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Church Violence and Guardians of the Flock

November 4, 2012

I have a frustrating relationship with people of faith. I love that they consider moral issues.  They have done their homework and can respond to questions of right and wrong.  It is more than a matter of words.  Believers act when they see someone in need or someone worthy of praise. They don’t delegate that to someone else. I like that people of faith are self-governing and responsible.  All that is good, yet I remain frustrated by their attitude towards violence. Too often, they would rather leave self-defense to someone else.  Is that so bad?

We are lucky that few people in our society are violent. They are a fraction of a percent each year. Most of those few who are violent will never be violent again in their entire life. For a very few, violence is a way of life. The church opens its arms to the troubled, and violence comes to church.

  • Floyd Palmer had a long history of mental illness and violence against churches. Recently, Palmer worked at the church where he shot a prayer leader during services.
  • Derrick Birdow crashed his car into a church in Texas and beat the pastor to death with an electric guitar.
  • Wade Page opened fire on the members of a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Those are the recent readings from a long and troubling list.


This issue strikes closer to home. Some of my religious friends are against the use of force for self-defense.  They go so far as to want all guns removed from society starting with the honest people.  My friends make a clear exception for the bodyguards who protect their pastor. My friends go to a mega-church and their pastor was threatened.  They think their pastor is worth protecting, and I agree.  They are proud that their pastor has armed security.  The pastor is protected right in the middle of church as well as outside the sanctuary.  It is great that they love their pastor that much.  I know they pray for him.   Why do they stop there?

The parishioners are protected as well as the pastor.  I’ve gone to their church and seen their campus security.  They are protected by teams of parish volunteers and by paid professionals.  Layers of security start at the front gate and extend to the bathrooms.  A prayer team prays for their spiritual safety and a security team watches over them for their physical safety.  My religious friends will pray for me, but will they protect me physically?  For many of them, physical security is someone else’s job.  There are thousands of people who watch over them every day, in church and out.  They purchased a security system for their home.  The police protect them on the street.  I thought one purpose of religious faith was to move us to oppose evil wherever we find it.  Relying on someone else to protect your family becomes negligence when taken to extreme.  I see too few of them training to protect their family.

I think many believers are confused.  I’ve heard them say that evil guns don’t belong in civilized society, and certainly not in church, except for the pastor’s gun.  Yes, Christians are told to turn the other cheek.  I do not think that means passivity in the face of evil.  It means to reject retaliation out of vengeance and to lead by generous example.  We are also commanded to sell our cloak and buy a sword because we will not always be kept safe by others.  Time and again, Christians needed to protect those they love, to defend the poor and fatherless and do justice to the afflicted and needy.  I think that applies everywhere and all the time.

Perhaps my believing friends don’t want to consider violence when they are filled with the Holy Spirit in church. I certainly understand.  I also can’t think of a better time or a better place to face evil and defend the innocent.  Let us give believers credit; it is their very willingness to confront evil that makes church safe for both the innocent and the sinner.  Their urge to ignore evil leaves the church vulnerable to both outside predators and to predators on the church staff who are in a position of trust.  It is the clear-eyed parishioners who make the church spiritually safe and physically safe.

Believers are called to shepherd the weak and the lost every day and everywhere.  They are called to pray, and called to get off their knees and act as god’s hands here on earth.  Sometimes they have to get their hands dirty.  Too often they refuse.  It seems to me that the faithful will not protect those they love at home if they will not protect them in the safest of places like their church.  Religious believers will not defend a stranger on the road when they are alone if they will not stand to defend their own church were they are surrounded by friends.  These strong men and women of faith know right from wrong.  Who will bring peace on earth if not the faithful?  I want them to stand up and lead by example.

They are not weak or sinful.  They are no worse that average when it comes to defending the flock.  They are used to the request to be a spiritual warrior, but unfamiliar with the request to be a physical warrior.  The believers may feel alone, but they are not alone.  Most of those who are committed to self-defense have a strong religious commitment.  Our religious friends are simply untrained.  It is our opportunity to call them forth and educate them.

Yes, they need help. They need our help.  Yes, pray for them.  But do that and more.  Help them to be the guardians of the flock.


Rob the frustrated

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