Pastors with Guns

These photos will surely bother some of my friends in the HM. Sorry.

Actually, there’s been an interesting discussion on that post. Some of the members of the HM have weighed in, as have some chaplains. In answer to some of the questions that have been raised:

  • No, I do not get paid to be a chaplain (which, I suppose, allows me more freedom to stay true to my own commitments that I if I were paid.
  • Yes, I have a badge. (Well, not a real badge. It’s embroidered on my jacket.)
  • No, I do not carry a gun.

But about once a year, the other chaplains and I go to the range and shoot, as we did last week. Why? Because a big part of being a chaplain to cops is to understand what it’s like to be a cop, to walk in their shoes, to live a bit of their experience.

Last Thursday, we were instructed on the service weapons used by the Edina cops, the Glock G22 and G23. A couple things struck me as we learned about the pistol and fired a few dozen rounds a piece. The first is the incredible technology involved in a modern gun. Another chaplain asked if there’s a safety switch on the gun and we were told that all of the safeties on a Glock are internal. That is, it won’t misfire if it’s dropped or hit or jostled. And it’s got a double trigger system which deactivates the internal safeties.

In other words, if you pull the trigger, the gun fires.

And that got me to thinking about what it must be like to carry a loaded weapon all day, everyday (yes, most cops carry a weapon even when they’re off duty). I imagine that invokes some serious anxiety. At first. Then I suppose it becomes normal. Maybe they even forget about it at times.

Having been a police chaplain for the last decade, I think I’m beginning to understand what being a cop does to someone’s psyche. As you might guess, it leads to a twisted sense of humor. Too often, it also leads to broken relationships and a suspicion of most other persons. (To write more, I think, would be a betrayal of my friendships with them.)

This is the very thing that leads my Anabaptist-leaning friends to say that Christ-followers should stay away from these professions. That carrying a weapon changes a person, and not for the better. I get that argument, but I wonder what planet they’d like to live on. Because, since I’ve been a chaplain, two officers have shot and killed dangerous, gun-wielding subjects (“bad guys” is how they’re referred to at the EPD), and that’s in my sleepy Midwestern suburb.

So, what’s the option?

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  • Na, you just miss Jack Bauer.

  • you do a good service for those police officers. i’m sure they appreciate you very much. i agree, options are limited regarding firearms. and i sure hope that Christians don’t shy away from professions as law enforcement. that could create an extremely unhealthy us vs. them scenario.

  • Good post TJ! I hope that more and more followers of Christ become peace officers. My dad is a retired North Minneapolis cop of 27 years… oh the stories that he tells. I remember going to the second precinct on the Northeast side to visit him in the evening when he was working the dog watch. Those are some great memories, and the stories of compassion and humility – well, let’s say these are the stories that never make the newspaper – only the failures and mistakes make the headlines these days. Thanks for ministering to these fine men!

  • and women.

  • I guess I was one of the “bad guys.” After working as a police officer for 5 years, I’m in full-time ministry now. I think some of your characterizations of peace officers is accurate. I pray it helps me in ministry know the “other side”. Thanks for being a chaplain!

    It’s great that you got to shoot! Did ya know you can put the glock in a dishwasher? It cleans right up.

    Maybe you read about the officer in Arizona who left his glock on the dash. It melted and ran into the vents.

    These cheesy jokes will get the officers a little “fired up.”

  • carla jo- you are right! i stand corrected! ee gads. i should’ve had more coffee before posting.

  • ha- i think i still need more coffee. it wasn’t even my comment.

  • Len

    And somewhere in Texas, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennesee there is someone saying, “Maybe these emegergent fellas ain’t so bad afterall.” 🙂

  • What a great post. I really appreciate it, particularly as an almost-pacifist, military spouse. Have the HM sort that one out!

    Anyway, a lot of what you said can be applied to journalists, too, especially ones that cover the cops scene. I’ve been on scene where I’ve seen the same bodies the cops have and how often I wish the newspapers employed chaplains.

  • Tony,

    I think it is great that you offer your time as a chaplain to the EPD. I vividly remember the day six years ago, when we found another office tenant dead. The women that worked for him were in a state of shock, as was his wife — and the two chaplains of the PD stayed with us that entire day. They gave words of comfort when they were sought, but for the most part they just sat with his family and friends as a comforting presence.

    Chaplaincy is an incredible ministry that is relational to the core, and (I can imagine) very draining because you are usually coming alongside people during an immense crisis without having a prior relationship with them.

    It is amazing to me that people can minister to people in hospitals, hospices, PDs & FDs full-time – and continually do so with love & compassion.

    Thank you to everyone who gives their time to such an important ministry to people in those crises of life!


  • You raise an important question here, something people in Oakland are wrestling with in the light of several recent police actions that have led to the death of alleged perpetrators. People in these poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods are vocally upset at what they perceive to be “trigger-happy” cops. One person interviewed on the news said it best: they’re scared in the neighborhoods they patrol. These men and women are leaving their houses and families every day and walking into virtual war zones… a very different emotional prospect than for someone who signs up to a tour of duty in Iraq.

    A possible solution that’s been floated in these parts is that of community policing, where cops stay on a beat for long enough to develop relationships with kids and families, and hopefully trust and cooperation tip the scales in favor of police safety. Otherwise, when scared cops who are in it for a paycheck walk into dangerous areas with loaded weapons, it seems like a recipe for disaster.

  • When you think about it, broadly speaking the work of a pastor and cop are similar–to shepherd people through relationships to healthy life together. As professions, they can certainly support one another.

    Guns still freak me out, but I would enjoy the challenge of chaplaincy. Also, most police organizations are all about getting guns off the street, a similar hope to many an inner-city pastor.

    A Wee Blether

  • #12 Adam,

    You’re right. There are several similarities between the two professions. Ever had to solve problems immediately?


  • i do not remember this chapter in The New Christians.

    Bad Boys…Bad Boys….what are you going to do? What are you going to do with the New Christians come for you?

  • Derek

    Seeing Rich Phenow packing heat is awesome!

  • I don’t want to oversimplify and I certainly appreciate your willingness to take seriously what it means to live here and now, but I think “the other option” might have something to do with death and resurrection. Sorry to be quippy, but that’s all I have time to contribute.

  • scott eaton


    Thanks for the thoughtful and reasoned post. I would pray that the Anabaptist ideal would be the ideal we seek to live by. But at times, force is necessary. And only as a last resort.

    I think it is a bit hypocritical of Christians to

  • scott eaton

    Sorry. I accidentally submitted before I finished. As I was saying I think it is a bit hypocritical of Christians to tell others they can defend us, but we will sit out and watch. We reap the benefit of a safer neighborhood of course, but we are somehow above it all.

    I’m not sure that is a Jesus attitude. Jesus got his hands dirty.

    Like I said, I appreciate the Anabaptist/Amish ideal and seek to love my enemies. Defense by force should be a last resort, but I think it is at times a necessary resort. But it just seems that in the words of Steve Brown, “the Amish just hire someone else to fight for them.”

    Thanks for your service to the police department. I apprecitate this about you.

  • #8 Len,
    I live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and yes I think you’re right. There are some people who would really like it that Tony Jones shoots a gun.
    I, however, should never be allowed to own one.

  • Also, I don’t know how to approach the whole subject that Tony brings up. How can I defend the ones I love but still be peaceful? Not sure really. There is a time to turn the cheek and then, like Jesus in the temple, there is a time to raise some hell.

  • Defense is only part of the job of a peace officer – there’s so much more! When my dad worked the night shift on the north side, each evening he’d go around to resturants in the area and they’d load him up with the left-overs from the evening dinner rush. He’d take them Northeast to the railroad tracks off of Central Avenue. There was a group of homeless guys that lived down there – in cardboard boxes. A few of them were repeat felons. He’d spend about an hour late at night having supper with the guys.

    My dad only fired his side arm twice – once in a warehouse in St. Anthony where he shot a guy that was trying to kill him. He survived the injury and is doing life in Stillwater for a list of crimes that would make you sick to your stomach. The other time was to kill a skunk that was bothering the homeless guys!

    He never told us that story – it took one of his cop buddies to tell the story at his retirement party. Turns out he visited those guys almost every night for I don’t know how many years. His relationship with them made a big difference – the repeat felons stopped repeating, and the Northeast side was a safer palce because of a simple act of kindness…

  • Seth Forwood

    There is something compelling about the reluctant leader taking power, sacrificing himself and his ideals in order to make a change for the oppressed (a la Zizek’s response to Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding). But here we are straying away from the conversation about political involvement and going more into pacifism and non-violence. We need to be clear about how we are responding to those that pose a threat to our families, neighborhoods and cities and even more clear about how we can defend these positions with the example and words of Christ.
    Personally, I think that “defence” is a word that has too much complicity with anti-christian self-preservation (or the preservation of our families). Jesus got his hands dirty, yes, but he wasn’t trying to maintain peace or defend the safety of others. He constantly thrust himself and anyone who followed him into violent situations and through his example, his followers largely met violent, toturous deaths. I’m not one to say that I fully embrace the gaunlet Jesus threw down as I’m describing it here but I’d rather be honest that I’m falling short of the challenge Jesus’ non-violent message proposes rather than reinterpret it to couch my own propensity toward safety, comfort and peace. How idealism and realism meet is always a difficult question but I challenge us to look for the way that is more self-sacrificing, more giving and more dangerous in order that we may be more like the Crucified God.

  • Jesus was fully God AND fully human. No weapons required as He has power over man and can yield it at will. Peter would have been killed for severing off the soldiers ear had Jesus not had ultimate power over the hearts of the soldiers and the healing power to heal the injury. I can only imagine how many people were protected by His supernatural powers during His time here on Earth.

    “he wasn’t trying to maintain peace or defend the safety of others” – I would offer that this is not so. His disciples survived long enough to fulfill the mission given to them by Jesus. In my opinion, they would be been destroyed without the His supernatural defense and safety. Paul would have certainly died in prison, and last time I checked, John is the only survivor of a boiling oil bath, not to mention David’s time in the furnace. Three went in yet there were four seen by those outside – the forth was Jesus – and He was not armed with a fire extinguisher.

  • Seth Forwood

    Tony, you bring up an interesting set of examples. I agree with you on one level, that Jesus’ supernatural power stayed the hands of the guards. But, without ascribing completely with John Caputo’s concept of “weak force”, I believe that the most supernatural power Jesus had was his love and if we should speak of his great acts on earth we must first start with the effect his overwhelming love had on those around him – a force of attraction rather than coercion.

    Yet I’m not discounting miracles but I think that God works in the impossibility of impossible situations like many of the examples of the fathers of the church you mentioned. And I like that each person you mentioned was an example of someone who was likely not to survive, someone going into danger that by all accounts should exterminate them but went willingly, without thought of self-preservation and that God did not preserve them from pain, mutilation or danger but spared their lives. Although, not to nitpick, it was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (friends of Daniel) who were thrown to the flames. I only remember because my nephews and niece were watching the veggies tales version last week.

    So, Tony do you suggest that Christians should rely on God’s supernatural protection in times of imminent danger or impossible escape from our enemies? If so I am right with you, I think it more appropriate to the early church stories and the person of Christ to put ourselves in danger and rely on God than to coercively protect and defend with force. But as I mentioned above, I fall short of this ideal everyday and even with my words I coerce, become defensive and show that I have very far to go in trusting that God sustains my being not my willpower and savvy.

  • “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (friends of Daniel) who were thrown to the flames. I only remember because my nephews and niece were watching the veggies tales version last week. ”

    Ooops – getting my miracles mixed up and typing too fast!

    “Do I suggest that Christians should rely on God’s supernatural protection in times of imminent danger or impossible escape from our enemies?”

    This is such an awesome question. Circumstances for some reason dictate (probably because I don’t fully trust in Him). I have no trouble with it when it comes to me alone, however if, for example, my daughter was in imminent danger at the hands of a really bad person? I would probably come out with both guns blazing, and then afterwards convince myself that God provided the means to free her from the danger by using me and a couple of auto-loaders. I’m weak!

    But then again, I often wonder if defensive acts to self-preserve or to save others from danger aren’t God-sent. Again, I’m weak! Oh, what a paradox!!!!

  • Hauerwas has, on occasion, noted that for a long time the British Bobby did not carry handguns (though they carried bobby sticks to be used only in self-defense) as an example of a more ethical policing.

    I happen to believe that bobby sticks are still weapons. To me the only difference is in the technology. Moreover, depending on how a gun is used it may even do less technical damage than a bobby stick.

    I think for Hauerwas the point is that socially/culturally a bobby stick has less lethal implications than a handgun. Personally, I don’t think that escapes the fact that both are weapons, and thus both are violent.

    Still, I think the whole idea of Hauerwas discussing the ethics of policing suggests that some understandings of Stanley and his posse may need revision.

  • I recently wrote an article at Jesus Manifesto that explores the whole notion of pacifists benefiting from freedom secured for them by those willing to use force:

  • Mark Conrad

    Umm, I think the planet they want is the Kingdom of God which we are called to usher in…