One second we were walking through the church doors. The next, there were alarm bells. Not long after, there was one very twitchy policeman demanding passwords and phone numbers we did not have. Two more police came and the three of them, guns drawn, barreled into the thankfully empty sanctuary like something out of a movie.
“This cannot be happening,” I kept thinking. Yet it was. No scene from a work of fiction, it was my family’s actual experience Saturday afternoon when a simple mistake with a church alarm system launched a series of events that could easily have resulted in tragedy.
So many ifs. If one of us had responded angrily or moved in a way that was perceived as threatening. If the alarm system had been a silent one instead of a quiet one or the weather had been bad — anything that would have kept our family in that sanctuary until the police burst in. Would we all have survived the encounter? I don’t know.
What I do know — now — is that the level of violence in our culture is so intense that police officers are responding to calls in a state of sky-high anxiety. Ideally, they are there to protect from danger. But, sometimes, like Saturday afternoon, they are the danger.
Wise people will take this into account.
Following Saturday’s experience, we immediately discussed with our children how to respond if they are ever approached by a police officer. That is never, ever a time for confrontational words or sudden movements — no matter how volatile the situation.
Also, anyone with an alarm system in their home, business or church needs to be aware there is a small window of time between triggering it and guns. Make sure the security company has multiple phone numbers — both cell and landline — to halt accidental launches. (The lack of cell numbers was part of Saturday’s unsettling cascade.) And, make sure your alarm is loud enough to warn the innocent as well as the guilty that they need to get out of the building quickly.
The violent state of American culture is tragic. But, we can apply some wisdom to prevent our safety net from adding to our sorrows. And, we can remember a critical truth: No matter what color or gender or age we are, the only true sanctuary from danger is God Himself.