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?

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Smoke!

 

Look! Up in the sky above Paris. It’s smoke. No, it’s HOLY smoke! The historic Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames on Monday.

While people enjoy reading about hot topics, the cathedral fire is one hot topic which will not be pleasurable. Notre Dame is more than a tourist attraction or a religious site; it is a symbol of France itself. In fact, France owns Notre Dame, but the Catholic Church has  the exclusive right to use it for religious purposes in perpetuity. [“In perpetuity” is a fancy schmancy legal term meaning continuing forever.]

Because of the fire, there’s one less item on my bucket list. I won’t be able to travel to Paris and gaze upon this UNESCO World Heritage site which attracts approximately 13 million tourists every year. Notre Dame boasts nearly double the tourists visiting the Eiffel Tower–which at last report was still standing.

What’s so special about Notre Dame? Well, for one thing, it is old. Really old. Its cornerstone was laid in 1163, and the structure was built over the course of 200 years; it was completed in 1345. Notre Dame’s famous gargoyles were added in 1240 to serve a less scarier than might be expected purpose, i.e., to act as rain spouts. The Gothic cathedral’s wood and lead spire was built during a mid-19th century restoration. Its towers were the tallest structures in Paris until the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

Not only is Notre Dame extremely old, but it has seen and been a part of numerous historic events. The church was desecrated during the French Revolution. (Apparently eating cake and destroying holy sites were the thing back then.) Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor of France inside Notre Dame in 1804 and married in the cathedral as well. Notre Dame’s bells were rung to mark the end of both World War I and World War II.

Speaking of bells, fire bells rang when the fire was first reported to emergency services as a blaze in the cathedral’s attic. More than 400 fireman ultimately responded in an attempt to extinguish the inferno. French President Emmanuel Macron even postponed a major speech to his nation to rush to the scene as rescue efforts were ongoing. Those efforts resulted in Notre Dame’s famous 18th century organ and its 8,000 pipes surviving the inferno.

Hopefully, Emmanuel, Marie, Gabriel, Anne Genevieve, Denis, Marcel, Etienne, Maurice, Jean-Marie, and Benoit-Joseph came through the disaster unscathed. No, those aren’t church employees, they are the cathedral’s ten bells. Given the extent of destruction, I am sure this was not simply a five alarm blaze but a ten bell blaze.

Notre Dame is not only old and historic, but it’s an architectural gem. Architects view Notre Dame as the finest example of French Gothic architecture. The structure is famed for its carved stone gargoyles, the flying buttresses which hold up its walls, and its stained glass windows. Thankfully, Notre Dame’s three thirteenth century rose windows survived the blaze, although they may be a bit rosier thanks to the heat of the fire.

In addition to its age, history, and architecture, Notre Dame is famed as a repository of religious relics and works of art.  In a testament to man’s determination, a human chain, which included the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, formed to remove these items from the blazing structure. One relic saved was The Crown of Thorns which is believed to be a piece of what Jesus wore when he was crucified. Many rescued items were moved to the Louvre for safe keeping. Hopefully, the Louvre is more fireproof than the cathedral.

Notre Dame, situated on a small island in the Seine River in the center of Paris, is the setting for various creative works. It was the stomping grounds for Quasimodo, Notre Dame’s bell ringer in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a French Gothic novel published in 1831. Today the video game “Assassin’s Creed Unity” prominently features Notre Dame. I don’t know anything about the game, but hopefully it didn’t involve burning the structure down.

It’s too soon for the cause of the fire to have been pinpointed. The cathedral was undergoing an extensive $6.8 million renovation, so the fire potentially may be linked to that ongoing activity. Scenes from the fire clearly showed scaffolding around the structure. Those are two things I definitely want to avoid–being on a scaffold and in a fire! And forget doing both at the same time.

The flames have been extinguished, but a smoldering mess remains. The cathedral’s spire collapsed Monday evening, and its roof was ravaged. The medieval wooden interior of the structure was gutted. But in a vivid picture of hope and faith, the golden altar cross remained standing in the charred cathedral. The fires of hell and of  Notre Dame could not overcome it.

French President Macron has already vowed Notre Dame will be rebuilt. Actress Salma Hayek’s billionaire husband and his father announced plans to donate $113 million (of course, they’ll donate in Euros) towards that goal. Multiple millionaires have likewise pledged money for a rebuilding effort. Money towards rebuilding has poured in like water hoses turned on the burning cathedral; $600 million Euros were raised overnight.

The rebuilding effort will be aided by the latest and greatest technology. Before his death, art historian Andrew Tallon made 3-D laser maps of every detail on Notre Dame. Additionally, game artists and historians working on “Assassin’s Creed Unity” spent about two years getting the details of the cathedral just right, including where pictures hung on the walls.

While Notre Dame can be rebuilt, it will never be what it was before the fire. In a matter of a few hours, hundreds of years of history were wiped out. Let’s not take for granted sites of historical significance whether in Paris or somewhere in the U.S.A. Appreciate these sites while you can because you never know how long we will have them. Disaster can strike without warning at any time.

Notre Dame is a church, and a very important one, but the cathedral is just a building. People of faith make up the real church, and that church will withstand all sorts of disasters. A symbol of its endurance is the golden cross on the soot-tinged altar at Notre Dame. That cross survived the Notre Dame fire, but The Cross miraculously overcame death at Easter. Holy Smoke!

JUST WONDER-ing: Do people today value historical sites? Have you been to Notre Dame? If so, what about it spoke to you? Did you want to go to Notre Dame but never got the chance? Would you go if/when the cathedral is rebuilt?