What to do about these shootings? I wish I had the answer. As those on the right offer “thoughts and prayers,” and those on the left suggest policies that will never see daylight, the answer we’re left with is: nothing.
Or, that we should arm ourselves and be ready to fire when another gun-wielder comes along. That’s Jerry Falwell Jr.’s solution. He recently urged students at his university to carry concealed weapons so they could “end those Muslims before they walked in.” He later insisted he didn’t mean to specify Muslims. After all, this is America. We shoot all threats, regardless of theology.
While Falwell can doubtless point to a slew of scriptural passages “proving” Christians should be armed, it may be worthwhile to survey how those of an earlier era responded to the issue of deadly threats.
The answer is far from monolithic. On one hand, we have examples of countless warrior saints who forcefully resisted persecutors seeking to harm Christ’s flock. Sergius of Radonezh blessed Prince Dimitry Donskoy as he battled to liberate Russia from the Muslim Tatar yoke, after centuries of oppression.
Tsar Lazar of Serbia led his armies in a fateful battle against Turkish conquerors at Kosovo, where he was beheaded on his knees, before the Sultan — and entered the calendar of saints. So any claim to pacifism as Christianity’s exclusive, historic norm would be hard pressed by contrary evidence.
Yet there’s also the compelling witness of martyrs, that to be slaughtered for Christ is gain, and one shouldn’t forsake it by resisting temporary death. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a second-century bishop, begged influential Christians at Rome not to lobby for his release, as he was transported to die in the arena. He expressed a desire to be ground between the lions’ teeth, and become flour for the pure loaf of the Eucharist.
The question of armed security, or parishioners carrying concealed weapons in church, was raised at an Orthodox clergy gathering I recently attended, and most were of two minds, reflecting a diversity of precedents. Ultimately, we could only decide this is a complex issue that defies uniform policy.
As a priest, I’m forbidden from shedding blood or bearing arms. And I’m deeply concerned for the spiritual health of the gun obsessed, especially when they’re called “pastor.” But professionals who choose a life of public service that involves armed defense have my complete respect.
I think I could bless such professionals in my parish to carry, but not civilians — because someone with more zeal than discernment creates a liability, and because I can’t square armed self-defense in church, with the witness of the martyrs.
To be killed in church was an opportunity many of them died for. For the record, it’s one I’d prefer not to have. But not one I’d urge my flock to get ready to kill, in order to avoid.