A small cottage industry of faith-specialized security firms has sprung up almost overnight, offering nervous churches, synagogues and mosques vulnerability assessments, security systems and emergency planning. Many were already on alert for the kind of crimes that have plagued religious institutions for years: Churches being burned, synagogues and mosques being desecrated.
People's Baptist Church, in fact, had a security plan in place for its 3,000-member congregation that included off-duty officers hired for traffic and protection. But none of it stopped Kevin Kelly from firing five bullets into Patricia Simmons Kelly's chest Feb. 22.
- The Washington Post, Sept. 29
Few things speak more powerfully to the violence of our time than attacks in or near sanctuaries dedicated to religious worship.
A series of killings in American churches in the past year or so has shattered the presumption of people in those congregations that their sacred space is safe, a place respected even by those who differ with their beliefs, and a source of renewal, nurture and certainty.
High profile killings have targeted controversial people who attend particular congregations, another an apparently insane killing of random individuals because they were perceived as threats, and another a death related to a family-specific situation that might have been worked out peacefully with the help of the very people whose lives have been traumatized by worship-place bloodshed.
History's violent episodes seem to happen in prolonged cycles springing from various causes, with the age of terrorism and anarchy in the background of today's attacks and mass killings.
A similar era, with the background and foreground tinged with the color of war and despotism, grew during the 1930s as the Nazis and Fascists rose to power in Europe, and an unsettled fear spread into the Depression-scarred United States.
In that earlier situation, the observance now called World Communion Sunday began, first at one congregation, Shadyside Presbyterian in Pittsburgh, then across many other Protestant churches around the world. The goal was not church union but unity in faith for the assurance that the same God stood with all those worshippers - and indeed with all people of peace and good will. The first Sunday in October remains the widely observed day to reaffirm those beliefs.
At the heart of the day is the universal Christian belief that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, the promised cornerstone of a new humanity interested in serving the world, not conquering it.
Living in the world but not living like the world has been the daily challenge for people of faith since the beginning. Authentic religion is counter-cultural, rubbing against and past current culture and behavior in pursuit of eternal truths and redemptive behavior.
The idea is simple and profound.
Jesus said, "For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." (from Mark 9, NRSV)