Serving Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Princeton & Pine Level since 1973

The tears of God: Violence in houses of worship

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It was just before 9 a.m. on a beautiful spring morning when my preacher dad gave me the honor of climbing the stairs to the church belfry to pull the rope attached to the church bell. I would ring the bell nine times to remind the faithful of the time and that church Sunday school would begin in just one hour.

We can all remember those simpler, safer days. They are forever gone.

Our houses of worship should be places of peace, of safety, of sanctuary. They are such no more.

Over the last several months, vicious attackers, filled with hate, have targeted houses of worship around the globe. Three African-American churches were burned to the ground in Louisiana. A few weeks ago, a gunman opened fire in a California synagogue on the last day of Passover. This attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue followed a series of attacks on Christian churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday and mass shootings at New Zealand mosques last month; and a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh six months ago.

As often as possible, I seek to attend the Smithfield Islamic Center’s time of prayer on Friday afternoon. Sadly, I catch myself in the midst of the service and hearing the front door of the mosque open, saying to myself, “Is it about to happen here?”

God must be weeping!

“Houses of worship are sanctuaries. They are open spaces where people gather to reflect and honor God, and it is just horrific that the national conversation is about how we can prevent mass shootings and preventing the scourge of white supremacy that’s forcing many communities to live in fear,” said Zainab Chaudry, spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the anti-Defamation League, condemned these attacks and the motives behind them.

“Creating divisions between people because of how they pray, what they look like and what they believe is the life’s blood of the extremists. Faith groups of all kinds must stand up and with each other and reject not only the violence, but also the destructive narratives that seek to drive a wedge between them whenever and wherever they arise,” he said.

In the opinion of this writer, an equally volatile and tragic movement has surfaced to “defeat” this new and deadly reality of attacks on our places of worship.

We are now promoting the belief and putting our faith in using the same instruments of violence and death to be our salvation, our redemption from the current outbreak of attacks on our houses of worship. The god of firearms.

The Faith-Based Security Network, a nonprofit founded by Carl Chinn, offers safety guidance to communities of faith and he has indicated he is aware of more than 1,000 volunteer-run security teams in houses of worship in the U.S. Two hundred of them in 34 states.

Indeed, God must be weeping.

Yes. Let’s all grab our guns and go to church next Sunday to worship Jesus, the Prince of Peace, in whom we put all our faith.

Quoting Abbas Barzegar, director of research and advocacy for CAIR, “Violence comes in many different forms, but hate has the same DNA wherever you see it.”

Fear is also our enemy and it causes us to revert to the use of the same violence by way of arming ourselves with even more firearms to bring us our salvation. Maybe today’s sermons should be titled, “God and Guns: Our Salvation”!

To those of you who believe in the inerrant Word of God, when is the last time you heard a sermon on Isaiah 2:4? “They shall beat their swords into plow shears and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Indeed, God is weeping.

Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.