Perhaps you've heard of Roy Sullivan. He was a park ranger at Shenandoah National Park for 35 years. Roy Sullivan has the unique distinction of being the only human being in recorded history to be struck by lightning seven times -- and survived. What are the odds? But even more interesting was what happened on Saturday morning, June 25, 1977. Sullivan was fishing for trout when he was struck by lightning as he stood in the river. As he staggered to shore with his clothes smoldering, HE WAS ATTACKED BY A BEAR! That was a very bad day -- even for him.
A church should be a place of extraordinary peace, love and safety. The horror and madness unleashed on the little congregation in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last week is almost impossible to comprehend. Many of us have prayed for the victims and their families even as we ask God, "Why?"
Other recent shootings at places of worship include Antioch, Tenn., and Charleston, S.C. Mosques, synagogues and Buddhist temples have also been subjected to these heinous acts of violence. Recent statistics are hard to come by, but the Center for Homicide Research documented 139 shootings at churches between 1980 and 2005, killing 185 people. In most of these cases the shooters knew their victims.
So how should a church respond to this kind of evil? Armed guards? Armed worshipers? Armed pastors? Metal detectors as you enter the sanctuary? Perhaps. But if you use the statistics from the Center for Homicide Research, you are four times more likely to win the next PowerBall lottery than you are to be shot at church next week. Statistically, the odds that you will be shot at church next Sunday are probably about the same as getting struck by lightning and attacked by a bear on the same day.
Protecting ourselves from evil is important, but there is more to the issue. Perhaps we need to not only think about the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, but also think about a fence on the top. In addition to meetings discussing church security and firearms in worship services, do we have a plan to help the mentally ill? Are we familiar with therapeutic resources for the abused and those fighting addictions? Do we pray for those who have committed violent crimes even as we pray for the victims? Are we willing to befriend, mentor and even disciple those who are most likely to become disenfranchised and bitter? For some, no amount of love will keep them from hurting others, but there are many whose lives can be changed if someone is willing to invest the time and effort to personally demonstrate God's amazing love and forgiveness.
In Christ's parable of the wedding banquet the king said, "Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find." As much as we want people like us in our churches, that is not what the parable says. Yes, there is risk involved when we go to the street corners and invite anyone we can find, but statistically speaking, those are the people who will be the most grateful.
Do we have a plan for them?
NAN Religion on 11/11/2017
Print Headline: Peace, love, safety