Should churches have armed security guards?

Question: Recently (December, 2007) a security guard at New Life Church in Colorado Springs shot and apparently killed a man who was shooting people in the church parking lot. The pastor (Brady Boyd) hailed her as a “real hero.” Do you think churches should have armed security guards and do you think the pastor was right in calling this woman a “hero”?

Answer: By all normal standards, this woman was justified in shooting the threatening man and should be regarded as a “hero” for her bravery. But the Kingdom of God is not normal. The Kingdom always looks like Jesus. When Jesus was threatened, Peter tried to defend him with violence. It was, by all normal standards, a justified use of force in self-defense and Peter should be regarded as heroically brave for using it. (He was, after all, taking on a mob!) Yet Jesus rebuked Peter for his action.

Later, Jesus told Pilate his Kingdom was “not of this world,” and he appealed to the fact that his followers were not fighting in his defense as proof of his claim (Jn 18:36). This is consistent with everything else Jesus taught his disciples. We are never to respond to violence with violence (Mt 5:39) but are rather to love and do good to our enemies (e.g. Lk 6:27-35, cf. Rom. 12:17-21).

The way followers of Jesus show that they belong to a Kingdom that is “not of this world” is by refusing to act according to the common sense of the world and by refusing to fight when it seems justified to do so. The central call of the Kingdom is to follow Jesus’ example in all things, especially in our willingness to suffer instead of using violence in self-defense (e.g. I Cor 4:6; 11:1; Eph 5:1-2; Phil. 3:17; I Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 3:7; Col 2:6; I Pet 2:21). So, while I can grant that this security guard was brave and even “heroic” by ordinary standards, I cannot grant that she was a hero in a Kingdom sense of the term. The criteria for heroism in the Kingdom is not how brave one is in using violence, but how brave one is in imitating Jesus’ refusal to use violence.

Along the same lines, I can understand why churches — especially mega-churches — have security guards. From my own experience I can testify that public figures sometimes get death threats. But as practically expedient as this is, I think it is antithetical to the Kingdom. Because by doing this, we’re saying we have no intention of following Jesus’ teaching and example if and when we’re threatened.

I know this may strike some — maybe most — as insane, and I actually respect people who, out of integrity, reject Jesus’ teaching as insane. But for people who have pledged their life to following Jesus, we have no choice but to follow his example, even if it strikes us as insane. For if Jesus’ teaching strikes us as insane, it is only because our criteria of sanity is set by a fallen world that instinctively relies on violence to solve problems.

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