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Violence in the Sanctuary

October 17, 2017

What should the Christian response be to radical hate?  What is the church to do when the security and safety of the sanctuary is attacked by a group whose mission is to instill fear in anyone who opposes their agenda?

This is not an esoteric question.  Unfortunately, it is a question that all churches must consider.  We live in a world where the Christian message is hated.  Christians worldwide are facing persecution because they adhere to the life-giving message of Jesus, and want to share that message with others.  Some face death for aligning with Christ.

In America, the heat is being turned up on Christians, and our sanctuaries are not off-limits.

On Nov. 9, 2008, members of a group called Bash Back!, dressed in militant garb, staged a protest outside Mount Hope Church, near Lansing, Michigan, during a worship service.  These masked protestors blocked the exits and entrances to the parking lot and building.  One witness testified as to how scared he was when the protestors started surrounding his car as he was trying to come to church with his family.

But this outside protest was merely a ruse to distract church security from what their group was planning to do inside the sanctuary.  As security was heading outdoors to see what was going on, other members of the group, who were dressed in plain clothes and had entered the building and sanctuary previously, took over the service.  Some went on the platform.  Many ran up and down the aisles throwing their pro-homosexual propaganda at the congregants.  One female couple began kissing near the stage.

The group started shouting chants and religious slurs, like “it’s ok to be gay! Jesus was a homosexual!”  Members from the group unfurled a sign from the balcony.   Witnesses of the event described how they were immediately scared for their children.  One witness said he realized that he was seeing a strategic, coordinated effort, and was very concerned as to how it might end.

What would you do if your Sunday morning service was hi-jacked?

After the incident, this group bragged about its activities on its Web site and, on a separate page, explained its choice of Mount Hope:  “This church is nothing short of a disease in the community, and in the minds of those who attend.”  The Lansing chapter of the group targeted Mount Hope Church because of the church’s well-known Christian views on marriage and homosexual behavior.

Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed suit in federal court on behalf of the church to stop Bash Back! and other activist groups from invading churches in the future.  Federal law imposes penalties upon anyone who “by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship.”

This type of activity not only disrupts worship by silencing pastors and terrifying adults and children, but it could lead to deadly results.   The Bash Back! Web site, which features a banner photo of members dressed in terrorist-like garb and wielding various objects as weapons, states on one page of the site that the group’s activities include “Riots, Sex Work, Crime, Insurrection, you know the fun stuff we do.”

The United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan has now entered judgment against Bash Back!, and the case is now concluded.  The church took a stand against this violent behavior, not out of any kind of retribution, but out of a desire to keep this type of activity from happening again.  If you are a pastor or church leader, you should review your church’s security policies.  You can also contact ADF for any legal concerns you might have.

You never know when you might be forced to answer this question of “what would you do” in real time.

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