Since the terrorist attacks in Paris, I’ve been thinking about what an authentic Christian response to unprovoked threats and violence should look like. I’m not talking about how secular governments should respond (they, after all, have a biblical mandate to protect citizens and punish evil doers). I’m talking about the Church. How should we respond?
The problem is that our response usually seems no different from that of everyone else. At our best, we wave French flags and colour our Facebook profile photos red, white and blue (an interesting phenomenon in Ireland given our historic apathy to those colours). We get teary-eyed listening to La Marseillaise at the next weekend’s sporting events (conveniently ignoring the fact that the song’s words “Let an impure blood soak our fields!” sounds more like the philosophy of Islamic State than that of a modern western republic).
At our worst, we respond in fear by petitioning State Governors not to receive any Syrian refugees, not even three-year-old orphans. Or we allow the President of a ‘Christian’ University to encourage his students to carry concealed weapons and to talk about killing Muslims.
So I was delighted this week to read in the Irish newspapers about my friend, Pastor John Eniola of the Compassion Centre in Dublin, and how he responded when, only two days ago, a balaclava-wearing gunman waved a sawn-off shotgun in his face during a service and robbed the congregation. Irish Independent
Pastor John invited the gunman back to church, saying, “We are hopeful that he will be in touch soon because we want him to come back so we can help him.”
The Church was having a special ‘Bring a Friend’ outreach, and there were a number of first-time visitors in the congregation. Of all the things that could go wrong on such a day, having a masked gunman storm into church must be most pastors’ nightmare. It must also have been a terrifying experience for all concerned.
I dread to think how things would have turned out if people in the congregation were carrying guns and some idiot had decided to turn a church service into the gunfight at the OK Corral.
Pastor John, I would like to think that I would respond with such grace in a similar scenario. I’m not sure I would, because I don’t always react well when faced with violence. My wife still laughs when she tells people about my experience of getting mugged by seven Russian mafia thugs on an underground metro in St Petersburg. My very unChristlike response was to start shouting, “Take your hands off my wallet or I’ll kill the lot of you!”
So thank you, Pastor John, for demonstrating a truly Jesus-centered response to terror. What do we do a masked gunmen invades a church? We forgive him, and invite him to come back again. You have restored my faith in the Church, and I think you’ve probably made Jesus quite happy too.