by Karsceal Turner
Special to the NNPA from The Florida Courier
Is self-defense biblical? Are Christians required to forgive, as in the case of the Charleston massacre families forgiving the young White supremacist who killed their relatives?
Dr. Charles A. Harper, III, pastor of Paradise Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, answers with an emphatic “yes” to both questions.
Armed in church
The Second Amendment supporter has possessed a concealed weapons permit for 15 years and at one time carried a firearm to church. He also vigorously advocates self-defense.
“I have the right to protect myself against the criminal element. You do what you have to do to protect yourself. The Bible says, ‘Watch and pray.’ There’s nothing wrong with protecting one’s family and property while doing so legally,” Harper added.
“As a Second Amendment supporter, I feel Christians have the right to protect themselves, but most people don’t because of personal preference. However, for those who have undergone the proper firearms and weapons training, it’s perfectly alright to do so.”
Question of ‘maturity’
When addressing the question of mandatory forgiveness, Harper said “spiritual maturity” is the main issue.
“It depends on where one is spiritually,” Harper said. “The thing you have to understand about a statement like ‘turning the other cheek’ is that it depends on where you are in your growth.
“Jesus on the cross gave the ultimate statement of turning the other cheek. After being spat on, nailed to a cross, his last statement was, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
Most of us do not grow to that point.”
Harper also said the shooting in Charleston, S.C. was a very personal thing to many churchgoers.
“The Charleston shooting is a very touchy subject. When you focus in on it from a Christian perspective, it is very difficult when put in a situation like Charleston to forgive. One has to dig very deep within themselves.
“I taught about this some weeks ago and I posed this question: ‘Does forgiveness negate justice?’
The answer is, ‘No, it does not.’
Killed in church
Harper, who was born and raised in Atlanta, recounted a story about forgiveness he says changed his life.
“Martin Luther King, Sr. was preaching one Sunday (at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta) and his wife was on piano. A mentally disturbed man walked up to his wife and shot her dead,” Harper said.
“When questioned by news reporters how he felt about the man who cold-bloodedly killed his wife, King, Sr. replied, ‘I’ve got to forgive him, I’ve got to love him.’ I don’t think I’ve grown to that point yet.
“That was the ultimate. It was the ultimate expression of forgiveness that I’ve seen. I was not yet a Christian, but looking back, I can say that King, Sr. had grown to the point spiritually where he could do that,” Harper added.
Dr. Terry Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, addressed what he sees is an innate conflict of a pastor being armed in church.
“I think in carrying a weapon that can take a person’s life or that could be detrimental to the health of a person, and standing in the pulpit preaching at the same time, does not exemplify a very strong faith in God and God’s protection,” he explained.
“However, I firmly believe that God helps those who help themselves as well. For those preachers who do choose to carry, more power to them if they want everyone to know,” he added.
“I just prefer to not be one of those preachers who is recognized as being a gun-toting preacher at the same time that I’m preaching love and preaching that God will take care of you and that we should trust in Him. We firmly believe that ‘All things work for the good of those who love the Lord and those who are called according to his purpose.’”
Strapped or not?
Turner was cagey as he addressed the subject whether he’s personally armed. Texas is an “open carry” state.
“I chose not to reveal whether I carry or not. I believe it’s a personal preference. I don’t think if one chooses to carry, not everyone needs to know that you are carrying,” Turner said.
“As for my personal preference while preaching, I think it’s better that I remain anonymous on that,” Turner said.
Why so forgiving?
Turner said the Christian movement is built out of suffering.
“Suffering has been a big part of Christianity since its inception,” he acknowledged. “As African-Americans in this country, we have found ourselves since being in this county forever in a mode to forgive and move beyond those who have mistreated, abused, and inflicted us.
“Forgiveness is a big part of who we are as a people. Christians are encouraged to forgive because the Bible tells us that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. So forgiveness is a major part of who we are as believers.
“When you notice that churches have forgiven and moved on, it is them putting into practice what is instilled in Scripture. Forgiveness is the key to being a healthy Christian; forgiveness is key to who we are as believers.
“People must understand what it takes for them to inherit the kingdom of Heaven,” Turner said.
Turner believes armed self-defense in the church is biblically proper.
“Sometimes servants have to be aggressive in order to protect the things of God and the kingdom of God. If you have an offender who comes into the church and takes the lives of believers, we believe that God does help those who help themselves.
“If someone comes into our service destroying and killing us, and another believer decides to protect his brothers and sisters in Christ, he is leaning on the adage that God also makes warriors − not only prayer and spiritual but also physical − when we trust in the Lord. God uses those believers as his servants.
“The greatest warriors were in the Old Testament. They fought battles in order to maintain holiness and righteousness in order to protect God’s people,” Turner concluded.
Weapons expert Samuel Hayes III delivered his take on self-defense in a church setting.
“A church security team and those involved must reconcile with the fact that in a violent critical incident, their responsibility just might be to kill the hostile aggressor in church,” Hayes said.
“When the time comes, whomever has the shot better clear their head, take decisive action and kill the shooter with righteous indignation as quickly and deliberately as possible,” Hayes said. “There is a potentially huge psychological effect that goes with that, not to mention the social stigma and negative impact that could have on the congregation.”
A ‘red flag’
“Looking back at Charleston, a weird White dude in street clothes with a bad haircut would have most certainly been a red flag for me. I’d like to think that my response would have resulted in his demise via multiple rounds to the face, or a crushed trachea with the collection plate, Bible or hymnal,” Hayes affirmed.
“I carry everywhere. Those who know me know not to even ask. Concealed is concealed. If you don’t see it, don’t worry about it. If you do see it, things just got real. Duck,” he concluded.
Karsceal Turner is an award-winning independent journalist regularly covering Central Florida human interest features and sports.