Fayetteville, NC – In light of the Charleston attack, a congregation seeing a man armed with a rifle enter the premises must have been pretty unnerving this past New Year’s Eve, but a pastor’s calm response to a distraught man prevented a possible tragedy.
On the last prayer service of the year, while Pastor Larry Wright, of the Heal the Land Outreach Ministries, spoke on the topic of violence in the community, an unidentified man entered the church holding a rifle in one hand, an a loaded ammo magazine in the other.
According to CCN.com, Pastor Wright said, “I’m the first person to see him and when I saw him, I thought it was a dummy gun, but then I saw the bullet clip in his hand and the bullets were shining.”
Seeing the potential danger, Pastor Wright verbally challenged the man by asking, “May we help you?”
He had already determined if the man was antagonistic that he would tackle him.
Surprisingly (and thankfully) the man said he was afraid he was going to do something bad and asked Pastor Wright to pray for him.
Pastor Wright took away the gun, handed it off to a deacon, and did just that.
He and the deacons hugged the man and had him sit in the front pew. Determined to finish the sermon with an altar call, the man came forward and gave his life to Christ.
Later, the police took him to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation.
The unidentified man returned to the church and asked if he could address the congregation. The man told them he had determined to do something bad and asked God to help him.
Members of the congregation saw the man pacing outside of the church earlier at about 10:00 PM. The congregation learned the man had just been married, had been in prison, and suffered from PTSD. He was having personal, financial problems, and was seeking help.
At the time of the writing, no charges had been filed since the man didn’t threaten anyone with the gun.
When I read this story, I was amazed by the pastor’s calm demeanor and his ability to focus on the problem by asking the man a simple question. By staying calm, he was mirroring the behavior he hoped the armed man would exhibit.
So often, people suffering from mental illness can become easily agitated. While I am not sure what my response would have been, the Bible talks about a soft answer turning away wrath. Pastor Wright’s loving response, and listening to his intuition (and probably the Spirit), he was able to bring this situation to a peaceful resolution.
When we talk about tactics, there is always good, better, and best. A tactic few people consider is verbal tactics. It’s always a good start, whether in the form of a question or order (put the gun down). In the realm of self defense and firearms, we train for the threat: See a threat, neutralize the threat.
However, pastor Wright was able to quickly evaluate the magazine was not in the gun, but considered there might be a bullet in the chamber. He was ready to move physically against the potential threat, but tried a verbal tactic first.
A verbal tactic can be a question, or it can be a statement.
I’m sure all along the pastor was trying to figure out if this was really happening, but in my view, his response was truly of God. When things occur outside our normal experience, the mind attempts to process whether events are truly happening. It is obvious Pastor Wright had considered what he would do if confronted by potential violence. News reports stated this wasn’t the first time he had challenged an armed individual at church.
As we often say, security at church is everyone’s business. All the while he was talking to the man, others in the congregation were calling the police. According to reports, Wright had asked the police to stay outside until the service was over.
Pastor Wright took a potentially very bad situation, and due to his calm, rational thinking, applied a verbal tactic by simply asking a question: “Can we help you?”
People suffering from mental problems sometimes need direction, calm, and a voice of hope. While this is true, Pastor Wright was ready to apply physical force to protect his congregation if the intruder intended to do harm.