Culture Friday: Guns in churches

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Friday, January 3rd, 2020. Glad to have you along for The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. In an all-too familiar story, a gunman opened fire in a church last Sunday, killing two parishioners.

Something a little different about this case, however, was that thanks to a recently-passed law, West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, had armed volunteer security on site.

Seventy-one-year-old deacon, Jack Wilson, owns a gun range and has trained other church members in firearm safety. He was standing near the back of the sanctuary carrying a concealed weapon. He returned fire, and in less than six seconds, took down the shooter.

Here’s Regional Director of Texas Public Safety, Jeff Williams, praising the actions of Wilson and the rest of the security team.

AUDIO: The citizens who were inside that church undoubtedly saved 242 other parishioners. 

And here’s West Freeway’s pastor, Britt Farmer.

AUDIO: We lost two great men today, but it could have been a lot worse.

EICHER: This attack followed on the heels the night before of a machete-wielding man breaking into a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York. He wounded five people.

John Stonestreet joins us now for Culture Friday. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. 

John, good morning.


EICHER: I think it is accurate to say this is a soul-sickening discussion to have to have, but one that we just can’t avoid anymore. 

A little more than a year ago we saw 11 worshippers killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Twenty-six people died at First Baptist in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017. Nine at Mother Emanuel Church, Emanuel AME in 2015. 

And yet there are a lot of mixed feelings among Christians about whether firearms have any place in church. One of our listeners in particular wrote in about this. Fritz Longabaugh is his name and let me quote a bit of what he had to say. 

Imagine if early Christians, fearing persecution by the state, had armed themselves…The stoning of Steven would have been a brawl instead of a powerful witness, the early church would have become an armed revolution instead of a world-changing Spirit-force, and the cross would have been emptied of its power.”

Now he goes on to say he doesn’t blame Jack Wilson for neutralizing this possible massacre, but he worries about believers contributing to what he says is a “national arms race.” 

What would you say to that?

STONESTREET: Well, I appreciate the idea that the stoning of Steven was a powerful witness. But I also think that the response we’ve seen in many of these church shootings has also been a very powerful witness, including the actions of so many people in this congregation to protect so many others. Look, I mean, we’re talking about the difference between defending one’s self and defending the lives of dozens and dozens and dozens of others. This was something that was stopped in a very short amount of time and still two individuals were killed. From a person that, according to all reports, was suspicious from the very beginning and they were keeping an eye on. I mean, they did not remove this guy from the church, which is something that they could have done, they could have disinvited him from sitting, even though many of the congregants said that they felt themselves to be uncomfortable. And if you see in the video, the first two individuals that were shot were individuals that themselves were trying to reason with the guy. This is a guy—there’s nothing here that diminishes the church’s witness at any level. It’s unfortunately a reality that we’re in.

BASHAM: An argument that gained quite a bit of traction on social media, it was considerably less measured than Fritz’s, but I’d still like to ask you to engage with it. 

An account called @GospelPanacea tweeted out, “Unpopular opinion: Killing an armed intruder at church was the practical thing to do, but if we are honest, it was most certainly not the Christ-like thing to do. The followers of King Jesus are called to imitate Him, not to be (necessarily) pragmatic.” 

This person that went on to say that even though Jim Elliott and his fellow missionaries were armed, they chose to die rather than return fire on the Ecuadoreans who killed them. 

So what’s your response to that?

STONESTREET: Well, my response is I’m not sure that there’s anything quite as Jesus-like as laying down one’s life for their friends, which is what these two initial individuals who lost their lives did and what the security guard put his own life at risk—he put his own life at risk doing, which is exactly what Jesus would do. Again, this wasn’t self defense. This wasn’t the security guard protecting himself. He was in the back of the room. He would have been safe. 10 or 15 other people would have been killed before him. So for him to engage and for him to do it with such skill and such excellence I think is pretty impressive. And to do it putting his own life at risk seems pretty Christ-like to me. I guess I get pretty wearied of this Jesus was nice reductionism that comes from the peanut gallery on Twitter after someone finds themselves in a situation like this and shows great heroism, self-sacrifice, and skill. If any of those three ingredients, by the way, were not in place—heroism, self-sacrifice, or skill—a whole lot more people would be being buried this week. And this kind of “Jesus would never do anything like that,” I just don’t understand it and I think it’s an easy thing to say this side of Twitter.

BASHAM: Right and sometimes I go, we also have a Jesus who carried a whip into the temple at one point.

So, I’d like to turn to a far less important topic, now, but still a culturally significant one.

As most people have probably heard, the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker, included a very brief same-sex kiss in a background shot. 

As part of the film’s promotion, director JJ Abrams, the stars, and Disney execs went on a domestic and European press tour hailing it as an historic moment. Let’s listen to Abrams doing just that:

AUDIO: I just felt like in that one scene of celebration, it felt like an opportunity to show, without it being, you know, heavy-handed or making too loud of a deal, it was sort of a part of the whole experience to see a same-sex couple have a moment together explicitly saying in this galaxy, that was explicitly saying everyone in this galaxy, everyone is there and is welcome. It doesn’t matter what your sexual preference, it doesn’t matter what your race what your species is, whether you’re organic, whether you’re synthetic, Star Wars is for…all of us.

BASHAM: Now, John, I point out the brevity of the scene, because I think it highlights a dirty secret in Hollywood. 

Last week it came out that Disney cut the scene to appease censors in Singapore and Dubai. So LGBT values at home, family values overseas.

And this is hardly a first. About eight months ago we saw the same scenario play out with Avengers: Endgame. Big parade of patting selves on backs for inclusivity.

Yet, on the quiet, Disney altered a few lines of dialogue to erase a minor gay character in the Russian version. 

Now, I could cite a bunch more examples, but my question–beyond the obvious hypocrisy, does this suggest we should view Hollywood more as appeasers than crusaders?

STONESTREET: Yeah, I mean, beyond the obvious hypocrisy—let’s stay at the obvious hypocrisy just for a second. [laughter] Look, this is—we need to talk about the hypocrisy a little bit because it isn’t an appeasing. If there wasn’t a price to pay for not working LGBT characters in where they make no sense—let’s be clear, even in the Star Wars universe, whenever you have a survival sort of universe like we’ve seen through history, you don’t have an LGBT movement. An LGBT movement is the luxury of a wealthy society. You don’t find it anywhere on the planet that is one that’s working—or in history—that’s working for survival, which is of course what we’re talking about in this fictional Star Wars universe. So it’s completely an out of place thing and they put it in such a way that they could easily write it out so as not to lose the enormous amounts of international dollars that are coming their way. It is hypocritical and I think your line that it’s appeasement rather than crusading, I mean, look, I think they crusade when there’s a financial benefit and they appease when there’s a financial benefit. But it’s not courage, whatever it is.

EICHER: Well, obviously money was the motivator for making those cuts, so I guess my question would be who’s more to blame if we get it in the U.S.: the studios or a public willing to buy tickets?

STONESTREET: Uh, yes? Can we say both? Hey, listen, it’s the new year. Let’s blame everyone. Let’s also say we need a whole new crop of really good storytellers who do have the skill and the courage to not be appeasers.

EICHER: Well, John Stonestreet is the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. 

John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Hey, thanks, Nick and Megan.

(AP Photo/David Kent) Law enforcement vehicles are seen parked outside West Freeway Church of Christ as authorities continue to investigate a fatal shooting at the church, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in White Settlement, Texas. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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2 comments on Culture Friday: Guns in churches

  1. Josephine Tadlock says:

    I disagree with John Stonestreet’s response to armed security in churches. While I respect a church’s right to decide on their choice of security, Mr. Stonestreet’s response only addressed the intentions of the decision to have a legally armed security team, not the consequences. Jesus is life. He would have done nothing to end one. Even at the end of His, He did not step in to save a slave’s ear from being cut off; instead he healed.

  2. Fred Witzig says:

    For John Stonestreet: could you please respond directly to John Longabaugh’s comment about an “armed revolution” and an “arms race”? It seems to me you skipped over that and focused on the Christian witness. And on that topic, may I point out that the Christian witness was not damaged in your eyes because you agreed with Wilson’s shooting the first shooter. What about the damage done in the eyes of unbelievers who do see a contradiction between Christ’s life and and the lives of American Christians who celebrate our gun culture?
    Also, please note that there were three people who died (not two people who were killed and one person who was “taken down” or “neutralized”). We, people who understand how we are saved solely by the grace of God and who have received the completely unmerited mercy of God, should be the first of all people to recognize the humanity of even the vilest sinner. That Christians so often bemoan only the deaths of the innocent in these situations strikes me as a glaring contradiction to our own theology of grace.
    Finally, I and many other Christians do understand the observation “Jesus would never do anything like that,” mainly because we see Jesus and his followers doing nothing of the sort in the Gospels, the rest of the NT, or the Early Church. I encourage you to work harder to understand what we are saying rather than to dismiss it out of hand.
    Thank you for your always thought-provoking commentary.
    In Christian love and respect,
    Fred Witzig

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