Guns in the House of God

A Time to Kill

The men of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity lead a prayer outside Emanuel AME Church
The men of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity lead a prayer outside Emanuel AME Church

 

On Sunday morning April 24, 2016 Robert Braxton III, took a seat at Keystone fellowship church in North Wales PA. Braxton was asked to get out of the seats as they had been reserved for other parishioners. Although Braxton was initially agitated witnesses claimed that he calmed down after speaking to an usher and a pastor. Mark Storms then apparently walked over brandishing a gun and “Concealed Weapons Permit badge”. Storms reportedly told Braxton to leave the church, at which point witnesses say that Braxton took a swing at Storms. Storms then shot Braxton to death. Storms was taken into custody and at his hearing claimed that he was in “great danger” and was “worried about the other people in the church”.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof attended an evening prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina. Roof, a white man, ended that service by shooting and killing Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, and Daniel Simmons. All 9 of the people killed were African-American. Roof was later taken into custody, and according to one of the arresting officials Roof claimed that he did it to start a race war.

On Sunday morning May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was volunteering as an usher when Scott Roeder shot him dead. Roeder was later taken into police custody and claimed that he killed Tiller, who was a doctor who had been known to perform late term abortions, in order to protect the children. “Because of the fact preborn children’s lives were in imminent danger this was the action I chose. … I want to make sure that the focus is, of course, obviously on the preborn children and the necessity to defend them…”

On December 9, 2007 Matthew Murray attacked New Life Church in Colorado Springs CO. Murray was heavily armed and had already killed Tiffany Johnson and Philip Crouse at the Youth With A Mission training center in Arvada, Colorado earlier that day. At the church Murray killed Stephanie Works and Rachel Works in the parking lot before he was himself shot by Jeanne Assam. Assam was a former Minneapolis Police Department officer, and a member of the Church’s security team which had been alerted of the nearby shootings earlier that morning. Although Assam maintains that she fired the shot that killed Murray, the police report claimed that Murray died of a self-inflicted wound. Assam said of the incident “I will never forget the gunshots. They were so loud …  I saw him coming through the doors…I came out of cover and identified myself and engaged him and took him down … God was with me….I didn’t think for a minute to run away.”

A Time for War

Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita Kansas
Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita Kansas

 

So that is a basic breakdown of 4 different fatal shootings in American churches in the last 10 years. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and although I can’t find reliable statistics on just how many, church shootings are not anomalous. In fact there is a National Church Shooting Database which recorded all the shootings, 139, in Christian Churches in America between 1980 and 2005. The simple fact is that people get shot in church, and that people take their guns to church to carry out shootings.

In response to the apparent increase of this risk to churches Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the Mississippi Church Protection Act, which is “intended to enable churches to establish a “security program,” by designating members to undergo firearms training and carry guns into church buildings, said the bill’s author, Republican State Rep. Andy Gipson.

Beyond the laws there are also numerous websites, just google church shootings, which offer advice both amateur and professional, to churches who want to increase their security. Some of these sites advise you to employ their services, some compile statistics of church shootings, and at least one had an article written by Chuck Norris.

Yes, that Chuck Norris.

Anyway, Norris wrote the article and it was published following the shooting carried out at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June of 2015. Norris says what one might expect: laws can’t stop gun violence, criminals disregard the laws, this is Obama’s fault etc. But what he said that was most profound was this:

“That is why I have a challenge for pastors and church leaders. With all due respect, it’s about time that they woke up to the idea that providing for and protecting God’s flock means increasing church security, from children’s classes to main sanctuaries and fellowship halls. Faith is not an excuse to bypass self-defense. That’s not my original idea or position. It’s found in the Good Book. As one verse says in the Jewish Scriptures: “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat”(Nehemiah 4:9). Even Jesus said when instructing His disciples: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36).”

So there you have it, the message is clear, Jesus wants you to arm yourself, Onward Christian Soldiers!

A Time for Peace

Caravaggio: Taking of Christ in the Garden
Caravaggio:
Taking of Christ in the Garden

 

No.

If there is one message that comes loud and clear in the voice of Jesus Christ, it is the message of love and peace. In Matthew 22:36-40 and in Mark 12:30-31, Jesus is quite clear as to what his followers are meant to do. He commands us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. I don’t know about you but it is harder to love my neighbor when I have them at gunpoint.

Besides there is that one incident, recorded in all 4 gospels, where the followers of Jesus do take up arms and strike out with violence for the cause of Christ. The casualty is the same each time, the ear of the servant of the high priest. Of course right after that Jesus yells “Peter, put that sword away…you need something with more firepower!” right before handing Peter an AK47.

Ok so I made that last part up, Jesus actually says in Matthew 26:52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” But if that was the case then why did Jesus encourage his followers to buy a sword? Well Mr. Norris left out the rest of that passage, here is what Luke 22:37-38 has to say: “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied.”

The smart and well-read theologian will explain of course that Jesus here is telling his disciples about the special circumstances surrounding his death, and so the swords are part of this. After all, you can’t possibly arm 12 men with 2 swords.

Of course when you understand this verse in the context of all the other passages where Jesus tells his followers to bear arms, pack heat, learn this chokehold, the proper technique for disarming a centurion, and how to lead and armed insurrection in my name then you get…wait, what? I guess they must have cut all of that good stuff out of your Bible. It’s ok, the history of Christianity since has made up for it. From the Crusades, to the Conquistadors, to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and all the way up to Scott Roeder and Mark Storms, Christians have been killing for the cause of Christ. It’s strange that Jesus himself didn’t say more about it.

A Time to Heal

Larry Wright preaches at Heal the Land Outreach Ministries.
Larry Wright preaches at Heal the Land Outreach Ministries.

So here is some advice for you. If you are a Christian who owns a gun, then great! Lots of Christians own guns for lots of reasons. Reasons like hunting, recreation, and you need it for work are all great reasons to have a gun.

It even makes sense to own a gun for self-defense, or a defense against a home invasion. Although I do feel compelled to warn you that the gun you own is statistically much more dangerous to you than it is to anyone else. According to the CDC (Table 18. Number of deaths, death rates, and age-adjusted death rates for injury deaths, by mechanism and intent of death: United States, 2013) in 2013 the number of homicides by firearm were 11,208, the number of suicides was almost twice that at 21,175.

But what about guns in the church?

I get it, I realize that we are scared. Every time the news gives us the story of a mass shooting, or even a domestic dispute in a church someone says: “That’s why we need guns in church!” I submit to you that it was guns in church which caused that problem in the first place. However, let’s simplify this. We need to ask ourselves, as Christians, what is the mission of the church? What are we put here to do? And how do guns help us do this?

If the point of guns is that they are meant to keep us safe so that we can congregate and come together without fear of someone shooting us then we have failed this society. We failed the minute we decided that church was about keeping Christians safe rather than changing the dying world around us. We failed the minute we started seeing the church as a bunker in a war against everyone outside of those hallowed halls. We failed when Mark Storms walks up to Robert Braxton and explains that God’s house is for Christians, not people who sit in the wrong pews.

I don’t mean to condemn the actions of someone like Jeanne Assam, whose bullets ended one life to save others. Nor do I mean to condemn guns, those inanimate tools for death-dealing whose wielders are to blame for how they deal it. I mean that Christians are meant to live dangerous lives, and we were sent into this world to be salt and light, not lead and fire. We are here to save souls, and we have a long history of losing our lives in that process. But ours is a higher path, and the way is narrow.

On the evening of December 31, 2015 an unidentified man with a rifle and ammunition entered the Heal the Land Outreach Ministries New Year’s Eve service in Fayetteville North Carolina. Pastor Larry Wright confronted the man as he walked down the aisle of the church. Wright reportedly said “Can I help you?” Wright quietly talked the man into handing over his weapon and the ammunition. Wright reports that the gunman simply asked the pastor to pray for him. The unknown gunman was later taken into police custody peacefully and went voluntarily into psychiatric treatment.

No one was injured, and no one was killed.

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