A Pastor’s Thoughts About A Church Shooting…
First Charleston, South Carolina – then Antioch, Tennessee – and now First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The commonality among these three incidents is hate manifested in gun violence and the church as the target. The shooting on Sunday, November 5, 2017 rests heavily on all our minds right now. We have more questions than we have answers. The dead-end street called “gun regulation” will no doubt continue to be a dead end discussion.
It is the locale of Sunday’s shooting that impels me to comment this Monday morning. That is because I am hearing all kinds of preventative measure solutions (beyond gun regulation). Those solutions give me pause.
First of all I think we need to acknowledge that these families, this church, and this community have a hole in their heart that will never completely heal. They need our prayers. They need our words of comfort. It would be appropriate to sit down and write such words and send them to First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tx. You might also send a note off to the Police Department of Sutherland Springs, Tx because this will be a day that will forever be in their memory. Sometimes the one thing we can do is be “Present” with one another in grief and sorrow.
One of the first “reactions” I read on Facebook was the reintroduction of the idea that in these dangerous times clergy might consider wearing bullet-proof vests under their robes. Another posting reminded me that some clergy have been asked what kind of gun do they want to keep in the pulpit in order to defend the parishioners should an attack in the sanctuary. I also have heard legislators comment this morning that churches probably should evaluate their security procedures (and I don’t mean just locking a door). There are programs being offered to help churches learn how to arm their ushers and greeters. Unfortunately there are also those who feel we need to screen who comes into our sanctuary.
I believe we need to hear these ideas through the lens of the Gospel we say we proclaim.
First of all regarding those bullet proof vests . . . I will not be getting fitted for one. I could not in good conscience wear one while everyone in my congregation was unprotected. I could not in good conscience go to this extreme knowing that a visitor might come to worship and would not be protected. That’s not to say, I wouldn’t “duck”, but the cost of my call to ministry is to show up and be a part of the worshipping community as together we open ourselves up to the hearing and experiencing the Word of God.
I am sure church security will be a major point of discussion among churches in our nation. I have served one church that locked even its front door once worship began – and had someone sitting outside the sanctuary prepared to call the police. It worked for its purpose, which was to prevent strangers from coming into the building and wandering around the halls and posing a risk to children. At the same time, the person who was sitting outside could open the door to anyone running a bit late for worship. Yet even in that scenario, it felt unwelcoming to me. The question always is present how do we issue an extravagant welcome behind locked doors or armed sentinels or open carry parishioners?
That question causes us to arrive at the core of who we are and why we are when we talk about “church”. Let me offer my own faith statements that do and will inform me when I serve a church or when I seek a church home.
I believe in the emphasis of the United Church of Christ that God is a God of extravagant welcome and we are to extend that welcome within the Body of Christ known as the Church on earth. That means whoever you are, and wherever you are on your faith journey (including so far from knowing the Love of God in your life you feel completely without hope), you are welcome in church. That welcome means you are taken for who you are and what you are, not for who or what we church folks would feel comfortable you be. There is a cost to this as witnessed in Charleston, Antioch, and Sutherland Springs. It is still our call to be a people of welcome and invitation.
I believe in the value and importance of community as where we live and grow as disciples of Christ. Although I know I can (and do) experience the holy at times when I am by myself, it is in coming together with other Christians where I am tested in my faith, where I am encouraged in my faith, and where I know the Holy Spirit is at work knitting all of us together into God’s Holy People. So for me, I need to gather in worship and service with others.
I believe love is stronger than hate even when fear and distrust seem to have so much power. I believe fear can destroy us and indeed that is the intent of sowing fear. I also believe love is hard work. We don’t even want to like a lot of folks, let alone love them. Yet I believe the only way to turn this narrative of hate around is to truly begin to look at one another in our communities with the eyes of faith informed by love.
I believe that grief is real – and these communities (not just the incidents of church shooting) have huge holes in them because of humankind’s inhumanity to one another. Yes, individuals committed the acts – but all of us have contributed to the temperament that fuels violence and discord. Those who grieve will be comforted. Those who turn their eyes away, or who fuel the flames of fear and distrust or ignore the difficult political ramifications are being called to “repent” – to turn around from such behavior and live the faith we proclaim.
I believe in the community of faith
· that offers extravagant hospitality,
· that enters the doors to worship and be changed by the power of God’s Love for them as individuals and for them as a collected body,
· that has a message about peace, justice, love, reconciliation, forgiveness, transformation, and hope that our world needs to hear and see embodied,
· that peace making and living are central to our message, and that we become those who dare to share in Christ’s passion in the spirit of the disciples hearing Jesus speak: Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?
· that departs to serve in our communities to the least and the lost, the newcomer and the old timer, the youngest and the oldest, the poor and the wealthy, the native born and the immigrant, all people – because God so loved the world.
Grace and Peace