Guns in churches is really a non-issue, and I will explain why shortly.
I address it only because there is a larger issue in play, reflected in the words of the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, “do not exceed that which is written.”
Scripture speaks to many subjects: the creation of the world, the sinfulness of humanity, and the grace of God for all humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Scripture also speaks of the sanctity of human life from the womb to the tomb, and the truth that marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman.
But Scripture does not address every issue that we confront, including emergency response procedures in churches.
Knowing this, Christians down through the ages have agreed, “We speak where Scripture speaks, and where Scripture is silent, we must be silent.”
That doesn’t mean we can’t have an opinion, but it remains only that — an opinion.
We cannot say, “Thus saith the Lord,” where the Lord has not spoken a clear word.
To speak for God in such situations is to burden consciences in a way God never intended.
In such matters, we may exercise Christian freedom, but we must exercise our freedom in a responsible way that always takes the well-being of our neighbor into account.
For example, when Jesus says, “Do not resist an evil person,” he is speaking to his disciples about their own lives and how they should not strike back against those who are persecuting them personally.
He is not prohibiting them from acting to save the lives of others, which love of neighbor would certainly allow and perhaps even require.
When someone perceives that the only way to save life or prevent further loss of life is to attack, even kill an active shooter, I assume he or she does so out of love for neighbor.
I cannot condemn such an action.
I can only thank God the person was there and had the opportunity and the concern for others to act.
What mother or father would stand idly by while their child’s life is being taken?
Does Jesus require that of parents?
Not in my opinion, but it’s just that — my opinion.
There is room for honest disagreement among Christians in this regard, because there is no clear word from God that addresses every situation.
Even Mennonite Mutual Insurance Company, which arose in a denomination with deep pacifistic roots, leaves open the possibility that a church may have well-trained, armed security on its premises.
I am not advocating that. I am only saying there is a range of opinion among fellow believers who understand that this question lies in the realm of Christian freedom.
Mennonite Mutual produced a document, Guns in Churches: Addressing Church Security Needs, which states, “It would be easy to say, ‘Let’s look at Scripture.’ But does Scripture clearly spell out what we are to do in cases of people carrying out a violent attack in the church?”
The implied answer is “no.”
They are simply remaining silent where Scripture is silent.
More than an active shooter, I fear the tendency in myself and in all of us to speak a “Thus saith the Lord,” when there is no such thing.
There are enough issues that divide Christians; we do not need to create more.
Whenever I face questions for which there is no clear biblical answer, I always ask myself, “How can I best love the other person in this situation?”
We can charitably disagree on what form love may take, but the care and well-being of others should always be a guiding principle.
The Rev. John Armstrong is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Columbus, and may be reached at gracecolumbus.org.