During the Christmas-Hanukkah overlap of 2019, the annual festive season for both Christians and Jews was marred by violent reminders that in a hatred-infested world, our fears as well as our joys may intersect. A church shooting in Texas and a machete attack in New York bloodied our respective sacred celebrations.
In a variety of ways, Jews and Christians both have responded to such incidents in the past, according to conscience and temperament. All have lamented; all have prayed; some have prayed and raged.
And some have prayed and prepared.
When I first took a concealed carry class in South Carolina, I met a number of people who fall into the latter category. I found that several classmates were specifically pursuing carry permits in response to the Emmanuel Church massacre in Charleston, either on their own initiative, or at the request of their pastors. Church security was mentioned as a secondary motive by several other classmates, and our instructor reminded us of the procedure required to carry legally in a church setting (including permission from the church leadership, as required by federal law).
This is a manly, wise, and American response to the threat of violence. Get trained, get armed, stand ready. We are right to do as the pilgrims did in old New England when, to prepare for worship, “each (set) his arms down near him.”
So far, so good. And as we have seen most recently with the heroism of Jack Wilson at his Texas church, it can also be effective.
Of course, as celebrants at a service, our minds are supposed to be on spiritual things. Some traditions even encourage listening to what the pastor or rabbi might be saying, and it can be hard to maintain condition yellow during a sermon on the “Perseverance of the Saints.” (Though there is a nearly 400-year-old tradition among Presbyterians of doing so, going back to the Scottish Covenanters).
Still, one closes his eyes for prayer now and again. And it occurs to me that I have friends who worship the Almighty, not on Sunday mornings, but on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. We may have important doctrinal disagreements, but we share a revulsion at religious murder and a man’s sense of duty to protect the innocent.
It’s well that Jewish synagogues and temples, and Christian churches, should have designated marksmen to respond to violence against their congregations at worship. But it occurs to me that this sad necessity brought about by the evil of mankind, might also be an occasion to remind one another of more comforting truths.
What if, as we trained to defend worshipers from homicidal madmen, we were to make a point of crossing religious lines? What if arrangements were made between congregations for some Saturday worshipers to serve as volunteer guards on a Sunday morning, now and again—and some Sunday worshipers to stand ready, to protect a Sabbath service?
Surely there are rabbis and pastors who might come together to arrange a sort of exchange program of qualified, background-checked, good-hearted men.
And the perfect theme verses, I think, are to be found in 2 Samuel 10: 10-11. In this passage ancient Israel’s general, Joab, has detailed two forces to meet two foes—and to watch one another’s backs:
And he said, If the Syrians be too strong for me, then thou shalt help me: but if the children of Ammon be too strong for thee, then I will come and help thee. Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God . . . ”
Wouldn’t it do all of us good to watch one another’s backs—and to see someone else, motivated simply by human decency, watching ours?