When Shooters shoot up Churches
Once every three months, I travel to Woodland to join several other pastors to interview would-be ministers applying for licenses within our tribe, the Alliance. Last Thursday, conversation turned to the recent shootings at the Sutherland Springs, Texas church, in which 26 people died and another 20 were injured in a terrible murder spree.
Before leading us in prayer for the victims, our committee leader asked a question along the lines of: “What theological principles can help guide our churches to develop safety practices in view of our worsening culture of violence?” The question, of course, has only taken on added significance in the wake of Tuesday’s senseless shooting in Rancho Tehama Reserve.
Our impromptu discussion covered lots of ground biblically, theologically and practically, but our thoughts distilled into two complementary truths:
First, God expects us to protect ourselves and others, within reason. Jesus suggested that running is a prudent course of action when confronted with some dangers (Mt 24:16). And just prior to His death, He advised His apostles to carry swords, for—we must assume—the purpose of self-defense (Lk 22:36). Indeed, protecting ourselves and our loved ones is part of what it looks like to love well while being “wise as serpents” and gentle as doves (Mt 10:16). So, we shouldn’t expect the Lord to always bail us out if we fail to take reasonable precautions to safeguard our own and other’s safety. That’s presumptuous. He may, in His mercy, do so occasionally but He generally likes us to exercise some responsibility in the oversight of our affairs.
Second, God wants us to walk in faith, not fear. If we tried to avoid places where mass shootings have recently taken place (theaters, churches, schools, night clubs, city streets, concerts, etc.), we’d pretty much need to stay locked up at home 24/7. And even then, we might be the victim of a random drive by shooting. Unfortunately, no place is safe from those bent on harming us. But God is bigger than all of that. He knows the day of our death (Ps 139:16; Lk 12:25) and none of us will die a moment earlier than the Lord allows, as Psalm 91 avows. Because of His provident love, we can trust Him even in the most dangerous of places.
How does this play out at Neighborhood Church? Well, we take security issues very seriously. We are big believers in locked doors, strong fences and skilled Safety and Security Team members, trained to respond to emergency situations. They keep a low profile so as not to distract from our worship on Sundays. But they are constantly patrolling the buildings and grounds to keep the rest of us safe. Yet our faith isn’t in our security precautions. It is in the One who alone holds our lives in His hands, whom we will love and serve even were the unthinkable to happen. As we well know, death isn’t the end of our existence but merely the means of moving from the present life to that life which is really life.
In Christ’s love –