To the Editor:

As I go into this new year, I am taking stock of the things I love about church. One of those things is our United Church of Christ motto, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

This saying is a promise that our denomination makes to folks all over the nation, and to ourselves in trying to create a safe, welcoming and loving space for anyone who wishes to explore and build up their spiritual life. I feel that having these types of safe spaces are important because, when we create them, we bring a little bit of God’s world into our own.

Unfortunately, over the holiday season we saw two religious communities disrupted by violence — one, a Hassidic Jewish congregation in Monsey, N.Y., and the other, the congregation of the White Settlement Church of Christ in Texas. My prayers go out to these congregations because it is a reality that these types of attacks on places of worship have been a disturbing trend for some time now.

Such attacks are linked to a deeply rooted hatred and fear that is currently gripping our nation, and I do feel that as a Christian and a person of faith I have a responsibility to speak out. But this letter is more about how we preserve these safe spaces that people of faith rely upon when they are more frequently coming under attack.

I have huge reservations about the push to encourage places of worship to conceal, and allow parishioners to have firearms, even if it is for self-defense. I know that many are responding to the coverage of the White Settlement shooting as a success, in that more lives were not lost due to the congregation’s security team.

I commend that team for taking action, but I also pray for them because they were put in a situation that should tear at one’s conscience. To take a life in the place they go to affirm life seems to contradict the gospel message. There are few things I can think of that are more horrible than the children of God killing each other in a house of God, and so my prayers go to the congregation and the security team at the White Settlement Church of Christ because their safe space was violated.

Places of worship are often targeted by attackers because we are seen as “soft targets.” People of faith don’t go to church, mosque, temple or synagogue expecting to dodge bullets like they’re in a gunfight at the OK Corral. We go to be better people. As a religious leader, I do not see how allowing live firearms into our places of worship helps to create a space where we can worship. It only provides yet another way we fail to live into God’s call for peace.

Rev. Devon Thomas

Waterville Union Church

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