I read an article on NPR yesterday about a church in Mexico, New York where the church website states that it is “not a gun free zone,” and the pastor, Ron Russell, encourages parishioners to carry guns to church on Sundays. The article states, “Russell, 70, believes that it’s not just his responsibility to keep his church safe, but his sacred duty — pastors are commissioned by God to protect their flock.”
I would have been a bit alarmed reading this article if I had not heard a similar story from a church much closer to home only a week ago. On Easter Sunday, the day that the church celebrates the ultimate reality that life is triumphant over death, my wife, Kaylanne, and our West African housemate, Jacob, attended a rural congregation outside of Denver where my fifteen year old sister-in-law, Sheree, was being baptized.
Upon walking in, they were surprised to notice that there were several men wearing “Security” coats at the door. Once they sat down, they were surprised to read in the bulletin, that the “Security Team” at this church was armed in the instance of a mass shooting. Once they stood to sing the first hymn, they were even more surprised to notice that other men in the church who were not on the security team were also openly carrying firearms to church that day.
With the extended family gathered together over Easter lunch in celebration of Sheree’s baptism, Kaylanne began to tell this story and express her horror. As she spoke, other family members from other churches in the Denver metro area suggested that their churches also had armed security personnel on Sundays.
The story that did not come to light over lunch on Sunday, was that when Jacob, my West African housemate, walked out of church on Sunday carrying Sheree’s wet clothes ahead of the rest of the family, he struggled to find the car. As he walked around the parking lot inspecting cars to determine which one he should open to drop off the baptismal garments he was carrying, he was greeted by a member of the security team who asked him what he was looking for. Jacob, a black man, standing in a church parking lot in rural Colorado was suddenly scared for his life as he was being interrogated by a man with a gun in a church parking lot.
We live in the age of mass shootings. The same article that I mentioned earlier notes that the frequency of mass shootings tripled from 2011-2014. In this historical moment, I’m grateful for so many words from our sacred texts, including these from Isaiah which foretold the coming of our resurrected king, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
In our current historical moment, the moral authority in our country is not coming from our churches wielding weapons, or our waffling politicians, but from the children that have taken to our streets.
Those little children have brought their voices together to say, “Not one more. We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of an assault rifle to save the lives of students. We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives.”
They have said that they are tired of the “thoughts and prayers” of politicians, and tired of the irrational fear driven logic of American voters. They aren’t calling for open carry, concealed carry, carrying in church or carrying in school, they are calling for universal comprehensive background checks, updates to the ATF database, funds for the CDC to research the gun violence epidemic in America, a high capacity magazine ban, and an assault weapons ban.
These are the voices that we should be listening to. These are the rational voices in our time.
You feel called to protect your flock? Take a page from the little child’s book and build a world where the wolf will live with the lamb.
(Image courtesy of RawTools.org)