Church Shootings — No Sanctuary In The Sanctuary

Attending church in this day and age is like showing up at the Hotel California of which the Eagles sang–it could be heaven or it could be hell. While the heaven part of being in a church may be figurative, the hell part could be literal. Being caught in a hellish shooting is an all too real risk of participating in a worship service today. Guns may blaze before the preacher even gets to discussing hellfire and damnation. Yup, there’s no sanctuary in the sanctuary any more.

The word “sanctuary” has a couple of different meanings. The more familiar meaning is a sacred place. Church worship services are conducted in a location referred to as the sanctuary. Ironically, the second meaning is a place of refuge or safety. With the rise of violence in places of worship, sanctuaries can no longer be viewed as safe places.

In fact, the threat of violence at a church is so real, that some churches have taken to organizing security teams to protect their members while in a sacred but possibly not safe place. Moreover, a Texas law which took effect in September makes it legal for individuals to possess guns in houses of worship. Security teams and personal weapons are thus available to assist the Lord in delivering assembled congregants from evil.

Guns and the violence they represent seem inappropriate in a house of worship. Sadly, they were successfully called upon to save lives during church services at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas on the morning of Sunday, December 29th. Congregants were taking communion unaware that bodies and blood would shortly be strewn about the sanctuary. One moment worshippers were peacefully assembled and looking to the Lord; second later shots rang out and they were ducking for cover or running for their lives. Hell lasted for six seconds before the threat was eliminated.

Unfortunately, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. The shooter was confronted by members of the church’s security team. He was shot and died. Many go to church hoping to meet their Maker in the sense of connecting with Him, but this shooter was killed and figuratively sent to meet his Maker. Unfortunately, two church members, a 64 year old deacon and a 67 year old security team member, were killed. Their meeting with their Maker was likely more pleasant than the shooter’s.

A shotgun was wielded by the shooter, and the sanctuary was filled with congregants who normally numbered around 280. Had no action been taken by the volunteer security team, how many worshippers would have lost their lives or been injured? Violence is not the answer to everything, but it may be necessary to defend one’s life and that of others. Yes, violence is evil, but using a gun against the shooter in these circumstances was the lesser of the evils. Innocent lives were saved by having to snuff out the life of one hellbent on doing harm. Trying to reason with the shooter is a laughable option. Use of a weapon was the way to go under the circumstances.

And just who was this shooter? A terrorist? Nope. Keith Thomas Kunnunen was one of our own. The 43 year old man, according to the FBI, had an extensive criminal record. One of his ex-wives described him as “violent” and “crazy.” Well, I hope she was right about the crazy part; I’d hate to think that someone in his right mind would commit a violent crime in the middle of a church service. Another ex-wife indicated she’d obtained a protective order against him, describing the shooter as a religious fanatic who was paranoid and violent.

Although the shooter was transient, he had some ties to the area where the shooting occurred. The town was not one known for violence. It was a small suburb about 8 miles northwest of Fort Worth with a population of just over 16,000 per the 2010 census. West Freeway Church of Christ cared about members of its community. In fact, the church had given the shooter food on multiple occasions. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you–or perhaps more accurately, shooting the hand that feeds you.

Not only have citizens lost their sense of safety and security in a church building as a result of these shootings, but they are now forced to scrutinize others attending services with them. According to reports, the West Freeway Church of Christ security team already had its eye on the shooter before the incident. A woman in attendance at the service reported that she had never seen the man at church before, and his appearance made her very uncomfortable. He had on dark clothes, wore sunglasses, and sported a beard that looked fake as well as a wig. Worshippers will have to ask themselves whether the unknown person in the congregation is wearing a toupee just to cover his thinning hair or to avoid detection after an intended crime. The customary meet and greet might have to be extended from a mere handshake to a pat down of those seated near you.

Given this violent context, churches are going to have to take a long hard look at their procedures. Do they need to organize an armed voluntary security team? This type of volunteer work may appeal to some of the men who aren’t comfortable helping out in the nursery. (Sorry, I’ll take on a dirty diaper before an armed shooter any day.) Do churches need to be a bit more exclusive as to whom they open their doors? My church has the motto “Come As You Are.” Does this motto need to be modified to read “Come As You Are As Long As It Is Not Armed?”

The shooter’s motive, as of the writing of this post, is yet unknown. It appears that mental illness played some part in his actions. One of his ex-wives noted he was battling a demon. That makes sense. Wouldn’t the devil want to raise some hell during a church service? Had the shooter survived to face the judicial music, his defense could have been that the devil made him do it a la Flip Wilson’s Geraldine. But if a crazy person is going to wield a gun, don’t we want some trained, sane person to be available to take him on?

Sometimes we have to do things we don’t like such as take horrible tasting medicine or swallowing a horse pill to achieve a positive result. In this case, peaceful and innocent people deserve to be safe in a house of worship; threats to their safety may have to be eliminated. If having an armed security team in place is what it takes to make that happen, then we need to hold our noses and take that action. As the well known saying goes, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” You can take common sense steps to have protection in place in a sanctuary or simply allow worshippers to come as sheep to the slaughter.

Just WONDER-ing:

Do you feel safe when you are in attendance at a worship service in your local area? Does the existence of a church security team fly in the face of a sanctuary as a peaceful place of worship? If concealed carry is legally authorized, should worshippers be allowed to carry their gun as well as their Bible to church?