Last Sunday’s massacre of 26 men, women, children… and even the unborn as they gathered in a “Sanctuary” for worship may have finally awakend the church to how vulnerable we are as we worship on Sunday mornings. A 32-year-old former Air Force airman Court Marshalled, given a year’s confinement and a Bad Conduct Discharge walked into the church of his ex-wife and mother-in-law and fired over 450 deadly rounds.
I know a lot of my clergy colleagues will disagree with me, but, for me, the time has come for churches to protect its members. We have a requirement in the United Methodist called “Safe Sanctuary” which is basically to make sure that children and women are safe from assault and/or abuse. This came out of the tragic events of the Catholic Church. It has been mandated and yet many Methodist churches have yet to take it seriously or do anything whatsoever about this.
Now a new threat has crossed the horizon… a lone guy coming into a Bible Study in South Carolina or a sanctuary with 15 magazines filled with 30 rounds of ammunition. Some good old church people will say “Jesus will take care of us. So we don’t need to do that.” Let me share with you where I come from. I spent four years in the United States Marines. I am qualified as an expert with a 45 and a M-14. I am pretty good with both, haven’t practiced much in the last 50 years, but I can get back to an expert level rather quickly. I was at Khe Sanh during Tet in 1968. We lost a lot of men. I was so very fortunate not to have lost any of my men. To me that is one of the hardest things to imagine… losing someone under your leadership, training and responsibility.
I have given a lot of thought about losing people I am responsible for in the church to some person coming to the door with long rifles, pistols and a whole bunch of rounds intent on doing as much harm as possible. It would be unforgivable for me personally to have had the chance to prepare and failed to do anything about it. That would be hard to live with.
My last church had it right – took responsibility – made a plan and carries it through every Sunday and whenever the church meets. Additions we made after I got there was to respond to two break-ins by adding inside motion detectors and night vision cameras. We were fortunate to have a former Assistant Police Chief in our church who helped to lead and train us to take care of our members. It all began with the ushers. They were not just people who gave out bulletins, they locked all outside doors, except the main entrance, once the service started, walked the halls, checked classrooms, bathrooms, and the parking lot looking for anything out-of-place. In addition to these things there was always at least one person in the narthex and … and there were several trained people in the congregation who were conceal carry trained who carried a weapon every Sunday. This program and these people opened my eyes to the need to actually and practically care for and protect the people of my congregation.
If you really care about your people and want them to be safe in worship, meetings and studies then get your leaders (at least a couple of level-headed ones) and meet with a police official who could give you insight and help you with your planning – talk about the good and the not so good of putting a safety plan into action.
Okay, the answer you may have been waiting to hear is “No, I am not a supporter of the NRA. The NRA is about selling guns not protecting people.” Back in the days before guns it was called the National Rock Association and their tag line was “Rocks Don’t Kill People… People Do.” Hey, but if the rocks were not nearby we would be throwing flowers at each other. We are going to hurt people with whatever is near and easily accessible when rage gets out of hand. If it is rocks we will do a lot less harm than we will with an AK-47 with a 50 round magazine.
So, do some deep soul-searching about you standing there seeing many of the people you baptized lying dead in the sanctuary…. that is if you are not one of them. Many times they will go after the preacher first. May God be with us all as we ponder what God would have us do.
Grace and Peace