A Reflection from Dr. Darren McClellan

November 07, 2017
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. 
--Micah 4:2b-4

Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called children of God.
--Matthew 5:9

Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
UMH # 577
Dear Friends,
It is a Monday to be sure and the sorrow of our nation grows once more in response to another act of gun violence.  For the many who gathered yesterday to engage the liturgy of an All Saints Sunday, the horrific reality of yesterday’s shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX is an added twist of ironic agony.  The people of God gathered to remember and give thanks for the Saints past and present; but who would imagine that the list would grow with such immediacy within the worship hour?  Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.

The witness of the prophet Micah—as well as that of Jesus—reminds us of the perceived disconnect between a lasting vision of peace and the warring madness of our present age.  Such dissonance often leads to a crisis of faith.  Can God really be trusted in the face of such threat and uncertainty?  Are there not extra alternative measures of security that the church ought to consider? 

I wonder this morning how each congregation will address these underlying fears and varied responses. We sing a mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing… but how does that stand up to the presence of evil when armed with an automatic assault rifle?  What else might we do in the interest of justice, self-preservation, or protection (and are these interests always one and the same)?  In response to this tragedy, how might our ongoing witness be shaped by the gospel?
I would not presume to offer a blanket response here, as each church will need to do the prayerful work of engaging this issue within its own community context.  In doing so, however, some may find helpful tools within our United Methodist connection. 
First of all, I would call to your attention the following emergency guidelines from the AWF Conference Trustees.

In my own experience as pastor, I have had several members in my congregation who made a habit of carrying firearms into the sanctuary during worship.  This was admittedly foreign to my personal sensibilities, but in almost all cases, their military experience, current role in law enforcement, or credibility as a gun safety instructor led them to find a sense of vocation in providing responsible oversight for the common good of the congregation.  Though this initiative was not at my request, as pastor, I felt it my task to be respectful of their intention and do my best to promote open communication, collaboration, and consistency for any crisis response plan.  For me, the gospel question of “and who is my neighbor?” became an essential element of reflection in devising such protocols.

On the other hand, I will never forget one Sunday when a well-intentioned saint unwittingly lost his pistol within steps of our children’s playground, where it could have easily been retrieved in a potential case of lethal curiosity.  The weapon apparently fell out of the side compartment of the owner’s motorized mobility scooter.  Fortunately, it was another elderly usher who called the local authorities to report it, but having not considered how he would appropriately present it to law enforcement (yelling “the gun is here in my pocket” outside the door of the church with hands out of sight is never a good lead) there were sheriff’s deputies who had to draw their own weapons on the usher in the church parking lot as a matter of precaution.  All of this happened unbeknownst to me while I was in the pulpit.  Some witness!  It may sound comical now, but I assure you it was not. 

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing…(UMH #110).

As an additional resource, the General Board of Church and Society has offered a thought provoking Bible Study resource entitled Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities: Reflections on Gun Violence from Micah 4:1-4.  I believe this three week Bible Study (found for free at www.umcjustice.org/documents/37) may be useful for individuals or groups as a way of providing a framework for further discussion and discernment. 

The debate over gun safety in this country will ramble on in the coming days, as it should.  Politicians and special interest groups will certainly have their say.  I sincerely hope that the voices of the victims and their families will be heard as well.  Still, there are churches of Jesus Christ whose call is to worship in the midst of this reality, in grief, with hope; to bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit by pressing forward in faith and without fear. 

As we await a God-given solution to our communal concerns, my prayer is that your particular congregation will pursue intentional responses that are as practical as they are theological, for the sake of the common good.  

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.
Grace to You,