Last week, I wrote a bit about why it’s a bad idea to bring a gun to church. I wanted to address the specific concern about mass shootings in church.
Mass shootings in religious spaces are a real concern. Even though the chances of them happening are small, the consequences of when they do happen are huge. As regular readers of 606 know, I am very concerned about mass shootings, both personally and politically.
I also understand that some faith communities have more reason to fear than others. I am not presuming to give advice to Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, or African American congregations, all of which have been targets of mass violence.
Most mass shootings are not random acts of violence committed by a mentally ill person who “snaps” and kills without thought. They are typically committed by men who plan their attacks over a longish period of time, and they choose targets they see as symbolizing some injustice that they have suffered. They harbor a deep sense of aggrieved entitlement–a belief that the world (symbolized by their target) owes them something. In this way, they are tied deeply to toxic masculinity, which sees men as superior and thus deserving of advantages; when those advantages are not granted, toxic masculinity demands them or seeks revenge for their loss. Likewise, white supremacy demands the oppression of people of color to compensate for perceived “injustices” (“white genocide”) against white people. These two factors alone–toxic masculinity and white supremacy–are powerful explanations for many of our mass shootings, even those that have occurred in churches.
For example, Mother Emmanuel was chosen as the target of a white supremacist church shooting not merely because the congregation was comprised of people of color but because the church, the site of the planning of a slave revolt, was symbolically a threat to white supremacy. When a gunman opened fire in First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas in 2017, he was angry about a domestic dispute with his mother-in-law. Though she was not in church that Sunday, he killed his grandmother-in-law.
Mass shooters, in other words, do not choose their targets because they see a “no guns” sign on a church door and take that to mean that their victims will be easy targets. They choose their targets because they think of those targets as being worthy of death because of some perceived injury that they have unfairly suffered: their white supremacy has been challenged or their right to women’s bodies has been threatened.
The most dangerous thing that white Christian churches can do isn’t to ban guns on the premise. It’s to welcome women fleeing domestic violence and to fight against white supremacy. When they do that, then they have a reason to start worrying.