The Worry of Being Killed in Church and the Safety We Are Promised

The first time I remember thinking about what it would mean to die with my […]

Sarah Condon / 11.5.18

The first time I remember thinking about what it would mean to die with my church, I was in a cabin in the piney woods of Texas. Our family was attending the annual retreat, and the weather was horrible. My husband and I both got texts sent to our phones that basically said, “There’s a tornado right over your head. Run.”

He looked over at me sleepily and said, “Well, at least we are with the church.”

In the aftermath of the murders of 11 members of the Tree of Life Synagogue, I have heard more than a few comments from people fearing that they could be next. Movie theaters, grocery stores, schools, and churches are all places where we now wonder, “Could it happen to me? Will this be the place another shooter attacks?”

Steph Chambers/Post-Gazette

I do identify with this fear about secular spaces. My husband and I often go to a movie together on our day off. And ever since the 2012 Batman shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I always think, “Could this be the place we die? In a freaking movie theatre?” Also, not a day goes by when I don’t wonder about my children’s safety at school. And they go to “safe” schools. But so did those sweet babies in Connecticut. And so did those children in Florida.

But church is different for me. I do not worry about church.

I do not worry about church in part because it is not white Christian people being targeted. There was the horrific shooting just up the road from us at a predominantly white church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And we later learned that the motivation for that shooting was personal. So I am not suggesting that it never happens. It is just not what is happening right now. Now we are seeing Jewish people, black people, and immigrant communities being targeted. For me to live in fear of being targeted taps into a kind of trauma voyeurism that I’d rather not engage in.

But there is a definite and understandable fear among church people that they might be next. We begin to ask questions about church security and our personal safety. As an ordained person, I regularly receive emails from companies who specialize in active shooter response. What do we do if someone comes in and starts shooting us? What is the plan?

As Christians, the uncomfortable truth is that these are not really the questions to ask. Certainly, they are very human questions. We have a God-given impulse to want to stay alive. But, the real question is, what did Jesus teach us about safety?

Not much, actually. 

He taught us a whole lot more about dying. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all contain some variation of the verse, “Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it.” It is the opposite of an “active shooter response.” Jesus is like, “Here’s how not to be safe: Follow me.”

The New Testament bears this out. It is the least fair, least pious, least safe religious text that has ever been written. The Gospel flips everything on its head and makes no apologies. And to be a Christian, with all of its moments of Jesus calling us into relationship with those we despise and judge while simultaneously pointing to our own deeply rooted sin, is a recipe for outrage. It is not safe at all. 

Christians are a group of people who follow a guy who died. On purpose.

So safety is the last thing we should expect of Him.

And yet, it is on these days of worry and internalization of the news that I can hear Jesus whispering to us, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

When I look at my children, Sunday after Sunday, kneeling by me, coloring their Bible verse sheets, and sneaking donuts into the sanctuary, I pray that this space would be the wings of Jesus, keeping all of us safe. But I know our safety in God does not adhere to the safety that the world demands.

Safety in God makes no promises except to love and forgive us. In this world of violence and woe, that reality can get lost in our anxious response to wonder if we are next. I can get as bound up in that worry as anyone else. And yet, it is this vulnerable, merciful, suffering God that redeemed us. So what more can I expect?