Over the past few months, I have been visiting several churches for worship on Sunday mornings. Last month, I attended a large and fast-growing congregation that fully epitomizes the “emerging” genre of worship. This congregation also has a large children’s and youth program.
I mentioned to someone that I had worshipped there, and they asked me if I saw the police officer. I did remember seeing a squad car out front and thought it was there for traffic control. But I was wrong – they are present on the campus to provide an atmosphere of safety for the parents of these children and youth.
The message they want to send is one of security. Milwaukee has had two shootings in religious institutions during a worship service in the 13 years we have lived here (that I can remember). And we all know about the heightened security in our schools.
But still, is this message we want to send as the Church?
The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. – John 10:10 (CEB)
This article in the New York Times today is sad for so many reasons. I remember hearing that children in the 1960’s practiced at school – and probably played out at home – getting to a bomb shelter. But is this what we want our children playing at home – how to get into lockdown? After Sandy Hook, Youngest came home and said that one of his teachers was cleaning out a closet in case they needed it to hide the kids.
I remember having a conversation with a parent (someone I love and has a lot of courage) about panic buttons in schools. How it should be right there at the desk (you shouldn’t need to get up to get to it, because someone could shoot you before you got there). OK, put the panic button at the desk – but don’t put your hope in it. There is always another entrance to the school, a bag in a locker, a gun hidden in a coat. There is always the random event.
Don’t get me wrong. I support my church’s child protection policies, proper training for staff and volunteers, and background checks for those working with minors and vulnerable adults. I volunteered to be a forensics judge for our middle school and gladly completed the forms for them to find out all they could about me. I understand why I check in at my schools and church. To me, these precautions are like wearing my seat belt in the car or looking both ways before I cross the street.
But do I want teachers and staff at my kids’ schools to be armed? Do I want armed security on the campus? (I remember a picture on Facebook of a man somewhere who was “standing guard” – armed – at his kids’ school to make it “safe.” This is too much.) Should our kids be looking for the “safe” place in the room for when they go into lockdown?
The answer for me is “No.”
Granted I live in a safe community. I am not worried about armed drug dealers and gang members trying to enter the school building (or my church). But this is not the security I want to give my children.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” – John 14:27 (CEB)
I’m honest with my kids about the dangers in the world. For me to tell them they are “safe” at school or church is a lie. Safety is an illusion. We can make good choices and take proper precautions, but we can’t actually live life with complete safety. And if we believe this, we believe a lie. And even more deadly, we are worshipping an idol.
After Sandy Hook, I told them I thought their schools were safe – as they can be. We are never truly physically safe in this world. But they can’t go to school every day wondering where they’ll be safe from a shooter in each of their classrooms. I can’t send them to school every day thinking of whether a bomb is going to go off. Fear is a bigger enemy than death.
”I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” – John 16:33 (CEB)
I’m honest with my kids about death. This desperate need for security is largely driven by our culture’s fear of death. Death is inevitable (although we don’t need to speed it up). If their school goes into lockdown, I want them to listen to their teacher and stay as safe as they can. I don’t take death lightly. My heart jumps to my throat and my gut aches when I watch my kids experience things that are out of my “control.” I have to continually surrender them to Jesus.
But death isn’t the end-game. Whether the fear of death or death itself threatens, I want their hope to be in the One who has already defeated death. Which is why the thought of having a police officer on the church campus (in the suburbs!) is something I can’t comprehend. Of all places where we should be able to act responsibly but live freely in Christ, the Church should be that place.
In the weeks after Sandy Hook, we were all too tender, too hurt to have these conversations. But it’s time to have them now. As those who confess the Living Christ as Lord and Savior, we should be pointing our friends and family members to our True Hope and Refuge. As the Church, we should acknowledge these very real fears (and risks) and help one another to let go of false security and look to the empty tomb for peace. And most important of all, we need to teach our children where their Help comes from. Because when they are faced with their deepest fears or death, this is the only Help we truly have.I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. – Psalm 121 (NIV)