Do you know if your church has a policy about weapons on church property? Do you know who has a concealed weapon (legally permitted to do so) with them on Sunday morning?
Last Sunday a local church experienced a tragedy of a shooting during morning worship. One person dead and many others likely traumatized. I do not know the circumstances and so this post does not comment any further on what took place there nor make any assessment on what transpired there. We, the public, simply do not know what led up to the shooting nor can we evaluate any justifications one way or the other. So, we allow the authorities to investigate without further comment and we pray for those involved.
And yet, the tragedy can encourage us to have conversations about weapons in our church services. As far as I can see there are two main arguments used in this discussion:
- Individuals with conceal/carry permits provide additional security and can thwart attacks and potentially minimize harm by those intending to engage in mass violence
- Individuals with conceal/carry permits but without extensive training may unnecessarily escalate violence by using weapons too early in a conflict; thus all security should be handled by official “officers.”
I would imagine that many of the arguments used turn on personal experience or knowledge of specific cases. It is easy to imagine a situation where many are killed in a church (consider the shooting in South Carolina in the last year) and where a person with a weapon might have been able to stop or prevent mass killing. It is also easy to imagine where unnecessary harm results from someone with a weapon without proper crisis training. So, our capacity to tell stories of each situation do not help us come to a wise decision on whether to allow weapons in worship services.
So, what questions should we be asking?
I will suggest a few, but I would love to hear your suggestion questions that need asking/answering in order to answer how a church will handle the issue of guns on site.
- What is the statistical probability of violence in church? It does happen, no one can fully predict violence, but probability statistics are still important.
- What levels of risk are acceptable for a church community (no option will remove all risk)?
- What are the options for security? (No weapons, paid security with and without weapons, volunteer specially trained members, no policy at all)?
- What minimal training would we require to allow members to carry weapons?
- What notifications and communications should be made to the congregation about policies and procedures?
- What biblical and theological arguments will we prize in determining our choices?
As we consider the best way forward, do remember to pray for those whose lives have been upended by violence this past weekend. It is easy to backseat drive bad situations. But rarely do we have the facts to do so. Better to pray and ask for God to bring his healing power to all involved.