More and more I am seeing calls for increased security in our places of worship as a response to the increased number of mass shooting in this country. I am greatly saddened by this fact, not because people want to have a measure of safety, but because modern American society has been reduced to a level where we do not feel safe. I find “church security” to be a difficult dilemma, there is a strong tension between the needs of our current environment and the Christian ideal. Making it tougher there are several bad arguments swirling around the conversation clouding the waters.
Let me begin by trying to dispel what I see as poor arguments within the discussion.
- We have the right to bear arms- This is the worst argument in this discussion since it is not grounded in theology but in American ideology. The American founders recognized a need for firearms in the human political climate and in no way should this have bearing on a theological discussion about security in churches.
- Jesus said, “buy a sword”. Luke 22:36- If we read the context of the verse closely we find that 22:36 is a set up for 22:37, where Jesus says he must be identified with the criminals (or more probably rebellious). That is why when the disciples produce two swords (thinking he is starting an armed revolt?) he responds “enough of that.” Jesus was not suggesting they take up arms, rather he was suggesting that he was about to die reviled as a sword carrying criminal. Think about why he told Simon to put the sword away.
And from the other side
- We trust God for our protection- If this is meant as, “we do not fear death because God protects us and will save us in the last day no matter who may harm or kill me.”, then I have little problem with such a statement. But it seems that most of the time it is meant as, “there is no need to seek out human protection because God will step in and make sure the gun does not fire.” This second statement is dangerous since God never makes such guarantees for this kind of protection. (The same is true of health and healing God never promises we can’t die from cancer)
- We must “Beat our swords into plows.”- As with the above Luke passage, this rationale fails to take the full context of the verse into consideration. This is the Christian ideal but is for that time when there is complete union with God. This kind of proof texting is a very inefficient way to study and apply Scripture.
- The historical argument that “first century Christians refused to serve in the military”- Roland Bainton famously advanced this position in his “War and Peace”, but I still find this a less than convincing argument for total pacifism. Simply put one cannot discount the political (and to a lesser extent religious) reality of the Roman army. Rome was the prototypical villain for Christians, it represented the worst of humanity. Obviously, one who thought this way could not serve in the military which was expanding Rome’s power. Simply put, no Christian of that time would take any position which furthered Roman imperial aims.
So, where are we?
The Christian ideal is that, through our love for God, we love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31), including our enemies and those who seek to harm us. That much is clear, but how do we accomplish that task. In other words when someone seeks to harm us and those around us what steps can, and should we ethically take to show love to both the intended victims and the person with the gun. So often we talk of loving those behind us (by shooting the intruder) or loving the intruder (and forgetting those in our protection). Perhaps, I do not have the right to harm or kill the intruder attempting to kill me, maybe I should under the Christian ideal sacrifice myself. Yet, do I have a duty to my brothers and sisters, some of whom may not be capable of sacrificing themselves for God’s ideal? Also, am I showing love to the intruder by simply allowing this person to accomplish their plans? Perhaps, love for the intruder also includes thwarting the intruder, even if that leaves potential for me to have blood on my hands.
Some right now will probably site Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who famously left his pacifist ideals to take part in a plot to kill Hitler. His justification was precisely that there are times when good people must take up arms. However, equally relevant is the witness of Corrie Ten Boom, who never accepted the killing of enemies even to save good people. And what she lacked in theological education she made up for in personal piety.
Perhaps, we should take a cue from our brothers and sisters who face more danger than our American congregations. The Coptic churches in Egypt are heavily guarded to protect worshipers from any potential threats. Yet, these same Christians are the first ones to die for the faith when the required. They take precautions to protect those who are gathered in the churches but allow themselves to be dragged away to torture and death.
Again, though, the threat they face is vastly different than the one we face. They face a regular militant population who want to kill them for their Christian beliefs. The greatest danger to the American churches is a lone individual, who is suffering from some sort of mental disorder. Does this work against the example of the persecuted Church, is there a difference between a sustained militant threat and a random disturbed individual? Should we be more concerned about recognizing mental illness than security? In fact, is recognition of mental illness our best security?
At this point it would be wrong of me to suggest that I have answers, rather I want to show the complexities of this issue. We must stop acting like simplistic solutions can truly help us. We must all be aware of the dangers presented to the Church by our society. There are dangers if we choose not to arm ourselves and dangers if we choose to arm ourselves. Perhaps, since Christlikeness is the goal there are different answers for different settings. Perhaps the answer is counter-intuitive to some churches, perhaps some congregations need to lay down arms because they rely tooo heavily on them, and perhaps some need to consider picking them up because they (like Bonhoeffer are faced with an impossible choice) I pray that God gives us wisdom to make the right decisions, and a spirit willing to listen in these times.