Mass shootings are sadly becoming more frequent in our society. I have interacted with people affected by Columbine and the Navy Yard Shooting. One of the most vulnerable places for a shooting is a church. And the Eastern District of the EFCA is promoting an event that takes place at Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania on June 19, 2019 that asks the question. What do you do in an active shooter situation? This is a solid event that people should attend.
“Instead of worrying about our AP Gov chapter 16 test, we have to be studying our notes to make sure that our arguments based on politics and political history are watertight. The students at this school have been having debates on guns for what feels like our entire lives. AP Gov had about three debates this year. Some discussions on the subject even occurred during the shooting while students were hiding in the closets.”
Emma Gonzalez of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV
Fortunately I have never been involved in a mass shooting. Yet over the years my life crossed paths with those who were tragically affected. In April of 1999 I was finishing up a lunch break and sitting in my 1978 Cutlass Supreme. As I was winding things down news started to break over the radio about a mass shooting in Columbine, Colorado. I was horrified with what I was hearing. Two years late I transplanted from Fresno, California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin attending grad school at Marquette University. While there I planted and led the Campus Crusade for Christ chapter. At one point the Christian groups were going to have a multi-faith praise and worship night. It was a combination of Crusade, Chi Alpha, Intervarsity and the Catholic group. The individual who led the Catholic group, Matt, I learned was from Columbine. One time when speaking with him Matt looked at me directly and said, “I knew Rachel Scott.” He described her personality and how he knew her. After that worship event Crusade in Milwaukee brought in Darrell Scott to speak about the lessons from Columbine. Matt showed up wearing his Columbine sweatshirt. Darrell said hello to him directly and they spoke for a few minutes. In any other time that Columbine sweatshirt would have just been another high school sweatshirt. Today it stands for something much darker. It stands as a reminder of the problem of mass school shootings.
Then there was another situation that touched my life. It was the Navy Yard massacre that occurred in 2013. If you recall a former Navy Reservist who was ill with schizophrenia went on a shooting spree in the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. One of the many sources this blog had was a guy I called Carson Wilson. He was a covenant member of Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He would get together with me and we would discuss Capitol Hill and 9 Marks in detail. You can read more about Carson in, “An Open Letter to Carson Wilson (Former Member and Blog Source from Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church)” Carson once called up someone he knew in the building where the active shooter was and heard a couple of shots in the background. He shared that with me, and that was troubling. But later on I heard something even more disturbing that I will never forget. Someone I knew was planning on retiring in the Washington, D.C. area. He was meeting with a new financial planner and the woman broke down in front of him. She apologized and stated that she was trying to restart her life. Before being a financial planner she worked at Naval Sea Systems Command in the D.C. Naval Yard. She was involved in the shooting. At her desk with a co-worker the warning came about an active shooter. The people in the room took shelter in place and she hid under her desk. Then, the gunman Aaron Alexis walked into the room looked under a desk pulled out a shotgun and as she pleaded to be spared, he shot her to death, This female watched her co-worker be murdered. The gunman walked out of the room and after a while emergency rescue came and cleared the room. This person had a stress heart attack as she was walking out of the building. She was dealing with PTSD and going through counseling. She told the individual I knew all this, and after the financial appointment he reached out to me and shared what happened. He was sick, and I was stunned to hear that information.
I lived in the Washington, D.C area when the Navy Yard shooting occurred. The church I attended, Fairfax Community Church, acted like nothing happened. The light machines continued, the worship leader jumped around on stage and the church largely acted like it was a regular day. For me it was troubling and it made me ask the question, what good is a church that doesn’t comfort the afflicted, help those who are mourning or bury the dead? I wrote about the experience in, “A Tale of Two Churches: Fairfax Community Church and the Problem of Evil.”
A Perverse Act is Tragically Becoming More Normal
Sadly we are living in an era where mass shootings are becoming more common place and a regular problem. Its disturbing as to how unique mass shootings are in United States culture. Mass shootings have happened in a number of places, many of which that are soft targets and extremely vulnerable. Such tragedies have happened in restaurants such as a MacDonalds in San Ysirdo, California or a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. They have occurred in schools such as Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, or high schools such as Columbine or Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Elementary schools are not immune as we witnessed with Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut. Shootings have also occurred at United States military installations such as the Navy Yard or even Fort Hood, Texas. They have sadly occurred also in movie theaters such as the one that occurred in Aurora, Colorado. And lastly they have occurred in places of worship whether they be a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or a Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Shootings are sadly becoming more frequent. This troubles me deeply as I believe such events reveal how sick our society is in that we deal with this problem so much.
What About Shootings at Church? And an Active Shooter Event at Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania
Churches are soft targets as they are easy, often unprepared and honestly its a place that you would not suspect a shooting to occur. The other problem that also can exist is what do you do if you have someone who is mentally ill, and has access to a firearm? Can they show up at a former place of worship and act out on a delusion like what happened at the Navy Yard here in Washington, D.C.? Yes, sadly all that is possible; though I wish it was not. The reality is that churches need to be prepared for such an event.
In the Eastern District of the Evangelical Free Church of America one such discussion dealing with the topic of the active shooter is being held in two weeks. On June 19, at Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania a speaker is addressing the issue of the active shooter. His name is Athanasios “Thanos” Milios who is on staff of Lehigh County Community College. He works as a Public Safety Training Specialist and has 30 years of law enforcement experience. This event which is two hours long is addressing questions about firearms, the use of force, and what should staff do in an active shooter situation. This is not the first time I have written about Faith Church in Allentown. Two years ago I review Joe Henseler’s talk in, “A Response to Joe Henseler of Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania about how Leaders Need Leaders.” While this is a heavy topic it is also one that needs to be addressed. People should be able to live their life free of fear. So while I wish I didn’t have to recommend this conference if you are in an EFCA Church in the Eastern District I would consider attending. The more education, and training people have with this topic the better off people can be. This is a heavy post tonight but its one that I felt can’t be ignored. I wrote about the Sutherland Springs shooting in, “The Sutherland Springs Massacre and a Recent Post by Marshall Segal at Desiring God about God Causing Pain. Did God bring about the Shooting in Texas? Is God the Source of Evil?” I don’t want to write about an event like this in an EFCA Church. That is something that I want to avoid, as do most other people.