Just in the last two months there has been a slew of church shootings in the United States, and the trend seems to be getting worse. I say seems to be getting worse because I was unable to find any information online tracking the number of church shootings over the past decade. I was able to find many websites tracking the number of mass shootings over the years, but nothing specifically regarding church shootings. The implication would be that church shootings simply don’t matter. Nevertheless, just over the past two months there have been three church shootings in the Unites States. A simple Google search of “church shootings in the Unites States” pulls up these top headlines:
“The man who allegedly killed one person and injured five others at a Taiwanese Presbyterian church in California on May 15 has been charged with hate crime enhancements, prosecutors announced Friday.”—Fox News
There was a time when church shootings, like school shootings, were rare. Now they are becoming all too common. Rather than being shocked, we find ourselves becoming numb and desensitized. “Another church shooting. Oh. I suppose those things happen.”
However, with the uptick in school and church shootings, American-Christians are once again turning their attention to the question of what do we do? How should we respond? How should the church respond? As we live in an increasingly post-Christian America, an America that is becoming evermore hostile toward Christianity, believers will be forced to deal with the gathering storm, because this trend is only going to get worse. Hatred of Christians will only get worse. The demonizing of those who adhere to biblical principles will become the norm, something taught in public schools, a cause for termination from employment, or dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military.
This should not be surprising when we see political talking heads on national television frequently blaming Christians for rising gun violence and mass shootings. The host of one very popular political show recently argued that all the gun violence we are witnessing is the fault of Christians:
It’s all part of the Christian nationalism, this rise in violent Christian nationalism, that we have seen, which is also disturbing. They use biblical principles, they pervert them to justify this,…Particularly in Texas, this is a growing movement. It’s God, guns and Trump. Or God, guns and whatever. It’s a part of their ethos.[i]
During the 1930’s, Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s national problems. In the U.S., Christians are increasingly becoming the scapegoats. We are the ones who will not accept homosexuality. We are the ones who will not accept transgenderism. We are the ones who have dangerously pushed the Supreme Court to the right. We are the ones who won’t acknowledge the science and danger of climate change. Christians are the ones who will not get with the program and keep rocking the boat. Jesus accurately predicted that “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (Jn. 16:2).
The question Chrisitians are faced with is this: What will we do when that hour comes? How will we react in the face of persecution and violence? How will we respond to the gathering storm?
Some are talking about bringing guns to church. Some are talking about hiring armed security guards. Others are talking placing guards with military assault rifles on the roofs of their church buildings. But is this really what Jesus meant when he said to his followers, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44)? Grant it, not everyone who attacks a group of Christians gathering in a church is persecuting them for their faith. But Jesus commands us to do two things: (1) love your enemy and (2) pray for those who persecute you. Anyone who seeks to do harm to another person becomes their enemy, regardless of why he is attacking that person. Anyone who attacks a church gathering, regardless of the reason, is acting as their enemy. Does loving our enemy mean shooting them dead? If that is what love looks like, it is difficult to imagine what hatred would look like.
Jesus commands his followers to “treat others as you yourself would want to be treated” (Matt 7:12). If I were an armed gunman going into a church who professes to possess and display the love of Christ to the world, who professes to be the face of Christ to a watching world, and knowing what I know now about heaven and hell, God and eternity, how would I want that church to treat me? Would I want them to shoot me dead and send me straightway to hell? Or, would I want them to somehow stop me without killing me, while somehow protecting themselves, thereby, at least, giving me the opportunity to hear the gospel and receive forgiveness from God? We would all say that if we were that gunman, we hope the church would be merciful enough to give me the chance to hear the gospel.
We can recall to mind how the church shooting in California recently unfolded. We were told that the “suspect was detained at the scene after a group of people at the church were able to hogtie his legs with an extension cord and confiscate at least two handguns from him.” Of course, in the process, CNN reported that at “least one person is dead and five wounded – including four who are critically injured.” Church members simply rushed the gunman, disarmed him, and bound him for the police. The members of that church truly lived out the command of Christ that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). They exemplified the command of Christ and demonstrated to the world what it means to “love your enemy.”
They also demonstrated to the world and to other churches that responding to violence in a Christ-like manner does not mean lining up for the gunman to systematically shoot every man, woman, and child. Even the apostle Paul fled from danger and was let down in a basket over the Damascus wall to escape those wanting to harm him (Acts 9:23-25).
Then what can churches do to prepare for the gathering storm?
To be sure, all these solutions can be costly and time-consuming. Sometimes it’s just easier to do what makes sense—tell our church members to bring their guns to church if they are licensed to carry one. But God doesn’t call Christians to do what is easy or makes sense. He calls us to be the face of Christ to the world. And Christ did not choose the easy route and, to most of the world, his method of saving people from their sins simply made no sense. To the world, loving our enemy, loving those who would seek to harm us, and praying for those who would seek to persecute us makes no sense. But that’s what it means to be like Christ.
Of course, there are those who will argue that they are not concerned for their own safety but for that of their wives and children. In this Americans are finally experiencing what our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, living in Middle-East countries and South-East Asian countries, have been dealing with for centuries—attending church in hostile nations. What do they do? Those truly concerned about the safety of their wives and children, attend church without their family. Those truly concerned for their own safety, stay home. However, the mature believer understands that God commands the saints to gather for corporate worship. Thus, for the devout believer, risking their lives to attend church is simply what it means to follow Christ.
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