Is it true that religion, or the church is to be a “safe haven” for individuals, a place where they can go and experience freedom and peace? Not for this Louisiana congregation on September 29th, 2013, as Pastor Ronald J. Harris, Sr. of Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center was shot and killed in the middle of a worship service. This situation is disturbing not only because it is yet another case of gun violence, but because this is a horribly “bad” death, and social and moral lines have been crossed yet again. These questions that comes to mind is: is anywhere safe? Shouldn’t the church be exempt from these heartless killings?
For many, the church is they go in order to bury their dead or grieve the loss of the dead. For the congregation of Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center, the church was where they witness the violent death of their pastor. Culturally this is unheard of and is a horrifying death for all involved. The suspect, Woodrow Karey, was said to have been an ex-deacon for Tabernacle of Praise who left the church more than 5 years ago. The reason for this aggression is unknown and has left the entire congregation, especially the victim’s children and grandchildren reeling and confused. Despite his death his daughter continued to speak highly of him, even after death- His 31 year-old-daughter spoke of his saint like qualities, and said that he would say to his gunman, “I forgive you and I love you.”
This type of death goes beyond ethical boundaries for me. The church should be a place where they experience life, not death. This tragedy meets multiple criteria of a bad death: it was unexpected, in a public place, a result of great violence, and “unwarranted.” This pastor was greatly loved and respected in the community, and ‘m sure is a tragic experience to witness your spiritual leader shot twice and killed in front of you. In putting myself in the shoes of a witness of the shooting, I would be both scared and enraged. What would make a man come into a church service and kill a man, who was in the act of worshiping, in front of everyone, even women and children? The question is why? Why would someone do such a thing?
Well, that is what everyone in this Louisiana church is wondering as well. We live in a culture where we want to know the cause of death and it is important in the mourning process to know this information. It brings about closure. It is also these type of violent deaths that cause a great grief and a sense of bereavement among those who loved the victim. In this case, not only his family will experience great loss, but the church immediately is without a pastor. This causes a great sense of functional loss as well as an emotional loss as well for those who knew this pastor. Thoughts?