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”.
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
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 inall4gospels, 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
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.
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.
James Taylor earned a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from Texas A&M University, and is currently finishing his doctoral dissertation on the link between race and technology. He currently teaches philosophy and specializes in critical philosophy of race, technology, and religion. In his free time he enjoys researching family genealogies and going graving, the hobby of documenting cemeteries.