Pistol Packin’ Pastor: On Charleston and Violence in the Church

nin-gun-cross-Black-800x800Most thinking people won’t get their “facts” from Fox News, but sadly it remains America’s #1 newstainment destination. In the wake of the June 17th shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Americans have been shocked by the brutal deaths of 9 souls gathered in church for bible study. As a pastor, I think of the countless studies I have led in my own career; the feeling of joy I have when someone new joins us. I silently thank God for the opportunity to forge a new relationship, to learn about how God has touched a life, and to pray on how we might be able to work together moving into the future.

But young Dylann Storm Roof, 21, had more devilish purposes. Anecdotal evidence points to him being a confirmed racist, hell-bent on ridding the world of African-Americans one terrifying shooting at a time. Fox news quickly turned the issue to one of Christian persecution, and hosted a guest who calls for pastors to arm themselves out of a duty to protect their flock.

As a gun-control proponent, I have grown used to people calling me “unAmerican,” people claiming that my reasonable calls for reasonable control on firearms is tantamount to SS or Gestapo agents storming the house and ripping a Remington out of the poor, arthritic hands of grandma. I have gotten used to that hyperbole, but never did I think that my faith would be questioned based upon a willingness to strap on a shooting iron and open up fire for Jesus.

I am a pacifist. I was raised in a home in which toy guns, soldiers, or anything related to realistic war was forbidden. My parents allowed for Star Wars toys, thanks be to the Maker, but that was all. At the time, I hated them for it. Today, I thanked my father for his pacifist leanings and instilling in me the need to continually be more shocked by violence than I am by human sexuality.

It is a sad day in the life of both this country and in the collective Church when one’s patriotism or religiosity is tied to a willingness to engage in violence. But even more distressing is the willingness of people to ignore the clear racial motivations in these shootings. Yes, the victims were targeted in a church. But I believe this was owed to the fact that, despite rising percentages of “nones” (as in, none of the above or “spiritual but not religious”) in the United States, African-Americans remain devout and devoted to the church. Finding victims of color was easy for the South Carolina native because he was familiar with how religion plays a role, not only in African-American culture but in the South as a whole. What we have seen is not an attack on Christianity, but an attack on  persons of color.

Now I am not claiming to be an expert. I recognize that I was not there. And in the past we have been duped by quick media statements of fact (think of the Boston Marathon bombing) that turned out to be incorrect. I could be off-base in ascribing purely racist motives to the shooter, and if so I will retract. What will not change, however, is my absolute rejection of the idea that churches should now become the place where guns are stored, used, or carried.

I call upon other pastors to rally together, to make it clear that we regard this shooting as an attack on people based upon race, not religion, and that we reject any claims that Jesus would ask us to be armed. If I die at the hands of a gunman, remote as such chances are, the fault will not be mine because I did not purchase a gun. The fault will be in our society that seems to make the answer to any question: “More guns.”

Lord, hear our prayer.