Our Church is a "gun-free zone." It's going to stay that way. Here's why.
We're not under attack. Neither is Christianity.
Black churches are. It has been open season on them since long before our grandparents were born and then some. Though more brazen than other recent attacks, the Charleston AME murders were just the latest of many intended to tell black Americans to watch their step.
To say nothing of young black men and women, particularly at those times when the police (or self-appointed vigilantes) arrive at the scene and react with preconceived, deeply encultured responses.
Like most white folks, they don't see themselves as racists until, if they're honest with themselves, once the damage has been done.
Mental illness, Christians at risk, if only more people had guns.
None of these are solutions. They only forestall the conversation.
They are the easy ways out, the lazy ways out, the "rationalization of our faith" ways out. Down which path we're afforded the opportunity to avoid the hard facts of our endemic racism.
By going that
route, we don't even have to have the conversation, which is probably our purpose.
We are afraid to have that conversation. We are afraid to even get it started. We'd have to admit too many things about ourselves, none of them pretty.
One of our biggest confessions would be having to admit the hypocrisy of our Christianity. No, Christianity doesn't have an exclusive hold on this sort of thing, but as a pastor in a Christian denomination it's the one area regarding which I'm able to speak with some measure of experience, if not authority, when alluding to the art of self-deception.
Before going there, however, let me say here and now, Christianity is responsible for much of the greater good in this world.
Yes, we've endorsed wars, sided with those in power against the common people, and killed heretics we later celebrated as heroes of our faith. For the latter, see Thomas Cranmer and Joan of Arc, both burned at the stake, and Galileo, silenced for being a scientist. And that's just a starter set.
Nevertheless, people of faith, particularly Christians, have been the recognized leaders of every positive social movement in the history of the United States, including the civil rights era (which, we pretend, is over), despite their too being denounced in their day. If you were alive at the time, you remember the outrage when Martin Luther King received the Nobel Prize for Peace. (If you were alive in the 19th Century, Susan B. Anthony fared no better, nor did Harriet Tubman, even though we lionize both of them today.)
Make no mistake: Christianity is a force for good. And the message of Jesus Christ has been the emulated touchstone for nonviolent activism that has, in turn, achieved great results around the globe.
Christianity isn't the problem. Christians are. See: Gandhi, who, by strict adherence to nonviolence, gained independence for the world's largest
democracy, who said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ."
Now, we white folks want to pretend it's unsafe to go to Church. Bring your guns, we say. Prevent a few more killings by being ready to shoot back. Either that or close your doors, go into hiding, and turn yourselves into an even more exclusive club. And pretend it's all about mental illness, or Christianity under attack.
Is that what Jesus would do? Go around proclaiming: "Be afraid, be very afraid"? while carrying a gun and allowing admission only when a potential entrant knows someone who knows the secret password?
We're better than that. What's more, we're smarter than that. Unfortunately, we're also gullible (or lazy) enough to buy into the latest demagogue who claims they can lead us to the promised land if we'll just shave off a little of the ethics taught by Jesus here and there.
We can do better. At our church we're going to try, including having that viciously needed hypocrisy-addressing self-reflecting conversation about our racism. We encourage you to do the same at yours.
To make that happen, we're going to keep our doors open to all comers.
What's more, we're going to post our times, places and activities on the two-sided digital sign in front of our church at 3700 26th St. W., where you'll also see words like, "Jesus Didn't Reject People, Neither do We," "Reject Racism" and "We Support Marriage Equality."
We're not going to welcome your guns. We're going to ask you to keep them at home.
And we're not going to be afraid. We're not going to lock our building, meet behind closed doors and establish a secret password. It's not who we are, nor is it who we're called by Christ to be.
The Rev. Dr. Robert Sichta, Congregational United Church of Christ, 3700 26th St. W., Bradenton, can be reached by calling 941-756-1018 or e-mailing PBKAlpha1@gmail.com. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.