The tragic shooting of parishioners, then the killing of the shooter himself in White Settlement Texas at the end of December poses a particularly interesting and yet difficult question for Christians. Given the radical call of Christ to non-violence can this shooting be justified in terms of the Christian faith. This is similar to the discussion last week about the Christian position on war. The issue of war is a lot easier to deal with as even under a “just war” standard state to state conflict presents unacceptable collateral destruction of innocent life. It is also easier to imagine alternatives to such conflicts than it is to contemplate ways to avoid interpersonal conflicts of the nature of a church shooting.
If we look at the non-Christian case for legitimate defense, we can see that the actions taken by the parishioners was certainly legitimate. If people have rights, and certainly chief among them the right to life itself, then they must have the authority to defend those rights, by force if necessary. That defense must truly be necessary, and it must be proportionate. That is if someone slaps you, you cannot then shoot them. It is this escalation of violence that the Old Testament maxim, “an eye for an eye…” was meant to stop. That being said the defense that was performed at this church in response to the attack was indeed proportionate and was rightly not met with any legal action against those who killed the attacker.
However, the more vexing question arises: was this response Christian? It seems clear enough that the example that Jesus set requires extraordinary non-violence in response to any attack. Jesus went all the way to the Cross rather than lift a hand in violence to those attacking Him. There were of course non-violent measures that Jesus could have undertaken to defend Himself from such an attack on His life. He could have fled into the wilderness, or He could have recanted and offered submission to Rome. Obviously, there was a greater purpose to Jesus’ willingness to die on the Cross and to subsequently rise from the dead. The point is that there were earthly alternatives available that would not have violated His nonviolent teachings.
While many, if not most can agree on what Jesus would have done, we are faced with how to react in such a situation. It is one thing to say theoretically that we need to engage in nonviolent actions; it is quite another to think through how to react to such an awful set of circumstances that affected that congregation in Texas. How then, could this action have gone differently.
The first nonviolent line of defense could occur at the point of entry to the church. I know metal detectors are not terribly welcoming, but this is a difficult era we live in. Asking everyone to pass though such a security process is one way to minimize the threat before it gets extreme. It is already the case that churches refuse entry to people based on what they wear. I mean if someone walks in with a profanity laden t-shirt they will likely and rightly be asked to leave. No church would let a nudist walk in and sit down (although this would obviate the need for searches).
If an attacker makes it past the point of entry, then there are other nonviolent ways to deal with this awful situation. There are psychological ways to influence a gunman; you can feign weakness or fainting; you can otherwise distract this person. The individual is focused on pulling the trigger, if you can get them distracted from that task you have a chance to flee or rush the attacker. This brings up another way to respond; rapidly closing the distance between you and the attacker. Moving in wide unpredictable patterns at full speed can get you quickly to the gunman and then disarm him. Security personnel can and are trained in such techniques and can be deployed as much as trained shooters were in this situation. Also, very possible is the use of non-lethal bullets or perhaps a taser type device. All of this is a reasonable response within the boundaries of a Christian ethic.
The point of this cursory review of nonviolent ways to disarm shooters is to get people to understand that there is another way to deal with this type of tragic situation. We do not need to be drawn into the mores and values of this world. At the same time, we do not need to become human sacrifices in the face of violent perpetrators. We can reasonably defend ourselves without crossing the line into taking another life, which is ABSOLUTLEY proscribed to the Christian conscience. That an action is legally and even morally correct by the standards of this world does not mean that those actions are acceptable by the standards of our King; our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Praise Be to God