Although I’m an atheist/agnostic, I attend church with my family when I visit them because I know that over the centuries, organized religious groups have done both a great deal of good and a great deal of harm. As they grow older, their church gives my parents both solace and hope. Religious organizations also do a great deal of good in third world countries as well as at home in the name of God. Not everyone is a hypocrite. The vast majority of people who do good in the name of their God are sincere, just misguided.
But I’m skeptical of many churches and organizations based on how I’ve seen them operate. Members and administrators who are benefiting far more than the people they are professing to serve are all over television and the Internet. I’ll be honest, the great acts of kindness and the many good things that religious groups are often overlooked because that isn’t “news.” Sometimes I ask myself whether I’ve just become too jaded to look at religion objectively.
Shooting at Church Erupts Over Seating in Pews
Then the news hands me a story that is the perfect example of why organized religion bothers me. Mark T. Storms shot Robert Braxton in church after Braxton and and a couple sitting behind him argued over seating in the pews. Let me repeat that. Mark T. Storms shot a man in church when he and a church guest argued over seating in the pews. In a place of sanctuary, a man who presumably came to worship and pray was gunned down in front of parishioners, including children. Neither man handled the situation well. According to news reports, when two people sitting behind him indicated he was sitting in reserved seats, the victim began cursing and became volatile. Over the seating arrangements and whether he could remain seated in that particular pew.
Jesus Christ, people! (I do take the Lord’s name in vain, yes. It’s how I was raised and is often the only way I can express my frustration or anger to people who have the same religious background that I do. Saying “Oh fiddlesticks” or “Dang it” just doesn’t carry the heft that “God damn it!” carries)
So, in a place of supposed sanctuary, these Godly events unfolded:
- Members were reserving their seats with bibles so that they could have the best seats in the house once the service started. Really? Where you were seated was so important that you had to have a placeholder keeping others away from highly coveted seats? So you were there to see and be seen more than you were there to worship.
- Other church members felt that keeping those reserved seats for their friends was more important than welcoming Braxton and making him feel at home.
- The shooter routinely carried a concealed weapon in a church and others knew about this and approved of it. How is this “sanctuary?”
- Braxton responded to Storms’ show of force by punching the man in the jaw rather than walking away.
- Storms responded to a punch in the face by shooting Braxton in the chest, a move practically guaranteed to kill him.
- Parishioners and Mark T. Storms noted that he had flashed his weapon in the past in order to “defuse” escalating disagreements. Just how many disagreements does this church have in the pews, on Sundays, that require a show of deadly force?
So my increasingly low opinion of organized religion has once again been validated by the horrendous actions of professed Christians. I realize that many people will say that the Braxon/Storms shooting isn’t a good example (and I won’t argue with that!) because it isn’t a representative example. They will protest that there are many fine churches out there, and I’m sure that’s correct. But it doesn’t change the fact that in this instance, there were many forces in play that reflect badly on the concept of organized religion:
- The church knew that at least one parishioner carried a concealed weapon and never thought to put a “no weapons in church” policy
- The argument erupted because members were saving seats like it was a concert or school cafeteria.
- Some members were more worried about the seating arrangements than about reaching out and welcoming another person.
- Both Braxton and Storms escalated a situation that shouldn’t even have become an issue.
Four things were noticeably lacking last week in that church – Christian charity, Christian love, a sense of welcome and the ability to “turn the other cheek.” All hail organized religion.