Another church shooting in White Settlement, Texas, happened when a man entered with a shotgun, walked up to two deacons serving communion and opened fire, killing two and wounding another. He was then shot and killed by a congregant. One communion server was also drawing a weapon before he was shot. The man who shot the shooter is a former FBI agent and owner of a shooting range and firearm training instructor.
Most of us genuinely want to end gun violence and we want to see it end — that we have in common. Our difference is the means in which we believe is best for all. We do not need to question another’s love for their family if they choose to not have a gun to protect their home, despite the possibility of a break in. We do not need to question another’s love for their family if they choose to own a gun to protect their home despite the possibility it will be used on a loved one instead of an intruder. Our love and care for one another is not in question. How we show that love through protection is in question, and it digs deep into our identity.
“The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun” is making its rounds on social media. This hero narrative — the only thing that can stop a villain with a gun is a hero with a gun — appeals deeply to our heartstrings and our love for humanity and even more so for those closest to us. Most good guys who do pull the trigger in defense of another do not want the recognition, nor do they really want to shoot anyone. It is a necessary utilitarian task for them, and it’s applied to their homes and their places of worship.
It’s a short-term answer, with long-term ramifications that affect the people beyond our inner circles, including likely trauma or moral injury for the “good guy.” So how do we stop this from continuing to happen? Or more relevant, how do churches and faith communities respond to active shooters and violence?
What if Jesus didn’t heal the ear of the chief priest’s servant after Peter swung his sword at the servant’s head? Jesus is not questioning Peter’s love for Him when He heals the ear Peter cut off. He is clearly saying this is not the way toward restoration. Jesus is showing us short-term violence never leads to long-term peace. Jesus is foreshadowing where the hero moment belongs. It looks more like a cross than a weapon on the hip. It looks more like the students at many high schools who rush and tackle a shooter, often at the expense of their own life. It looks like the six staff of Sandy Hook Elementary losing their lives so their students keep theirs.“ Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for others,” Jesus told the disciples.
Isaiah 53 foretells that Jesus will be seen with the transgressors at his arrest. Peter left no doubt he, and by extension the disciples, were seen as transgressors by Peter becoming violent. “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a sword is a disciple with a sword.” This is what we are saying when we decide to arm our ushers. We must ask ourselves why we are so preoccupied with preparing to be a transgressor in our show of love for those around us? Do we not trust the resurrection?
After the El Paso shooting earlier this year, data for gun violence in Texas went mainstream. Every three hours a person dies by firearm in Texas, an average of 3,139 per year from 2013 to 2017. Firearm death is on the increase in Texas, despite good guys with guns. It’s a state that prides itself on gun rights and gives legs to the hero narrative of a “good guy with a gun.” This narrative is driven by the NRA machine and recited at every NRA convention by many of its keynote speakers, including people of faith.
We must choose which narrative we want to give legs to: the way of the Lord or the way of the transgressors? Previous Executive Vice President J. Warren Cassidy once remarked, “You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you approached us as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.”
Do we want to sound more like the NRA or more like Jesus?
Rev. Sharon Risher lost her mom, cousin, and two friends in the Emmanuel AME church shooting. This past summer, Shane Claiborne and I held a Beating Guns event with Rev. Risher and she shared her story. She then walked to the anvil and swung a hammer to beat on the barrel of a gun in memory of her loved ones. She called out their names with each swing. Her loved ones were about to pray when the shooter entered. They invited him to pray with them. He opened fire after the prayer, killing nine saints. The moment Rev. Risher started hitting on the barrel of the gun was a hero moment that echoed the loss of the Emmanuel 9. It was a moment of transforming death into life.
The passages of Isaiah and Micah that call us to beat our swords into plowshares end by calling us to walk in the way of the Lord. This is not a call for something to do far off in the future; this is a call to act like the Lord now — on earth as it is in heaven. When we see people walking in the way of the Lord, we must recognize them as heroes. Rev. Risher is a hero for all of us and has a clear belief about the narrative she wants to lift up:
“I wholly believe guns have no place in a church. The narrative about a good guy with a gun is what politicians feed the public to make their point for arming people. The NRA will use anything to make their point and sell more guns.
If you truly believe in Jesus, you won’t carry that gun to church.”
We’ll be with Rev. Risher again in North Carolina on January 11th. May we beat our guns into garden tools. May we mourn with those who have lost loved ones to gun violence. May our places of worship look more like Jesus and less like the NRA.
May we have ears to hear each other — not swords to cut them off.