In the lapse of a mere four seconds, two souls were blasted violently into eternity in the sanctuary of a Texas church, with another victim succumbing later in the hospital.
We spend our whole lives becoming the people we are, only for death to come in a moment, often without warning, reminding us we are indeed the most fragile of creatures, dust.
What we know is a man walked into the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, with a firearm and killed two congregants, members of the church’s security team, before another security person, a church member and former police officer, fired a single shot, killing the intruder.
The silence of communion, celebrated weekly in the Church of Christ, was chased away by the peals of gunfire, shocking us out of our security and bringing to memory similar attacks on churches and houses of worship in recent years.
Nine killed at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston (2015).
Eleven killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg (2018).
Six killed at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (2012).
The December 29th attack has renewed the awkward conversation around armed security at churches, with people eager to share their opinions.
Before wading into those murky waters, let me out myself: I am a Christian pacifist.
This means I believe Christians are to wage peace over and against violence on both personal and corporate levels.
Nonetheless, responses from fellow pacifist and nonviolent colleagues in light of this tragedy have rang uncharacteristically hollow to my ears.
My Anabaptist friends from Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren traditions love to tell stories of the 16th century heroes of the Radical Reformation who offered no resistance as they marched toward martyrdom singing songs of praise.
Yet they tell these tales from the safety of their country and suburban homes where they live, marry, raise their children, and plant their churches, insular and removed communities that ensure their commitment to Christian non-violence will remain largely theoretical.
And even in the case of pacifists who live out in the wild with the rest of us, carefully selected verses (Matthew 5:39 and Romans 12:21, for example) are weaponized to club those taught differently, an unseemly irony, not reckoning with the slightest ethical difference between suffering for the cause of faith and ending the life of a rando with a rifle ready to waste a church full of people for no apparent reason.
I fully believe the moral arc of the Bible, from the peaceful Garden to the arrival of the Prince of Peace himself, bends towards active peacemaking and non-violence, but this broad theological equation does not always reduce simply into a prescription for what to do in highly specific situations.
Still, in all my frustration, I cannot deny that a human life, even an exceptionally wicked one, purposely taken at the hands of a Christian stunts our ability to imagine creative, albeit costly, faithful non-violent solutions to the evil at our doorsteps and in our pews.
A robust Christian faithfulness is found outside passive resignation versus shoot-to-kill binaries.
Neither sitting idly or sword-wielding characterize the way of Christ.
A few years ago, while being attacked by three muggers, I chose to belt the Lord’s Prayer at the top of my lungs.
While it is impossible to say what I would have done had I been in the White Settlement church, I think I would have tried to tackle or disarm the assailant, if not strike back in some way to stun or incapacitate him, some action short of intentional lethal harm to signal that no life is expendable.
But I wasn’t there. And I didn’t have to make that choice. And I do not judge the brother who did.
All I know is that the chief lie of the American Gospel is that serving God need not cost you anything, be it money, time, leisure, or life.
And it is not lost on me that this attack occurred during the silent observance of the Lord’s Supper, in which we reverence the ultimate sacrifice of Christ made on behalf of unworthy sinners.
If we truly suppose Jesus looked into the eyes of evil ones and saw lives worth dying to save, does his example not serve as a relevant challenge to us when a killer comes to church?