COLUMBIA, Mississippi — Proximity is one of the standards of newsworthiness. That is, the closer you are to the topic, the more interested you are in it. That can be physical proximity — if you live in Columbia something that happens in this city is bigger news to you than if it happens in Sumrall — but it can also be a mental or spiritual nearness to a topic.
I felt that a little bit this week with the terrible shooting at the West Freeway Church of Christ near Fort Worth, Texas. A gunman armed with a shotgun killed two men Sunday before an armed member of the church stopped him with a single, fatal shot, all of it captured on terrifying video as the church was live streaming its service on YouTube.
I’m a member of the church of Christ; most of my family on both sides has also been for multiple generations. We all hate to see the innocent killed, but it hits home when it’s your own people under attack. Not only do you feel for them, but you realize that it could have just as easily been you.
The targeting of churches by mass killers is one of the most troubling trends of our time. Maybe it has to do with an antagonism toward Christianity, but I think more likely that it’s because churches are places that reach out to help people who are in need and hurting. Often those people have mental illness, and churches are one of the few places willing to take them in.
That’s an important role for followers of Jesus. We’ll be judged, He told us in Matthew 25, on how much we helped the hungry, thirsty, naked and imprisoned. And pure religion that God accepts, according to James 1:27, involves helping widows and orphans in their distress. Simply put, a major role of the church is to respond to the physical needs of those around it.
Yet that places good people in harm’s way sometimes.
The preacher at the West Freeway congregation, Britt Farmer, had helped the gunman, Keith Thomas Kinnunen, on multiple occasions.
“I had seen him. I had visited with him. I have given him food. I had offered him food at other occasions that he had been to our building,” Farmer said Monday during a community vigil, as quoted by CNN.
Why would you want to slaughter people who had come to your aid like that?
The only two explanations that make any sense are that you’re either crazy or evil. Maybe both.
Two thoughts about how to respond to that:
First, it makes sense, sadly, for churches to have plans for responding to a potential shooter. In the past, I’ve thought it was a bit much when congregations locked doors after services started or had either armed security guards or members of the congregation trained to do concealed carry. But the circumstances in Texas prove that it’s prudent to do so.
The member who stopped the shooter, Jack Wilson, was not only trained for such circumstances but taught others how to handle them. His experience paid off as he ended the threat within mere seconds of it starting. Without him, and other armed members, it could have been a massacre with even deeper losses of life.
Second, a sense of perspective should be maintained so as to not be paralyzed with fear. For example, there are 12,000 or so congregations of the church of Christ in the United States. If they meet three times a week, that comes out to 36,000 services in 2019, one of which produced a mass shooting. That’s 0.002%. That’s not to say the threat is not real, but just to say that we should be cognizant of the likelihood before turning our places of worship into fortresses.
Two verses also come to mind for dealing with tragedies like this:
“But we are not of them that shrink back unto perdition; but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul,” Hebrews 10:39.
“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life,” Revelation 2:10.
The Christian’s comfort comes from God, not anything in this world.
Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him at 601-736-2611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.