The rural Texas congregation was in the middle of a song when a man dressed in black started firing into the church, then entered the sanctuary shooting people at random.
He fired into the approximately 50 worshipers during the middle of the Sunday service – stopping only to reload his gun.
Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt said there was “no way” for the members of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs to escape the carnage.
“He just walked down the center aisle, turned around and my understanding was shooting on his way back out,” Tackitt said at a press conference. “It’s unbelievable to see children, men and women, laying there. Defenseless people.”
Defenseless people of faith.
Video: Pastor Pomeroy of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, and wife, Sherri speak following the mass shooting that claimed nearly all of their congregation, including their daughter, Annabelle:
By the time Devin Patrick Kelley exited the church, he left a devastating toll – 26 dead church members, 20 wounded.
“There were so many rounds,” said Terrie Smith, who runs a café inside the Velero gas station across from the church. “It just went on and on. You could just hear it constantly. And then there was a silence. And then there were more rounds. And then there was silence.”
This was the nightmare that played out at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Sunday morning.
But it’s a nightmare that could happen at almost any small church across the United States, say security experts and pastors.
And it could have been worse if a the church’s neighbor, armed with his own weapon, had not confronted the shooter.
“What happened Sunday in Sutherland Springs once again demonstrates that armed, law-abiding Americans will step forward when the need arises to defend their neighbors and their communities,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb. “This is not the first time an armed citizen has engaged in a heroic act at a church.”
In Tennessee on Sept. 24, he recalled, a gunman opened fire at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, only to be confronted by Robert Engle, who physically confronted the shooter and, despite being injured, continued the fight until the gunman accidentally shot himself. Engle then retrieved his own gun from his car and held the suspect for police.
“Back in 2007,” Gottlieb added, “a woman named Jeanne Assam shot a man who had entered the New Life Church in Colorado Springs after killing two teens outside.” That killer subsequently took his own life.
In many states, even conservative states like Georgia and South Carolina, it is illegal for licensed-to-carry gun owners to carry in a church unless the church first gives permission.
In Georgia, there are only two private-property owners on whose property you can be charged with a crime for carrying a firearm – churches and private schools. Carrying in churches is a $100 fine for being on church property with a firearm, without permission.
In other states, like neighboring Florida, it’s legal to carry in a church regardless of the church’s policy.
Regardless of the state, the rash of attacks has people on edge.
As the Washington Post reports, “For some, the church massacre … reinforced a sense of unease that no place could be considered immune from possible violence after a concert ground in Las Vegas, a Walmart in Colorado, a Nashville church and a bike path in New York all became scenes of death and bloodshed over the past six weeks.”
That sense of unease among the flock is growing.
So the proper response from a Christian perspective is to be prepared, says Carl Gallups, who is a Baptist pastor in the Florida panhandle and former police officer.
“My church, for 30 years, we’ve had security protocol in place,” says Gallups, an expert on church security, having authored a book on the topic called “Be Thou Prepared.”
Gallups said he encounters many Christians who believe in pacifism or who hold pacifistic ideals. But he doesn’t believe that perspective holds up under biblical scrutiny. Whether it was the early Christians living under a tyrannical Roman Empire that liked to murder believers, or today’s rapidly devolving American culture where men frequently go off the rails and randomly kill complete strangers, it’s wise to be prepared, he said.
“We do know that Jesus told his disciples, in Luke 22:36, that if they didn’t have a sword they may want to sell their cloaks and get some swords, and a sword back then would be like a Glock today,” Gallups said. “So he says this to his disciples on his last night with them in the Garden of Gethsemane, and it’s like a warning because he knows there are some dangerous times coming for Christians on the horizon.”
Gallups said it’s no coincidence that mass shootings almost always tend to be in churches, movie theaters, schools or places of employment where the deranged shooter is unlikely to encounter armed resistance. In other words, he targets a gun-free zone, or a place he thinks will be free of armed resisters.
“He’s never too deranged to figure that out,” Gallups said. “You never see mass shootings at police stations.”
The shepherd protects his flock
Joel Richardson, another Christian author and Bible teacher, is of the same mindset on defending life in the face of evil. Pacifism has no place, he said.
“If a pacifist Christian were to walk past a woman being raped or assaulted and not use violence to stop it, he would be guilty of having blood on his hands. Many pacifist Christians place their own pride, piety and vainglory before actually loving their neighbor,” Richardson told WND.
“To stand by while the sheep are being slaughtered is not loving; it is selfish, cheap piety made to make the pacifist feel good about themselves, but isn’t actually loving to those whom the Lord has given them to watch over,” he added. “The shepherd lays down his life to protect the sheep.”
It’s the same, shepherd-guarding-the-flock concept that Richardson has used to explain his opposition to churches that engage in refugee resettlement work, bringing men of fighting age from jihadist-infested parts of the world into small-town America, where the safety of young American women is then placed at risk.
“How is that loving your neighbor?” he asked.
Gallups said pastors should be more concerned about security across the board, and Sunday’s attack is just the latest sign of things to come.
Usually, at churches of fewer than 150 people, security tends to be lax. But pastors of all size churches need to wake up to certain realities, Gallups said.
“Nowhere in God’s word does it tell you that you shouldn’t defend your family against some ravenous murderer storming into your church,” he said.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Nehemiah went on a mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. While doing so, he instructed the wall-builders to carry weapons while working on the walls. It was a protective measure against Sanballat and his Samaritan mob who threatened to attack.
“God told them to protect your people and fight the enemy if they attack. So the Bible never tells us we can’t defend our families,” Gallups said.
Still, many pastors and priests haven’t come to grips with the hard realities of living and practicing their faith in an increasingly hostile, godless society, where respect for life seems to be at an all-time low.
“But we’re going to have to. We live in a different world,” he said. “In the United States of America over the last 100 years, we’ve had it really, really good. But things are changing fast.”
In countries like Egypt and Pakistan, Christians are routinely killed in raids on churches and church events.
“You have years of open borders, you have 9/11 and other Islamist attacks, so this stuff is probably going to increase here in the U.S.,” Gallups said.
It doesn’t help that the culture has turned its back on God, he said.
“You can’t tell your children for 50 years that God isn’t allowed in public places, two men can marry each other and we came from monkeys, you just can’t do that forever without God, at some point, withdrawing his protective hand,” he said.
‘Get out of that church’
Gallups said even a tiny church of 20 to 30 people can protect itself on very little money. And at least one member should be armed and trained in firearms use.
“If your church is not willing, you have two choices,” he said. “One, get out, get your family out of that church. I would not have my family in a church that says we are willing to let you die here.”
The other option, in a church that does not allow its own licensed-to-carry members to carry a gun during services, is to continue to go to the church and just carry without saying anything to anyone, he said.
“I would rather have my family alive than have them slaughtered before my eyes and people say, ‘Boy at least Carl was legal,'” he said.
Gallups said Jesus teaching to “turn the other cheek” is often interpreted to mean a Christian should never defend himself or his family against violence.
“Turn the other cheek, yes, but none of that is, in the proper context, for watching someone kill your family in front of your eyes.
“As Christians, we are to turn the other cheek in our daily lives, but there’s not anywhere in scripture that says if someone comes into your house and wants to rape your wife and daughter, you are to let them do it,” he continued. “In my house, you die if you try that.”
There can also be legal ramifications for failing to protect in some situations.
At least a minimal amount of safety is required whenever a business or a church opens its doors to the public.
“There have been court rulings that if you have no security in your church at all, and if somebody is harmed or raped or killed, you are liable,” Gallups said. “There are a lot of issues here. If someone says I am a pacifist, I tell them, ‘Well, get out of the pulpit.’ That is an individual thing, and I respect an individual’s right to be pacifist, but don’t hold yourself up as a leader and protector of the flock, because you’re not. The shepherd guarded the sheep to keep the wolves away, and pastors are shepherds of the flock.”