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.