Seeking refuge in today's world

Friday, March 20, 2009

Churches have historically offered sanctuary: from oppressors, from despotic governments, from the sometimes unbearable toils of life. Someone with a troubling problem might find solace by entering a quiet church and spending a few moments in reflection and prayer. Modern hospitals still offer comforting chapels that often become part of the process of healing.

But not all of society accepts the safety and solitude of a place of worship. Many church doors are locked except when worship services are in progress. And, as we were reminded earlier this month when a pastor was gunned down in midsermon, there are times when danger lurks even when we are most at peace with the world.

The shooting of the Rev. Fred Winters at the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., was a stark reminder of the reality of mayhem in today's society. No single cause can be attributed to the deadly shooting spree, but there are good reasons to wonder how much popular culture influences such horrible tragedies.

Society has -- through TV programs, movies and violent video games -- been desensitized to the awfulness of taking a human life for no good reason. Prime-time TV shows, once safe havens for family viewing, are now filled with story lines designed to shock your sensibilities. And, no doubt, they leave their mark on young, impressionable minds.

While responsible parents will guard against such influences, it is reckless to think this problem can be solved simply by exercising good judgment when it comes to what we choose to watch and listen to.

Churches, like so many businesses, schools and public institutions, are finding ways to implement prudent safeguards for those who use their facilities. While this is no guarantee that another gunman won't open fire, it is a good exercise in safety planning.

As the Benedictine monks of Conception Abbey in northwestern Missouri learned a few years ago when a gunman killed or injured several of their brethren, it is best to focus on the mission of the church than on locking out all of the world's problems. The abbey basilica is still open to all comers.

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