Two Church Robberies, Two Very Different Responses

twochurches

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you might have heard about a Texas pastor who shot a man attempting to break into his church.

In perhaps the worst example of evangelism in the history of Christianity, the pastor then “led” his victim (literally at gun point) through the Sinner’s Prayer as the man lay bleeding on the floor. Because obviously nothing makes you want to become a Christian more than being shot by a Christian warning you that he might have just personally sent you on your way to hell.

The pastor can plead self-defense all day long, but the simple (or maybe not simple) fact of the matter is you can’t preach the love of a Savior who was crucified next to a thief to give him life, while packing heat to gun down the thief Jesus came to save.

The Church exists as beacon of Life in the midst of a world full of Death. The moment we bring instruments of Death into our midst and prepare to take the lives of our enemies, rather than lay down our lives in hopes that their’s might be saved, we’ve betrayed the gospel, abandoned the way of Jesus, and forfeited the right to call our lives Christ-like.

Fortunately, there are at least a few churches left who haven’t exchanged the Gospel of Jesus for the false Gospel of the NRA.

This week, St. Joseph’s Church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which is home to the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, had a statue of Joseph carrying the baby Jesus stolen from its garden.

Instead of shooting the thief or even threatening to press charges, Pawtucket Soup Kitchen Director Adrienne Marchetti offered a free meal to the thief if he or she would simply return the statue.

This is the way of Jesus.

Meeting sin with grace, criminality with compassion, and broken relationship with the hope of reconciliation.

Sure, it may have just been a random act of vandalism and, no, Marchetti didn’t come face to face with thief like the pastor in Texas did, but it’s the stark difference in their response to their enemies that ultimately matters.

The vast, vast majority of people who steal from a place of worship (or steal in general, really – particularly petty theft), don’t steal because they’re sitting around like Lex Luthor plotting their next crime. And they don’t show up at their going to steal from prepared to kill anyone they meet – it was the pastor who was ready to do that.

If you’re at the point in life where you’re willing to break into and steal from a place of worship, the odds are good that you’re stealing out of desperation, because of addiction, because you think you have no other option to stay alive. If you don’t believe me, talk to someone in ministry who has had their place of worship or ministry broken into. It wasn’t a supervillian who broke in. It was someone desperately trying to cling on to life.

That doesn’t justify their crime, but most of us on the other side aren’t really interested in the desperation that spurs someone to commit a crime. We’re too busy dehumanizing those people in order to acquit ourselves of any guilt that might stand in the way of taking their life should the “need” arise. We’re too busy keeping the bad guys away and ourselves safe to take the risk of extending the very love and grace we claim is the only thing that can radically change and ultimately save their lives.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t own a gun or shouldn’t be a hunter or should never go to a shooting range, but far too many American Christians have exchanged the radical call of the gospel for the false security of the gun. Rather than giving life to others, we’re more concerned with protecting our own and not just in our homes or workplaces, but in our churches.

If we’re packing heat in the pulpit, there’s no more room left for grace.

If we’re prepared to take the lives of our enemies in the place where they should find salvation, our gospel is just empty words.

If self-defense rather than self-sacrifice becomes the way of the Church, then we’ve abandoned the way of Jesus, a way that leads to resurrection only by way of the cross.

So, thank God for folks like Adrienne Marchetti who remind us what Christian love looks like in action.

In a world dominated by fear, where the Church is increasingly susceptible to the false hope of violence, may the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen inspire us all to beat our guns into spoons and offer life to all those who come to steal, kill, and destroy.

 

7 Comments
  • Sam
    July 30, 2015

    What about situations like the New Life Church shooting years ago? I agree in the case of robbery, violence is a bad response, especially from a church/Christian. But in cases where a shooter comes in specifically to take the lives of those in the church, should we just allow it?

  • Nathan
    July 30, 2015

    I’m split down the center on circumstances like this (not this one specifically).
    On one hand, if we want to live like Jesus, which every Christian should be striving towards, we ought not to own weapons PERIOD and never act in violence, even in self-defense.
    But on the other hand, guns complicate things. Because everyone has them, good guys, bad guys, bad guys that think they’re good guys, etc. And they can kill multiple people in a split second. So… does it become our social responsibility, with compassion for others at center, to defend those around us (strangers, family, etc.)?
    I think these are the questions some of my more Christ-centered conservative friends are wrestling with.

    Statistics clearly side against self-defense, especially in public, regarding thieves saying that everyone is more safe just giving to them what they ask.. But mass shooters? Psychotic or blood-thirsty gunmen? It gets sticky. I’d love to hear some thoughts.

    • Garp
      July 30, 2015

      I hear you. But, there have been cases where there were “good guys” with guns at the scene and it didn’t help. The Columbine school shooting, there was an armed guard on campus. Everyone thinks they are Rambo or some other action hero in a movie. In real life it isn’t always so simple. I am sure one of these days, one of these shootings will get ended by some “good guy.” Just by the law of averages considering how many people are armed nowadays. And I can understand wanting to protect oneself and ones family, and even other innocent bystanders. But the thing is, I know some of these people and they want it to happen. They are just itching for it to happen, to have their chance to be the hero. And it usually just doesn’t happen that way. It’s like having a gun in the home. Parents want to protect their children. I don’t want a gun, but you almost do feel like you are almost forced to have one because everyone else has one. You hear horror stories of people getting killed in their homes, watch tv shows of people being brutalized, you almost start to think it would be the responsible thing to get a gun to protect your family. But the sad fact is that it is so much, much more likely to kill one of your family members than some outsider. But of course no one thinks that will happen to them. All that is to say, it is complicated. And not to make everything about, say, the gay issue. But… it is funny (funny odd, not really funny haha) to me that the parts in the Bible about being gay are supposed to be literal, but the part where Jesus said to turn the other cheek was not literal. Was Jesus just kidding, was he, gasp, wrong? Why is it okay not to take that literally?

  • Scott Morefield
    July 30, 2015

    Zack, I’m waaaay to the “right” of you politically, but still enjoy your blog and often find myself agreeing (sometimes to my own surprise). That said, you can probably imagine where I stand on the 2nd amendment and self-defense. To this article, I agree that shooting a burglar at church is probably the wrong course of action (if he isn’t hurting anyone). Now, if a burglar were to come into my home in the middle of the night with my kids asleep – that’s a different story entirely. As would be the case, as others here have mentioned, of someone like Dylann Roof shooting up a church full of innocents. Is God going to send a lightening bolt to protect the innocent here, or does it fall on His people? Is a pastor supposed to just say, “here ya go, after you shoot me don’t forget the nursery down the hall, then there’s some soup in the kitchen – go and be well, neighbor, in the name of Christ.” Seriously? In light of some of your past posts about odd usages of the Bible, might your take on the passages here be a similar “abuse,” except skewed to the Left? The right to self-defense is a Natural Law, created by God. I believe it’s Biblical, but even if it’s not explicit to you doesn’t mean it isn’t just as real.

    • Philip Mills
      July 30, 2015

      I think in a lot of these discussions rhetoric creates a false dichotomy. It’s not shoot the intruder or help ensure everyone is dead. There is a lot of really interesting writing on non-violent approaches. Not do nothing but do something other than violence. For many a good though exercise is to consider you walk out of your house and your child is being beaten in the front yard. How would you respond? Now consider that the assailant is armed with a bat? How now? Lastly, consider that the assailant is your eldest child who suffers from a sever mental health disorder. Do your answers change?
      I think this aligns nicely with Jesus call to love our enemies. Violence towards them, even in self defence, is hard to argue as loving towards them. When however we view our enemies not as enemies but people who are valuable and loved we can often be open to approaches that we would never consider before. Would you shoot your own child to protect another or perhaps, hard as it may be, find a way to intervene that wasn’t violent towards your child with a mental health disorder? It seems akin to the saying “if all you have is a hammer everything starts to look like a nail.”
      Jesus died rather than defend himself and actual rebuked his disciples when they tried to. I think Jesus was clear on how we are to respond to our enemies, it up to us to find ways to be faithful to those teachings in the most difficult of circumstances.

  • Peter Bulanow
    July 30, 2015

    What I can sympathize with is choosing the lesser of two evils… what I can’t sympathize with is celebrating the lesser of two evils as anything but evil.
    At some point Christianity in the US is going to need to seriously consider Christ and his message.

  • Zachary Frazier
    July 30, 2015

    One important thing to consider is the context of Jesus’ words of nonviolence. He was specifically addressing Jewish revolutionary violence against the Roman Empire. That does not mean his words do not apply in these situations, but it does merit some careful consideration. Consider, for example, seeing the church (the physical building) as a sanctuary against violence. If I were to kill a person attacking our congregation, or my family, it would be as an act of preserving a nonviolent sanctuary. Would I be proud of such an action? No. Do I have nightmares about hurting someone with my gun? Yes.

    Self-defense and self-sacrifice are not mutually exclusive, and weapons in the pulpit still leave plenty of room for the gospel. However, Christians must reject the prevailing narratives put out by secular “pro-gun” advocates. Killers are not heroes, violence is at best a stop-gap, and self-defense is not a natural right because there are no natural rights. Christian lives are already forfeit, so Christian use of violence must be at least heavily mediated by the principals of Christ’s teaching, and carried out in love. Yes, I do believe I could end the life of a person to stop violence and love that person. I imagine I would need serious counseling afterwards.

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