In the Cross-hairs: A look at gun violence from behind the pulpit

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
(Bob Stewart/The Concordian)

As gun violence and mass shootings continue to compete with political rhetoric and sexual misconduct in the entertainment world for center stage in the news, those involved in the church find themselves wondering how to cope with the recent church shootings in Tennessee and Texas. Pastors, lay-ministers and parishioners alike are seeking answers to what might the proper way to respond to such actions.

Concordia is home to many churches, any one if which could potentially become the target of a shooter. Pastor Steve Thayer, of the Church of Christ in Concordia, shared some thoughts about the current need to defend congregations.

“Most churches are vulnerable, easy prey for shootings,” Thayer said. “The question is, ‘Should the members be allowed to carry concealed firearms into the church building for protection?’ I believe they should.”

What if someone objects?

“I’m not saying we put a gun on the podium,” Thayer added. “Use discretion. If (the weapon is) concealed, no one should even know it.”

Liz Lindley, pastor of Concordia United Methodist Church, spoke about the similarities between the small Baptist church in Southerland Springs, Texas, and the churches in and around Concordia.

“Hearing the news of the Texas shooting hits close to home,” Lindley said. “It’s such a familiar setting — an old church in a small farming town. How could it not make us think of ourselves? It brings up a lot of emotion — mostly fear. Fear for our lives. Fear for the church. Fear for the future. And yet, God calls to us saying, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Thayer said he believes the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth, was not anti-weapon, as some might suggest. Instead, he points to Jesus as someone who upheld the proper use of weapons.

“In Matthew 26:52, Jesus tells his disciple to put his sword back into its place. In the gospel of John he specifically says to put it in it’s ‘sheath.’ In Luke 22, Jesus tells his disciples who do not own a weapon to sell their robes and buy one. And in Luke 11, Jesus reminds them that when a strong man, fully armed, guards his homestead, his possessions are in peace.”

All would have to be done within the confines of current law, Thayer said. In other words, those carrying weapons would have to do so legally. If the law changes and guns become outlawed, then even Christians could not own them (even if those with evil intent did). He cited England and Australia as countries where possessing a firearm is a crime.

“If that were to occur here, it would be no different than countries where Christianity is outlawed and any person found practicing their faith would be at risk,” he said. “The real bottom line, though, is to change hearts and minds with the gospel of Jesus Christ, that being the gospel of peace. However, I believe it would be foolish to stand in the rain to worship when protection of a building is present. It’s the same with guns.”

Lindley concurs.

“Sometimes things happen in our world that we don’t understand. Sometimes it feels like we are surrounded in brokenness,” she said. “If we want to address the brokenness of our world, we have to be willing to face it. We can’t flee. We can’t hide. We can’t lock the doors of our churches. We have to be brave, because the brokenness of our world can only find healing in our Savior. We have to keep being loving, and grace-filled, and forgiving. It’s what sets us apart — and it’s what gives the world hope. If we desire healing for our world, we have to live like God is with us.”

Thayer, however, had one final thought on the matter.

“I don’t want to leave the impression that I think that concealed weapons are the only answer,” he said. “Some may just lock the doors at a certain time or hire security. There may be other ways, as well.”

After gunshots rang out at a church in Antioch, Tenn., on Sept. 24, much of the media apparently either ignored the story or relegated it to some little noticed spot in the interior of the news. Wedged in between the Las Vegas shooting rampage and the Texas church shooting, one woman was killed and seven people were injured before a church usher could get to his car and come back to confront the shooter. Law enforcement said having someone on-site that knew how to handle the situation might have been the reason more people weren’t killed.

Lafayette County Sheriff Kerrick Alumbaugh said his department has been concerned about the safety of area congregations for some time.

“Unfortunately, the only thing that stops a person with a gun is a person with a gun,” Alumbaugh said. “Unless you have some sort of security on-site, you’re going to be vulnerable. Several churches in the area already have security measures in place, with officers who are parishioners and who volunteer to stand guard during services.”

The sheriff said he believes another way to increase safety in churches and other public gatherings is more education and training.

“There has to be a plan. If you fail to have a plan, you plan to fail,” Alumbaugh said. “People need to learn to simply do something. Move to another location, or barricade the doors. Just do something. Too many times, people just stand there because they are afraid and just don’t know what to do. That’s where training and education come into play.”

Alumbaugh also said his department currently has a security training program for schools they are in the process of adapting for churches.

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