The shooting attack in Sutherland Springs, Texas was a wake-up call for many American Christians: the Church can be attacked here, as well as overseas as well.
While we often hear stories about attacks on Christian churches in places like Africa and China, violent attacks on believers in the United States was an anomaly for most of our history. However, there is an increasing number of attacks on church-goers in recent years.
In response to that, more church-goers have started to bring their lawfully carried handguns to services, and should the need ever arise (God forbid) they would have no qualms defending their fellow believers by using force. Some pastors even carry a handgun themselves, even while at the pulpit.
One shooting range in Houston is taking the matter seriously, and is now offering free firearms training classes to pastors to encourage them to proactively protect their respective congregations. According to local station KHOU, Hot Wells Shooting Range General Manager Josh Vacek believes that one of the important steps towards preventing future attacks is for pastors to be armed and ready.
“We think that there’s a chance we have a lot of heroes in these churches and all they need to do it take step one,” said Vacek. “And that’s carry that tool, carry that gun.”
Vacek believes that being armed is one of the best deterrents against potential threats. If the crazies out there who are planning attacks know that their nefarious plans may be thwarted by an armed congregation member, or leader, it gives them pause when thinking about attacking such a place.
Remember that between 1950 and 2016, only 1.6% of all mass shootings have taken place in areas that were not “gun free zones.” These areas are lucrative in soft targets for potential attackers, whether jihadists or mentally deranged people who should be institutionalized.
KHOU reporter Jason Miles asked several pastoral leaders in the area if they would consider getting a concealed handgun license and carry in the pulpit. One stated that he has considered it, even though he claimed it may violate much of what the church stands for (more on that in a moment).
Others said they would never consider it, or they are fine with others, such as off-duty LEO’s carrying in the congregation.
Now, on the subject of Christians and self-defense… There seems to be a misnomer out there that Christians must effectively be pacifists in order to truly live out their convictions. That simply is not true from an historic and exegetical standpoint.
One of the most commonly referenced passages on the subject of Christians a self-defense is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5, where he states that rather than the “eye for an eye” principle, one should “turn the other cheek.” Many in the 21st century apply a 21st century filter to that passage, rather than gleaning the meaning that Jesus had actually intended.
In ancient Israel, during the Roman occupation of the early A.D. era, slapping a person on the cheek was not a physical assault in the way that we would understand it, but rather an insult. In Augustine of Hippo’s discussion of the Sermon on the Mount, he deeply pondered the meaning of this passage, and concluded that it was not a prohibition on protecting one’s self, and passively accepting being beaten and/or killed by robbers, but a prohibition on taking revenge.
Indeed, as he wrote on the following passage, where believers are called to give their cloak as well if someone takes their coat, Augustine wrote that it “is rightly understood as a precept having reference to the preparation of heart, not to a vain show of outward deed.”
Hence, it is a disposition of the heart, not a mere prohibition on outward action alone. This passage cannot be properly understood in a vacuum, aside from other passages in the Scripture dealing with the use of force.
A Christian may not actively seek out someone who robbed their house and kill them if they are found. It is the job of the state to carry out justice (Romans 13). But in situations where a person is immediately under attack, the Scripture does not prohibit us from protecting our lives (Nehemiah 4, Esther 8-9).
Believers who live in free states should choose to arm themselves if they are so inclined. They may not actively seek out people to “carry out justice,” but if they and their fellow congregants are attacked by a mad man, there is plenty of precedent for the people of God protecting their lives.