Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Of Church and Security

I get the mailings, regularly, being that I'm the pastor and all.  New organizations, part of the economy of AmeriChrist, Inc., offering up trainings and consulting support for a question of key significance to American Jesus folk:

Church security.

Because the stories come in, month after month.  Crazed gunmen, entering sanctuaries, opening fire.  Usually, the deaths come in their twos or threes.  An estranged spouse, and the pastor.  A church employee, and the pastor.  Half of the congregation, and the pastor.

Pastors, being up front and all, tend to go down when "the shooter" comes a-calling.  Yay.

So there's a cottage industry now, businesses specializing in finding a plan for securing your religious facility.  Do you need an armed guard?  Should it be an off duty officer?  If it's a congregant, what are the liability issues?  What are your policies about concealed-carrying congregants?  How will this effect your insurance rates, particularly if one of your armed congregants mistakes another of your armed congregants for a threat?

And so on, and so forth.

I read these missives.  Then, I discard them. 

Because here's what disciples of Jesus Christ do when confronted with gun wielding psychopaths.  We try to talk them down.  Or we seek safety if able.  If that doesn't work?

We die.

That is not the answer that we want to hear.  But it is the only answer that isn't a carefully constructed rationalization for our sinfulness.

The first church knew this.  The apostles knew this.  The church that spread throughout the world knew this, as the first and most fundamental evangelical principle.  It is what marks us as different from faiths that are just another mask for imperial power.

The peculiar Christian relationship with coercive power is one of the primary sub-themes in my recent novel, and while the characters who struggle with it are Amish, it's something that every person who claims to follow Jesus needs to take seriously.

Jesus makes us different.  It is that difference...that radical, terrifying refusal to take up the sword in the face of the sword...that defined the unique witness of the early Christian church.  For all the talk about the early church, and how pure it was, the response of those first faithful souls in the face of violence and brutal oppression was consistent and indelibly marked into history.  They didn't take up the sword, even if the refusal to do so cost them their lives.

But we American "Christians" have forgotten this.  It's much, much easier to turn to power for our defense, to indulge ourselves in the cult of violence and self-seeking that has left its bloody prints on all of human history. 

So we do, conveniently forgetting who Jesus was, what he did for us, and what he asks us to do for the world.