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Church Must Go on the Offensive Against Violence

The church shooting last Sunday in Knoxville, Tenn., was a nightmare I have long feared. Churches, like schools, are easy targets for madmen wishing to inflict harm on defenseless people.

Since the church shooting in Colorado last December, we have enhanced security measures at our church. Shortly after the 11 o’clock worship hour, the custodian locks all external doors, save the front doors of the church.

Ushers continue to monitor the front doors, greeting and seating late-comers. We are also in the process of installing an ornate, architecturally pleasing iron gate, to secure the church’s inner courtyard at night. But beyond putting reasonable security measures in place, there is little schools and especially churches can do to prevent a Knoxville-style attack without becoming armed camps.

Interestingly, Jesus’ ministry began in a worship service disrupted by violence (Mark 1:21-28). A deranged man began ranting and raving in the synagogue. Jesus confronted the man and commanded the demon tormenting him to “Come out!” After a violent convulsion, the man was healed.

Now fast forward to Mark chapter five. Jesus ventures out of the “sanctuary” of the synagogue to confront violence in a godless part of his community, indeed, in a place deemed “unclean,” namely, a cemetery. There he deliberately seeks out a particularly violent man named “Legion.” A man of superhuman strength, Legion breaks the chains the locals use to restrain him. At night, he howls among the tombs, beating and bruising himself with stones. Once more, Jesus confronts this disintegrating personality with the power of his own life and love. Once more, a tormented man is healed.

What’s the take-away for a church threatened by violence? Bolt the doors and batten down the hatches so our “sanctuary” can be preserved? No.

If we would follow Jesus, then we must take the battle to the “Enemy.” We must bear witness to Jesus’ love in the places where violence broods and builds. We must notice and care about the tormented souls among us. We must connect with people who are angry, estranged and alone. We must find ways to reduce illiteracy, combat poverty, battle addiction and teach the American dream to hopeless kids who think their only way out of the ghetto is a life of crime.

Will such measures ensure our safety? Of course not. But such actions will help ensure our faithfulness to the mission Jesus gave us: bearing his Good News in word and deed to those who need it most.

As Paul counsels in Eph. 6:10-17, a sober passage about confronting the powers of darkness: “As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace” (v. 15).

In wrestling with the devil, it seems, the best defense is a good offence.

Bob Setzer is pastor of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga.