Guns and Church
by Heidi Regier Kreider, Conference Minister
In a recent blog, Mennonite pastor Horace McMillon said the debate about gun reform in the U.S. is not really a policy discussion, but a religious discussion. He writes, “We have placed our faith in our ability to keep ourselves safe from our neighbors who would harm us, from our government who might oppress us. These are faith-based beliefs, not open to empirical critique. The bloodshed and loss of life in our collective wisdom is tragic. But we say it is the necessary cost of freedom. It is more blood sacrificed on the altar of the God of personal protection.” (to read more, see http://mennoniteusa.org/menno-snapshots/blood-altar-personal-protection/ )
These provocative words remind us that guns and security cannot be separated from the realm of faith. Our nation continues to be shaken by shootings, even in places of worship. Following the mass shooting on Nov. 5 at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX, several WDC pastors have shared with me their concerns about the threat of gun violence in church. One pastor said that some members of his congregation are afraid to attend worship, worrying that all churches have become targets of violence. Another pastor wonders if the congregation is at risk of hateful attacks because of the congregation’s stand on peace and justice. Several pastors have expressed anxiety about congregation members owning handguns, particularly when domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness, or interpersonal conflicts are involved.
What is the role of pastors and other congregational leaders in keeping their people safe? How should Christians define “security?” What does Anabaptist theology say about this? What practical guidelines can help congregations develop security plans? While the news reports that some churches are hiring armed guards or approving concealed weapons in worship, I hear WDC pastors seeking an alternative approach based on Jesus’ message of nonviolence and peacemaking. To discern a faithful response to the threat of gun violence is to wrestle with the challenge of simultaneously protecting the vulnerable, confronting violence, demonstrating God’s love for enemies, and trusting in the ultimate power of good over evil. It is also an opportunity to witness to our faith and offer life-giving hope in the midst of fear or revenge.
A recent article in The Wichita Eagle interviewed local church members about guns. WDC pastor Lois Harder, co-pastor at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church (Wichita, KS) said she has no interest in protecting herself or others by using violence. “I just think it’s completely counterintuitive to everything I understand about the Gospel, about what Jesus taught us about worship,” she said. “Death isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a Christian. There are nonviolent ways of responding to an attack, even if they might be countercultural or counterintuitive. There’s almost always a third way. The way Jesus did things was always a bit different. It was not what people were expecting.”
In a Mennonite World Review article, WDC pastor John Garland tells how San Antonio Mennonite Church received online threats last year after sheltering people released from immigration detention. He said some of the church’s men chose to be greeters and sit in the back of the sanctuary — “not as armed greeters, not as folks who are taking a gun-training class from the church, but people saying, ‘If this threat is real, I will be the first person [to confront it].’ ” Garland said it is common in his area for pastors to carry guns, but he wants to do things differently. To read more, see
As your congregation addresses issues of security and violence, what questions do you have? What resources have you found? Here are some suggestions to consider:
- Explore Jesus’ teachings and actions as examples of creative non-violence and resistance against evil.
- Study Mennonite history, to learn from the ways Anabaptists have responded to violence through the centuries.
- Reach out to learn from global Anabaptists who face persecution and violence in today’s world.
- Practice lament, prayer, candle-lighting, or other actions in response to gun shootings in the nation.
- Plan safe spaces for church members to discuss feelings and experiences related to guns.
- Use Mennonite Central Committee’s study guide, “Preventing Gun Violence” at https://mcc.org/sites/mcc.org/files/media/common/documents/mccu.s.gunviolencepreventionguide.pdf
- Develop safety plans for your church. WDC Resource Library has these books on the topic: Safe and Secure: The Alban Guide to Protecting Your Congregation by Jeffrey W. Hanna; and Serving by Safeguarding Your Church by Robert H. Welch
- Learn about general crisis response, using resources such as these in the WDC library: The Little Book of Trauma Healing: When Violence Strikes and Community Security is Threatened – by Carolyn Yoder; Help and Hope: Disaster Preparedness and Response Tools for Congregations – ed. By Amy Gopp and Brandon Gilvin; and Disaster Spiritual Care: Practical Clergy Responses to Community, Regional and National Tragedy – ed by Stephen B. Roberts and Willard W. C. Ashley
These are just a few of my ideas, and I am interested to know what your congregation is learning and doing. May God’s protection, wisdom, and courage be with you as you seek to follow Jesus faithfully in today’s world.