What If We Were Told To Stay Away From Church in the Wake of A Terror Attack

The murder of innocent people at two separate mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand is a tragedy beyond description. To hear the country’s Prime Minister tell her Muslim citizens to stay away from their houses of worship; out of safety, caution and fear is a request I’d have never imagined hearing from a western head of government. What a comparable declaration would do in light of a similar attack in this country is hard to fathom. Because, to paraphrase Richard Gere addressing his drill sergeant Louis Gosset Jr in An Officer and a Gentleman, “We’ve got nowhere else to go.”When such tragedies occur we go to our churches, synagogues, and mosques. The quiet corners of these dimly lit buildings are our safe spaces. In them, we find space at our own pace to listen to God amidst the chaos. There is room for our anger, sorrow, and sadness. We have the opportunity to realize: we are not alone.

The idea of church, for my own safety, being taken away from our community is frightening. As much as being murdered in a house of worship terrifies me, I’m scared of not being able to go to church at those times when I most need to be in church. At the end of a lousy day, times when I’m sick and disconnected from those whom I love; that’s when I really need to be inside the church.

What we’ve seen in New Zealand today reminds us that violence, hatred, bigotry, and religious intolerance prevent the church (or any religious institution) from doing what it does best. Churches, mosques, and synagogues are here to care for their communities and embody the reality of God’s presence. When people filled with hatred choose to manifest their prejudices, so much so that they believe in taking human life, it’s hard to find a safe place for God in our modern world. Nowhere feels like the right place to pray, love, and exhibit God’s priorities for humanities. Where do we go? What do we do? Here a thought.

In one sense, I’m reminded that it’s always been dangerous to be publicly identified as a person of faith. The 1st-century church, those in the earliest generations following Jesus never knew safety. Their churches were “movable feasts.” From house to house and building to building, they worshiped when and where they were able. Their fellowship, their presence, made real in communion constituted the church. The church wasn’t about a building holding services or a property defined by a deed. If the believers found each other, they found the church and could see a glimpse of God at work in the world.

Yes, it would be frightening to be told not to visit our house of worship. We should pray for our Muslim sisters and brothers in New Zealand. This is a horrific and barbaric attack. Remember, even if we cannot get to a place; we know we can go to each other.

Richard Lowell Bryant