotes Najee Ali, a community activist in Los Angeles and executive director of Project Islamic Hope, who said he knew Anderson as a pastor who attended community meetings.
‘He was a deeply religious man,’ Ali said. ‘There was never any signs of this kind of violence … on his Facebook he even criticized a man for attacking a woman.’
Now I’ll explain to Mark Woods why I think his article is bad and what I think he could have done to make it better. And I’m giving Mark a head-up about this, in the hope that he is willing to learn from my feedback.
My message to Mark Woods and any to journalist who wants to learn from this
Hello Mark, I’m deeply disturbed by your article in CT. Apart from the second and third paragraphs which were recounting the basic facts about the shooting, everything you said was using sources that showed the shooter in a good light.
Don’t you realise that domestic abusers have two faces: the public Nice Guy face, and the private Domestic Terrorist face which he usually only shows to his victim. You consulted the killer’s own FB page and you scrolled down a long way there to find and report what he’d said about how much he ‘loved his wife’ (link) and how some people called him a ‘pastor’ (link) — even though he appears to have been only a maintenance man in a factory. And you cherry picked what you’d found on his FB page and reported it as if it was the truth about his real character … but on an abuser’s FB page they usually show their Nice Guy face which is only their mask. Their real character, their real heart, is evil — how else could they do such horrible things to their victims?
It makes no sense to say that the killer was a ‘deeply religious pastor’. The killer was masquerading as a deeply religious pastor. That’s all.
Furthermore, you re-quote the LA Times article’s report that
Najee Ali, a community activist in Los Angeles and executive director of Project Islamic Hope, said he knew Anderson as a pastor who attended community meetings.
Don’t you realise that Cedric Anderson would have pulled the wool over Najee Ali’s eyes? All abusive men go to great efforts to do snow jobs on bystanders. And the ones who do snow jobs on church leaders are the worst!
Way too many church leaders accept the abusive man’s public presentation at face value. Do you want to continue being one of those leaders, or will you be a man who will lead the church into a better understanding of domestic abuse, so that abusers are recognized and held fully accountable by the church?
I urge you to learn more about domestic abuse and how it manifests in Christian circles. Please check out our blog A Cry For Justice
Here is how I think you could have made the article better, Mark.
It would have been fine to report what Cedric Anderson wrote on his FB page so long as you told your readers that men who abuse their wives often say things like this on FB because it enhances their public ‘nice guy’ image. By getting most people to think that he’s a devout Christian man, the abuser can intensify his wife’s suffering and her sense of isolation because she will probably think: “Everyone else thinks my husband is so lovely, how can I be starting to think that he’s being mean to me? … there must be something wrong with me to be thinking that my husband’s being mean to me. My perception and my feelings must be wrong. And who would believe me if I told them how he’s treating me at home?”
I suggest that quite early in your article you ought to have relayed the part of the LA Times article which pointed to Anderson’s having very serious character defects, viz:
At some point in the late 1990s or early 2000s, Anderson participated in an expose by an NBC affiliate in Las Vegas about housing fees at Nellis Air Force Base, according to a copy of the segment that Anderson appears to have published on YouTube. The report said Anderson had been in the Navy for eight years and was married to a 19-year Air Force veteran who had been deployed to Pakistan.
But a military spokesman said Tuesday that there was no record of someone with Anderson’s name serving in the Navy. …
Although [Karen] Smith’s mother declined to elaborate on what happened in the home, Anderson’s past may offer clues. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan said Anderson’s criminal history included allegations of domestic violence, weapons charges and possible drug charges.
Anderson lived in Torrance at least from 2012 to 2013, a period when Torrance police were called to his address on five occasions, according to Sgt. Ronald Harris. In 2012, he was arrested on suspicion of spousal battery, and the next year, he was arrested for allegedly brandishing a knife, Harris said.
In 2013, Anderson was charged in Los Angeles County Superior Court with assault and battery, brandishing a firearm and disturbing the peace. Court records, however, show that the charges were dismissed in May 2014.
Nearly two decades earlier in 1993, Anderson faced two misdemeanor counts of battery in Kern County Superior Court, but according to records, he was exonerated six months after the case was filed and both charges were dismissed.
Here’s another thing. You reproduced this section of the LA Times article:
According to the LA Times, a neighbour reported the couple were overheard praying together. It also quotes Najee Ali, a community activist in Los Angeles and executive director of Project Islamic Hope, who said he knew Anderson as a pastor who attended community meetings. ‘He was a deeply religious man,’ Ali said. ‘There was never any signs of this kind of violence … on his Facebook he even criticized a man for attacking a woman.’
So you recounted Positive Impressions of the shooter from bystanders. But those bystanders only knew Cedric Anderson’s public face, just like Karen Smith only knew Cedric Anderson’s public face before he married her (he only showed her his evil character once they’d married).
If you wanted to report those Positive Impressions from bystanders, you ought to have followed them with an educational message for your readers something like this:
We can learn a lesson from these positive images that bystanders had of the killer. Men who abuse their wives yet purport to be Christians often pull the wool over the eyes of church leaders so those leaders (and often the whole congregation) thinks the man is just a wonderful guy.
The abuser often wins over church leaders as allies. This makes the victim feel even more isolated. It means that church leaders are less likely to believe her if she discloses that her husband has been mistreating her. That same dynamic could easily have applied to Karen Smith, the woman Anderson shot. She may not have disclosed her plight to the school she worked at, out of a fear of being disbelieved. This would explain why Anderson was able to get into the school so easily: the school officials had never been told that Anderson had abused his wife and that she had good reason to fear him, so they hadn’t realised it would be wise for them not to allow him into the school.
And another thing, you article would have been MUCH better if it had included something like this:
Cedric Anderson presented as devout christian man in public, but in fact he intentionally and purposefully killed his wife. No genuine Christian man does that to his wife. Men who present themselves as devout Christians yet premeditatedly kill their wives must have been simply masquerading a christian faith. With such men, when the wife bravely leaves the marriage, the man usually continues abusing the woman and he often escalates the abuse if he can. The abuser retaliates and take revenge because he thinks his wife had no right to leave him and he still has the right to control her — and the right to punish her for leaving him.
Here’s my take home message to Mark Woods and any Christian journalist:
If you are writing about domestic abuse cases, please write in a way that educates your readers about the real dynamics of domestic abuse. It’s very unhelpful to write about domestic abuse cases in a way which merely helps perpetuate the myths and lies that abusers disseminate, such as the lie that they are “deeply religious men”.
I sent a private twitter message to Mark Woods the day his article was published. It was a condensed version of my message to him above. Mark Wood’s twitter handle is @RevMarkWoods [This Twitter account no longer exists. Editors.]