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Otten: Should we start packing in church?

By Pastor David Otten
Faith Lutheran Church, Eldorado
updated: 11/15/2017 7:44 AM

Greetings from Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.

I first want to express my deepest sympathy to those who lost loved ones in the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. As with many others, we are praying for the wounded and for God's comfort and grace on the congregation and those touched by this heartless crime.

Should Christians carry guns in churches? As a Navy chaplain, I am not issued a firearm, nor even allowed to fire a weapon. Chaplains are not given training in any weapons systems. Military chapels do not allow weapons to be brought into the chapel, but all weapons are to be collected with one or two armed guards watching them. In war zones like Afghanistan, weapons were allowed in the chapels.

As a civilian pastor, I also do not carry a weapon while executing my duties. I find this to be a positive, not a negative, for my ministry.

I do believe that Christians can carry weapons and use deadly force to protect their neighbors, which includes one's family. Yet there are times when, for the sake of the Gospel, one must turn the other cheek. This is normally when only the individual is threatened. But your vocation, which is from God, may require a Christian to use deadly force, such as in the case of a service member or an off-duty police officer.

Theologically, it can be said that a Christian could carry a gun in church for the purpose of protecting worshippers; however, tradition is not in its favor. And just because you can, does not mean you should. The concern is practicing good security measures. To give open invitation for carrying a gun into church may not be the best idea. Consider the following:

• Is the person trained on how to use the weapon, particularly in a crowded building?

• Does the person know where to stage him or herself to prevent an attack or counter it?

• Is there a coordinating plan with the leadership of the church that will increase the likelihood of stopping the attack?

The Southern Illinois District of the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod recommends that a congregation contact local law enforcement officials to be advised on how to increase its security and inspect the church's facilities. Recommendations on parking, locks, surveillance, communications, lights and emergency responses for other issues can be given.

If a new building is being planned or remodeled, the architect should keep in mind security measures to include decorative crash barriers, escape routes, tornado rooms, alarms and so forth. Some churches have hired a security firm to supply guards, equipment, communications and training for the congregational members to include fire and medical emergencies.

A well-planned and practiced emergency response program will do more than a single individual carrying a weapon. Oh, to go back in time when the issue was to decide whether or not to lock the church at night.