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Progressive church groups spread misinformation in wake of Rittenhouse verdict

Rittenhouse
Kyle Rittenhouse puts his hand over his face as he is found not guilty on all counts at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 19, 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. |

Progressive church groups have condemned the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, issuing statements that spread misinformation about the 18-year-old and the 2020 shooting of Jacob Blake that led to protests and riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

United Methodist Women, which describes itself as “the largest denominational organization for women,” released a statement last week lamenting the “not guilty” verdict in the Rittenhouse trial.

On Nov. 19, a jury in Kenosha found Rittenhouse not guilty on charges related to the fatal shooting of two protesters and the nonfatal shooting of a third protester as riots and unrest broke out in the city in August 2020. 

“United Methodist Women is deeply troubled by the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in the fatal shooting trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the dangerous nod to vigilantism it protends,” said United Methodist Women General Secretary and CEO Harriett Jane Olson in the statement.

“The exoneration of a then 17-year-old who illegally purchased a semiautomatic weapon because it was ‘cool’ and carried it across state lines in a vigilante mission that resulted in the shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of a third gives a greenlight to other misguided vigilantes to do likewise.” 

While Rittenhouse lived with his mother in Illinois at the time of the shootings, his father lived in Kenosha. The gun was purchased in Wisconsin, meaning that it never crossed state lines.

The fact-checking website Politifact ruled that a tweet from Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., insisting that “justice cannot tolerate armed persons crossing state lines looking for trouble while people engage in First Amendment-protected protest” was “false” because “Rittenhouse never had his gun in Illinois, according to testimony in the trial.” 

As he testified in his defense earlier this month, Rittenhouse maintained that he acted in self-defense because Joseph Rosenbaum had threatened to kill him and had the hands on the barrel of his gun. Anthony Huber repeatedly hit him with a skateboard. The shooting victim who survived, Gaige Grosskreutz, admitted in court that he pointed a gun at Rittenhouse. 

Olson slammed the principle of self-defense as “a legal right of the privileged [that] is not evenly applied, particularly in cases involving women domestic violence survivors, Black people, and other communities of color.” 

Olson also agreed with The Sentencing Project Director Amy Fettig’s declaration that Rittenhouse’s “age didn’t protect him from entering the adult system, but his Whiteness protected him from its consequences.” Additionally, Olson asserted that the men Rittenhouse fatally shot, Huber and Rosenbaum, were “killed during protests against the police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake.” 

Blake’s shooting occurred on Aug. 23, 2020, two days before the riots in Kenosha. He was paralyzed in the shooting but survived. The unrest came at the end of a summer defined by racial justice protests nationwide. 

In an interview with ABC News, Blake admitted that he was not unarmed as a dispute with his children’s mother over using a rental car registered in her name resulted in the woman calling the police.

Blake explained that he was engaged in an altercation with law enforcement officials.

“I realized I had dropped my knife, I had a little pocket knife, so I picked it up after I got off of [the officer] because they tased me and I fell on top of him,” he said. 

While the police instructed Blake to drop the knife, he alleged in the interview that he did not hear the command. As he walked to enter the driver’s side of the vehicle, Blake picked up his knife and determined that “I’m not really worried, I’m walking away,” concluding that he was not at risk of being shot. But the police shot him seven times.

“I shouldn’t have picked it up,” Blake stated after looking back at the events that led up to his shooting. “At that time, I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

When pressed by ABC’s Michael Strahan as to why he did not “stop and do what the police [were] asking him to do,” Blake maintained that he could not hear their instructions.

“All I heard was screaming, screaming,” he said.

Blake was arrested for attempting to flee police and resisting arrest, although the charges were later dropped. At the time of the shooting, Blake had a warrant for his arrest on domestic violence and sexual assault charges.

After The Christian Post sent a request for comment, United Methodist Women issued a correction Tuesday to Olson’s Nov. 22 statement.

“The original version of this statement said that Rittenhouse illegally purchased a weapon and crossed state lines,” the correction reads. “In fact, Rittenhouse gave a friend money to purchase the weapon for him because at 17 he was too young to purchase it himself.”  

United Methodist Women did not correct Olson’s statement asserting that Blake was “unarmed,” nor did it respond to CP’s questions about the misinformation by press time. 

United Methodist Women is not the only faith-based organization to make allegations about the Rittenhouse trial and the Jacob Blake shooting that were not true.

The Gospel Coalition published a piece in August 2020 authored by Illinois-based pastor and Gospel Coalition member K. Edward Copeland that lamented the pumping of “seven bullets into an unarmed black body.” The piece referred to Rittenhouse as a “mass shooter.” 

The article was updated last week with an editor’s note apologizing for failing to include “subsequent information” that revealed “Jacob Blake was armed with a knife.”

“I regret these editorial oversights,” Editor-in-Chief Collin Hansen wrote in the correction. 

The United Church of Christ’s racial justice minister, Velda Love, released a statement in response to the Rittenhouse verdict earlier this month alleging that he “murdered two unarmed and innocent men.” However, Huber used his skateboard as a weapon by striking Rittenhouse in the neck shortly after Rosenbaum was shot. Love also labeled Rittenhouse a “white supremacist” even though all the people he shot were white.

Although the jury acquitted Rittenhouse, the widespread depiction of the teen as a “vigilante” and “white supremacist” has defined him in the eyes of many Americans.

Adam Taylor, the president of the progressive evangelical social justice organization Sojourners, tweeted that the Rittenhouse verdict is “a clear example of white privilege & bias in our justice system.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America issued a “pastoral message” suggesting that the Rittenhouse acquittal forces the country “to confront the idols of our society: guns, violence and white supremacy.” 

A Change.org petition asks Arizona State University, where Rittenhouse was reportedly enrolled as a non-degree-seeking online student, to ban the teen from campus. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition has gathered more than 12,000 supporters. However, the university told media outlets that he is not enrolled in any ASU classes.

“We, the students of Arizona State University, refuse to welcome a murderer onto our campus,” the petition reads. “ASU should be a safe and inclusive place for all students, which will be disrupted if Kyle Rittenhouse is allowed to attend this school.” 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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