Nine people in a prayer meeting at a church were recently killed by a single gunman, not with an assault rifle, but a handgun. It was a terrible tragedy, similar to other terrible tragedies experienced in our country the past few years – more than two dozen school children, six in a Sikh temple, 32 on a college campus. Of course, the list is much longer than this, but this is enough to make my point.
Apparently, the young man arrived at the prayer meeting early enough to be invited to participate. I have attended more Wednesday night prayer meetings than I can count, so I suspect when a new face walked in to join the faithful core of prayers, everyone was glad and welcoming.
I can hear it now, “Son, we are glad you are here. Sit right here, we’ll get you a cup of coffee. You can participate as much as you want. Did we say we are very glad that you are here?” It would not be a surprise to hear that they asked if they could pray for anything specific in his life—that’s the way things happen in prayer meetings.
I know what it is like to be a part of a small group at church and a fresh face walks in. It is validation for everything you have been doing. It is a reward for your faithfulness, meeting every Wednesday even though few people bother to come.
Then, about a hour later, a horrible thing happened. The gunman says he hesitated, not sure if he should carry out his plan of killing, but eventually decided he had to do it. He reached into his backpack, pulled out a handgun, and started killing. When he finished, nine were dead, and he walked out of the building, got in his car, and drove off.
I know I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know. Everything that has happened since pales in comparison to the killing of nine people, but one of the things that has bothered me is the response of some folks who are strong advocates for unrestrained gun possession. I have heard many of them say that if one of the folks at the prayer meeting would have had a gun of their own, some of them would still be alive. Their solution to this kind of tragedy is to give guns to more people so they can protect themselves.
Folks are lobbying to make it legal to carry a gun to church. (I know that is not a complete paragraph, but I can’t think of anything to say about such a thing.)
I’m not smart enough to even pretend to know if having a gunfight at a church prayer meeting would have saved a few lives or not. However, what really bothers me is that people think the solution to violence is greater violence.
The most powerful thing to come out of that Wednesday prayer service was not the death of nine people, nor would it have been the preacher drawing a .45 from a holster to protect his congregation. The most powerful event is the forgiveness offered by family members within a few hours of losing their loved one.
What a powerful display! Standing in court declaring to the gunman that they forgive him and his actions.
We are much stronger offering love and forgiveness than we can ever be when loaded with firearms. No doubt you have heard the expression, “fighting fire with fire.” It has been around a long time and really doesn’t make much sense. Sometimes when there is a grass fire or forest fire, fire fighters will get out ahead of the burning fire and preempt it by burning off the grass and timber. I guess that is what it means to fight fire with fire.
But, where else do you do that? The vast majority of fires are fought with water or some type of chemical. Fire fighters don’t carry flame throwers on their fire trucks.
I’m perplexed to figure out why people want to fight violence with violence. If someone has a gun the best course of action is to have your own gun and shoot them first. It makes good sense from a human perspective. Sometimes when I watch a movie or television program, I understand why people want to shoot the bad guys. It makes sense in the make believe and from a human perspective.
What bothers me is to hear this same logic from Christians. How can it possibly be honoring to God for me to carry a gun to church just in case I need to kill someone. Can we not trust God for anything? And if God chooses to let the bad guy shoot me or a loved one, the people in Charlotte have shown us the most powerful response is forgiveness—not a bigger gun.
I don’t have a problem with gun ownership, using a gun for hunting or recreational purposes, or even as some insist keeping a gun in case an insurrection requires the formation of a militia. Go for it. But don’t try to tell me the best thing a follower of Jesus can do for protection against evil is to be heavily armed.
I hear over and over again that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” I don’t disagree. Since guns aren’t the problem, but people are the problem, I suggest even more firmly that forgiveness and love is the solution—not guns. If I don’t need to be afraid of guns, why should I trust my security to guns?
The folks in Charlotte last week went a long way to help us understand the words of Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38)
It is time to recognize the futility of fighting fire with fire and start using water—the cool refreshing water of forgiveness and love.