As a law enforcement officer, I carry a gun almost anywhere. But I never take it to my other workplace — a church. Besides being a state constable, I’m also a church rector and an Anglican bishop. I am, however, thinking of changing that personal gun ban for the greater good.
My reconsideration began this past Sunday afternoon while I was trying to enjoy my post-church nap. I was awoken by multiple chirps from my phone. People were texting me about another church shooting. Some craven individual — for motives still unknown — opened fire in a scared space, killing dozens and injuring more.
It’s shocking that, in a nation founded on the idea of religious freedom, there are monsters out there who now think it’s fair game target people of faith with deadly force. I’m no stranger to religious bigotry and the condescension of non-believers, but recent church shootings like those in Charleston, South Carolina and Antioch, Tennessee in addition to this latest one in Sutherland Springs, Texas bring intolerance to a frightening new level.
When I previously assessed my duties as a law enforcement officer, priest and bishop, I decided not to carry my pistol with me when attending Sunday services. I made this choice at my own person peril because I have recently received credible personal threats and routinely come across people I’ve arrested.
This is also despite the fact that, in my capacity as an officer, I have provided protection at synagogues and churches when there was concern about the safety of their congregants. Until now, I didn’t think it was appropriate for me and my church.
I’ve always seen the job of a bishop as that of an overseer. That’s why a bishop carries an ornate staff called a crozier. Like a shepherd, it’s a bishop’s duty to collect the flock and guide it clear of the wolves.
From the founding of my parish, St. Alban’s, in the mid-1970s, we usually left our doors unlocked. That changed about five years ago. The sad fact is that people are more willing to ignore, defile and deface sacred space these days. The lines that no one would dare cross before now largely go unacknowledged.
Maybe the crozier is no longer enough.
At Sutherland Springs, there was a good guy with a gun. A neighbor of the First Baptist Church heard the shooting, grabbed his own rifle and came to the defense of the congregation. His effort undoubtedly saved a lot of innocent lives. In Antioch, an usher confronted the assailant and tried to wrestle the gun away.
While liberal politicians and activists immediately took to social media to call for more restrictions on guns, it’s obvious that they fail to understand how a gun can also serve as a tool of salvation.
A pistol in the pulpit may sound extreme, but — when people of faith increasingly appear to be targets of armed evil — a good shepherd must do what he must do to protect the flock from the wolves. From the perspective of a bishop and a cop, people must be protected. This includes in sacred spaces.
In the coming days, I’ll be speaking with the members of my parish and examining our approach to future safety and security.
Council Nedd, a co-chairman of the Project 21 black leadership network, is an elected state constable in Pennsylvania and the rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Pine Grove Mills, Pennsylvania.