Is there no sanctuary?
A small town. A small Baptist church. Sunday morning service. Generations worshiping together just as they have, well for generations. It could have been the town I grew up in on any given Sunday, just as it could have been for millions of others.
A troubled soul took aim at his mother-in-law’s church. She wasn’t there, but his indiscriminant shooting managed to kill his wife’s grandmother. He walked around the church shooting into building from the outside, before he coldly walked through the front doors. His bullets were meant for everyone.
I once wrote an article that guns had no place in a church. I argued that a place of worship is a sanctuary and that packing a pistol as I worshiped went against everything I had been taught and believed.
I know people who could have responded to a madman walking into the front door during a service with their own weapon. I don’t judge my friends for having a gun in church. I only mourn the thought that our sanctuary from the world feels so limited in a church that we need protection beyond the scope of the One we worship.
I am also saddened at the sigh of relief that came with the knowledge that the shooter was not an immigrant. He was only a troubled person with a history of mental illness, who had been court-martialed and served time in a military prison. It was not an act of terror, just a crazy man shooting up his in-law’s church. What have we come to?
Less than a month ago, Mary Lou and I drove past the bicycle path along the Hudson River in New York City where just a week ago eight people were killed and 11 were injured by a terrorist driving a rented truck along the crowded bike path.
Five weeks ago, another lost soul took aim at innocent people at a concert in Las Vegas from the windows of a hotel I have visited multiple times. 59 people were killed and over 500 were injured.
These are not isolated incidents in our troubled world. Terrorist and mass killings happen dozens of times a month around the world, often in places our news outlets do not even bother to cover. A simple Google search of terrorist attacks in 2017 shows how common violence and killings have become worldwide.
This past week there was a shooting in a Walmart in Colorado. Three innocent people were killed. That news has been completely overshadowed by the more devastating incident in Texas. The more horrific the crime, the more coverage from media. Does that fuel the insanity in these distorted minds?
We seem to have become a people enraged at anything that does not go our way. Just in the past month, in a restaurant we operate in another state, a person was cut off in the drive thru lane. This customer who had been blocked got out of his car and pulled a gun on the other customer. He now gets his biscuits at the county jail. What have we come to?
Rumors become fact on Facebook and social media, with big talk being made by small people. Their hurtful comments are then shared and liked by those without any knowledge of the facts or any dog in the fight. Bullets are not the only things that hurt.
In the speech for which I was awarded the 2003 John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award, I stated “Hate is all around us. It takes shape and form in ways that are somehow so small that we don’t even recognize them to begin with, until they somehow become acceptable to us. It is up to us, as parents and leaders in our communities, to take a stand and to say loudly and clearly that this is just not acceptable.”
Our community cannot cure every evil, but we can stand up for decency and against hate in our hometown. And we can pray together in those houses of faith that still remain places of sanctuary in our troubled world.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org