My heart is breaking for the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. What happened at First Baptist Church is every pastor’s worst nightmare. It was the worst mass shooting at a house of worship in American history. There are no words to comfort those who experienced such horrific tragedy, senseless violence, death and devastation.
But we know that in their darkest hours that God was near to the victims and our hope is in the promise of God’s presence. We pray that God will be with those who are suffering; as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” We pray that in their grief, the people of Sutherland Springs will cry out in pain and that God will hear their laments as God heard the cries of Israelites in Egypt, and come to deliver them and all of us from the scourge of violence that is wreaking havoc on our nation.
We are at war with ourselves. I know this because I was interviewed by four different local news affiliates this week and every reporter who called me for an interview asked me about security. They asked, “What measures are you going to take this week in response to the shooting in Texas?” “Do you have a security team?” “Will you call the police?” “Will you have armed guards on campus or metal detectors in the narthex?” “Will you invite your members to bring their guns to church?” The only topic they wanted to discuss was church security.
I understand the concern for security. People are afraid. I am afraid. We are afraid because we believe churches are supposed to be the safest places in our lives. We are afraid because our children are there. We are afraid because like Charleston and Pulse, our sanctuary has been violated and taken from us. The sanctity of our holy space has been stolen and we are right to grieve. We are right to grieve because there are no more safe places in America society. No one is safe from the disease of gun violence. No one.
In our grief and fear it is natural for us to desire security, but before we move too quickly to security, let’s stop for a moment and remember that security is what got us here. We asked for security and the military industrial complex that feeds the Pentagon’s demand for efficient killing machines infected our society with military grade weapons. We demanded these weapons of war for our security abroad and they are now in our cities and our homes. We have militarized our police forces and our neighborhoods. Now there are more guns than human beings in America today because of our concern for security. Security is what got us into this mess in the first place and I’m not sure increased concern for security is going to get us out of it.
There is no security plan that will save us from an AR-15 assault rifle. There is no security plan that could have prevented that tragedy in Las Vegas or Texas. The real problem we face is not security but gun violence. Since 1968, 1.5 million people have been killed by guns in America, more than all the wars in American history combined. Since 1980, almost twice as many people have been killed by guns in America than have died from AIDS. Gun violence is a public health crisis and an epidemic on par with war and AIDS. It is a uniquely American epidemic and we must do something about it. We must find the strength to change, but the change we need is not in the level of security at houses of worship. The change we need is a change in the way we think about guns.
If we want true security, we must not fall victim to the fear that calls for false measures of security which don’t really make us safer but simply assuage our anxieties and ignore the real problem. We must reject all forms of false security and work for true security.
Let’s discuss true security. True security is a world without automatic weapons. True security is world without domestic violence. True security is a world without toxic masculinity and patriarchy. True security is a world without homophobia. True security is a world without white supremacy and racism. True security is a world without hatred, dehumanization and oppression. True security is a world without economic disparity. True security is a world without politicians in the pocket of the NRA.
True security is a world where the poor and hungry are given jobs with fair wages instead of automatic weapons. True security is a world where children are given a world class education instead of world class firearms. True security is a world where the sick and mentally ill are given health care instead of guns. True security is a world where our veterans are given a new purpose to help build the common good instead of a new battlefield on which to fight their fellow citizens. True security is a world where domestic violence offenders are given treatment instead of ammunition. True security is a world where people are engaged in active peace instead of negligent violence.
Now let me get a little closer to home. True security will come when the people of God pray with their hands, their feet, their money and their votes, instead of paying lip service to God with their “thoughts and prayers.” God desires mercy and not sacrifice, and when our prayers have no action behind them they will always fall on deaf ears. True security will come when the people of God get up off their pew cushions and act, instead of living in the despair that says, “Nothing can be done about this.” True security will come when the people of God care more about life, peace and justice than they do about losing a few people in their congregations who are holding on more tightly to their guns and their greed than they are to the gospel of Jesus. As the prophets Isaiah, Joel and Micah all said, true security will come when the people of God beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks, and their guns into garden tools for the cultivation and the beautification of God’s creation.
May God continue to comfort the victims of this senseless tragedy, but may God also continue to provoke us all to be people who pursue life, peace and justice, which is the only way to create true security.