Arming the Altar
I was looking for a rosary and had spent days looking for the right one. I was excited that I’d finally found one, added the company on my Instagram, and that’s when I knew I could not buy a rosary from there no matter how great it was. This company had a photo of a rosary they were advertising and it was displayed in the photo with a gun used as a prop. I do understand and subscribe to the notion that the rosary is an excellent weapon for spiritual warfare, but having it pictured beside a physical gun made me sick to my stomach. That image to me was more grotesque than any of the truly extreme horror stories I’d ever read.
I was born and raised in a country that isn’t writing bad, abusive romance stories about their love affairs with guns, but, as I’ve been told, “you’re in America now.” I understand that, but I also see what is happening around me, with virtually unrestrained access to guns, and my knowledge and common sense tell me that this is not a good thing. The right to own guns is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it’s hard to see beyond it, but I think the right of people to not die in shootings trumps the right to have a gun.
My diocese posted a prayer for those affected by the massacre in Buffalo, interceding for those who lost their lives in this tragedy, for their friends and family, and for others whose lives were affected by gun violence. Sadly, I was not surprised that there was no intercession for hearts and minds to change about the need for strict gun laws, and so the prayer was incomplete. I wrote “they forgot to add: for common sense gun control, hear us, Lord, when I reposted the meme with the prayer.” It lead me to write my own prayer:
God, help us to get some common sense and stand up to people who love their guns more than people, that as a society we may work to regain our humanity enough to give a shit about others, to put down our weapons and give up our perceived rights in order to love and care for all people. Deliver us from ourselves and our own selfishness, that we may live the principles of your kingdom and love our fellow human beings. Amen.
I changed the wording slightly in this version because instead of writing “and stand up to people who love their guns more than people” I had written “and stand up to idiots who love their guns more than people,” which I’ve realized since I wrote it that way on Facebook was a violation of my baptismal vows to treat others with dignity and respect, which means not calling them names. I think that applies especially to prayer. I know there is a swear word in that prayer, and if that’s the part in all of this that ends up being offensive to someone, that’s someone who probably needs to re-evaluate their own beliefs.
The other day, I got involved in a short, respectful discussion on Facebook over the idea of churches having armed security in light of recent church shootings. I don’t think if my church did this that I would be able to remain there, for several reasons. I don’t believe weapons belong in the church period. I’m aware that there are concealed weapons in every congregation and I find it rather vulgar, irreverent, even sacrilegious, but I’m in the minority, and I understand that.
The person who began the discussion said that he felt protected knowing there were people with guns in church, but for me, it gives the opposite feeling. I feel like churches should be safe spaces, and that can’t be true if there are people with loaded weapons in our congregations. I’ve often heard the argument about “good guys with a gun stopping bad guys with a gun,” but I know that any person with a gun could just flip out and use it to kill if they got into an argument. People can do awful things when they get into a fight and adrenaline is running that they would never even consider outside of that fight. I don’t feel safe with the idea of armed security, nor do I feel safe with all the concealed weapons people have, but seeing as they are legal I just hope I never find out who has them, especially if they bring them into the worship space.
I often wondered if I have the right, after some awful things that I myself have done in the past, to judge what I feel is a desecration, or sacrilegious, or dangerous, but I realized that these things go both ways. These things were long ago, I have confessed them, repented of them, amended my life, and performed acts of contrition for them. Perhaps even writing about some of the things I have written about are continued acts of contrition. I have knowledge of things I should not have knowledge of, and so perhaps that gives me the responsibility to bring such things to the light. I thank Jesus for his love, mercy, and forgiveness.
Here’s my hard line in the sand. If I were in the church, and a person came into the worship space looking to shoot and kill people, I’d rather die at the altar than see someone else pull a gun and continue the violence in the sacred space we receive the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ in. I have participated in probably more than my fair share of violence in my time, and what I do know is that God is not in it. The fact that Jesus went through so much violence for the atonement of sins means that I need to honor that sacrifice by not being violent.
Despite what I desire, I often still have violent thoughts, attitudes, sometimes even actions as I still struggle with verbal violence such as cursing people out. In fact, the first priest I ever had in the Episcopal Church was a priest that I had cursed out six months beforehand, which is another story for another day. Violence is not God’s plan for society, and certainly not for his kingdom.
It goes against my baptismal covenant, which I renew every day, and which on certain days and at baptisms, the priest or celebrant asks: will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being, to which I, and I suspect most others (I’m not looking, I’m too busy making my own promises that I’m not great at keeping), respond with: I will, with God’s help.
The values of God’s kingdom are often the complete opposite of the values of the world. Jesus chided Peter for cutting off the ear of a man with his sword in order to defend him. Jesus understood the violent sacrifice he was about to make for all of humanity, which of course was the end result of humanity fighting each other for power.
I’ve also learned that violence leads to violence and doesn’t solve anything. There is societal violence, generational violence, wars being fought because a man with an over-inflated ego and a misguided belief system invaded a country in which he’s killing people indiscriminately, violence everywhere. If we truly want to follow God’s value system in the church, it means a church free of weapons.
I’d rather die at the altar, in a sacred space dedicated to God, than to respond to violence entering the church with the violence of deadly force. If it comes to that, I’d rather go to my death living the values of Jesus Christ as I understand them to be, in my final moments. It may be the only time I ever truly act in a Christ like manner, and at least I’d be living out the promises I make every day in the way I understand them.
This is the second in a series of feature articles about Christian thoughts about violence.
Continue the Series:
Executing Justice: State Sanctioned Murder is Still Murder