Associated Press photo
Mourners gather today outside a suburban church in Illinois, where a 27-year-old gunman who was unrecognized by the congregants shot and killed the church’s 45-year-old pastor, Fred Winters (whose photo from the church’s website, which states that he was married and had two daughters, is below).
The symbolism of shootings at churches can be disconcerting.
Churches are supposed to be safe places, right? Houses of God, right? God, the Big Daddy in the Sky (who, of course, is white if you go to a white church or black if you go to a black church [or, I suppose, Arab if you are an Arab or Jewish if you are a Jew]), protects you in return for your worship of Him, right? He has your back — right?
So I can only imagine the thoughts and feelings of those who were at the church today at which this (from The Associated Press) happened:
Maryville, Ill. – Illinois State Police say the pastor gunned down at a church in a St. Louis suburb used a Bible to deflect the first of four rounds fired during [his sermon today].
State Police Director Larry Trent says the Bible exploded, producing what appeared to be confetti.
Trent says about 150 people in attendance initially believed the episode was a skit being performed as part of the service at First Baptist Church in Maryville.
Trent says only one of the four rounds fired from the .45 caliber handgun struck and killed 45-year-old pastor Fred Winters.
Two congregants and the gunman suffered stab wounds while the gunman was wrestled to the floor after his gun jammed.
Trent says no one at the church recognized the gunman.
So how do the congregants even begin to wrap their minds — and hearts and souls — around that symbolism? Not only was their pastor gunned down before their very eyes, but the Bible that the pastor apparently reflexively used to protect himself apparently might have protected him from at least one bullet, but at least one bullet took the pastor down and out.
The pastor was not infallible, as men of God are supposed to be (aren’t they?), and the Bible, quite literally as well as figuratively speaking, did not save him…
Does one abandon his or her belief in God after witnessing such an event? Something along the lines of “No God would allow…”?
Or does one self-protectively hunker down even further into a belief in a daddy-like protective God, perhaps even blaming such an event on Satan?
Or does one perhaps seriously examine, perhaps for the first time in his or her life, the entire concept of the Big Daddy in the Sky?
Does the shooting of a pastor in front of his congregation — replete with exploding Bible — not make the concept of an anthropomorphized, protective God seem obsolete?
Time to grow up, maybe?
The home page of the church’s website has this message:
Today, a little after our 8:15 [a.m.] service began, a man entered First Baptist Church and fired several gunshots at our Senior Pastor, Dr. Fred Winters. Pastor Winters was taken to the hospital but died of his wounds.
Please pray for Dr. Winter’s family, our two brave members who were injured when they stopped the assailant, for the assailant himself and his family, and for our church members as they deal with this tragic loss.
In this day, where uncertainty seems to abound, creating an environment in which people are vulnerable in doing things they might not do otherwise, one thing is certain: we, as human beings, need a foundation upon which we can live our lives. We at First Baptist Maryville, along with other Christian believers, share this conviction: that foundation is God’s Word. In the pages of the Book we call the Bible, we find the pathway for peace, hope, and a quality of living life despite what circumstances we find ourselves in.
To those who believe in the power of prayer, we covet your prayers right now.
Well, I’m happy to see that the church seems to understand that the assailant obviously is a troubled man. Too many “Christians” would be calling for the death penalty for him already…
The statement that “we, as human beings, need a foundation upon which we can live our lives” speaks volumes, methinks. Apparently, when tragedy strikes, you run to the Bible, which, apparently, has All of the Answers… We, as human beings, can’t handle uncertainty and the unknown, can we?
Anyway, The Associated Press now reports that the assailant is a 27-year-old man whose name and motive have yet to be released. I don’t think that most people shoot another person without reason at all, and I can’t help but wonder if maybe there was something sexual — something Ted Haggardy, maybe — going on between the pastor and his killer…