Posted by: smstrouse | January 7, 2016

The Church Under Fire

160104215720-man-walks-into-church-with-gun-pastor-intv-ac-cooper-00021204-full-169Never mind “What Would Jesus Do?” The question I’m asking this week is “What Should the Pastor Do?”

Two recent incidents have me wondering.

On New Years Eve, in the middle of the sermon about the violence and senseless deaths in the community, a man with a rifle walked into Heal the Land Outreach Ministries in Fayetteville, NC. Imagine what went through everyone’s mind: an armed man in an African-American church. The shadow of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church had to be looming large.

But Pastor Larry Wright didn’t flinch. He walked right up to the man and said, “Can I help you?” Now, I don’t know how big the gunman was, but Wright is 6′ 2″ and 230 pounds. His plan was to tackle the guy if he became antagonistic. Thankfully, he did not become antagonistic. In fact, he asked the pastor to pray for him. The situation was diffused.

Then there’s the story about St. Andrew’s Episcopal/ Peace Lutheran/Living Waters Mission in Burns, OR. Burns is near the wildlife reserve where militia members have taken over a building. A message was circulated on Facebook last week from the pastor stating, “We are watching strangers who are coming to church, which normally we do not do. One militiaman came to Church of the Living Waters and got up and left when I said that guns are for hunting with and should never be used on human beings. Please pray for us and light a candle for peace.”

As a pastor, I know that people sometimes do walk out of church during the sermon. Sometimes it’s because they disagree with what’s being said; other times because they just remembered they forgot to turn off the iron. However, in the situation in Burns and in the wake of other church shootings, I can understand why this incident was cause for alarm. Were I the pastor of Living Waters, I am sure I would have been nervous.

target-on-backNeither of these incidents ended in violence or tragedy. But they could have. And no church is immune. Remember the fatal shootings at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN? That gunman said he was motivated by hatred of Democrats, liberals, African-Americans and homosexuals. In this wild west gun culture, it sometimes feels like we all have targets on our backs.

So, as pastors, what are we prepared to do? What are we expected to do?

A few weeks ago, as I was beginning the Communion liturgy, two strangers walked into the church. At First United, we gather up front in the chancel area, not down in the pews. Our moveable altar table is positioned so that my back is to the pews, so I couldn’t see who had entered. I could hear movement, so I knew someone had come in. And then a member of the congregation went down to greet them. Long story short, they were visitors and we ended up having a lovely conversation after the service.

My point in telling the story is that by being an open, inviting, welcoming community, we do  not choose who enters our doors. Had our visitors been a threat, how would I have handled it?

What would Jesus say? Take it all the way to death? No doubt.

Am I ready to do that? Some doubt, to be sure. But willing to raise the question for discussion and illumination.




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