Peace Church Colleges Debate Having Armed Guards

The other day in a Washington Times article there is a discussion about peace church colleges working through questions about whether to employ armed guards for student protection. Two Church of the Brethren schools have recently decided to authorize their guards to carry firearms. Given the catastrophic campus shootings of Virgina Tech and Northern Illinois University, not to mention all the other school shootings in recent years, it’s not hard to see why this is becoming an important question to address (even though statistically these campus crimes have been decreasing in the last ten years). In the article they also mention two Quaker colleges: Guilford and Earlham, both of which do not have armed guards but do have good working relationship with local law enforcement who understand their position on the matter. This is also true for Mennonite Goshen college in Indiana where our former pastor is president. I like what Donald Kraybill had to say about it:

“There may be other nonviolent alternatives officers could use…I would hope that colleges in the peace church tradition have the brainpower to come up with creative nonviolent alternatives.”

Donald B. Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, a Brethren-related school in Lancaster County, Pa.

Here’s a few remarks:

  • A private university/college setting such as the ones being discussed in the article are in a very unique situation because they are in some ways more public than the church because they are operating more like a business, they have students who are not all of the same mind theologically and spiritually, they usually receive money from the government (which does things the peace church does not approve of) and operates not only as a school but as living quarters for thousands of people. This makes their position even more tenuous in some ways than thinking about these issues as a church.
  • Nevertheless, these are (more-or-less) church institutions, the church lived out in the world. That is to say, if these institutions hope to deal with these questions properly, or at least faithfully within their own traditions, there will need to be theological answers to these questions. There will need to be a sense in which these colleges see themselves as living out the practices of the church in the world. Here the Christian university is where the politics of the church rub up against, and challenge the politics of the world.
  • As soon as you sign onto these kinds of “solutions” there will always be a temptation to become morally lax. In settings where you have to be more vigilante about creating and maintaining peaceful relations, there is more attention spent on praying and thinking through these things carefully. How do we disciple students in such a way as to live peaceably in the world? How do we prepare ourselves to respond properly and faithfully to tragic emergencies? What kinds of practices do we as an institution need to put in place to create an atmosphere where this isn’t likely to happen, and if it does one that operates out of the forgiveness and love of Christ.
  • Another important point is that nonviolence is not a policy, it can be a policy, but it can never work out properly if its just something “on the books.” It really has to be something that envelopes the whole of our lives.
  • This is also not an issue you can not deal with, it isn’t something a college can sit around and wait until something happens. It is an issue of great importance.
  • Just because there are armed officers on a campus doesn’t mean anyone is necessarily more safe. Not only are armed officers not all-seeing omniscent beings who can prevent all evil, but they are themselves capable of evil – remember last year?
  • Finally, how can we bypass the mundane logic of the world and, as Kraybill says, and think creatively about these issues?

I am glad there are schools who are taking these challenges seriously and are offering alternative solutions and ideas on how this can be done. I hope they will be seen as an example to the world, not unlike how the Amish so naturally dealt with their own school shooting two years ago and left the world (ant its logic) dumbfounded.