Saturday, October 1, 2011

Armor Bearers?

There was a shooting at the Greater Faith Christian Center Church in Lakeland, Florida, last Sunday

The attacker, Jeremiah Fogle - who was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of one of his six former wives - had just murdered his seventh wife in their home.  Before killing her he apparently made her compose a lengthy confession of infidelity.  He left an open bible near the body. Fogle - who had served as a deacon in the church before having a falling out with the leadership - then walked a block to the church.  He strode into the sanctuary and opened fire.  He wounded the pastor (gravely) and assistant pastor (less so) before being wrestled to the floor and disarmed.  The men who tackled Fogle were later described as "Armor Bearers."  Seems some especially important church pastors select members of their flock to serve as armor bearers.

"What the heck is an armor bearer?" I said to myself.  Actually, I know what armor bearers were, but what has the archaic phrase got to do with a little church in Middle of Nowhere, Florida?  The term "armor bearer" once described an attendant who carried an Old Testament military leader’s fighting gear until he needed it. At other times he fought alongside his boss, to the death in more than a few cases.

More than a few bible heroes had armor bearers: Jonathan (1 Samuel 14), Abimelech (Judges 9:53-54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Elijah (2 Kings 3:11), and Moses (Joshua 1).  No less than David himself may have been the bible's most famous armor bearer (1 Samuel 16:21).  Jesus of Nazareth does not seem to have had any armor bearers, but after his departure his apostles selected Stephen to wait on them (Acts 6).  So, a pastor who appoints armor bearers might be accused of equating himself with the likes of Saul, Moses, or the Apostles, but not Jesus.  I could make some sort of snarky comment here, but I won't.

According to a variety of church websites and religious forums in some churches armor bearer carries the pastor’s bible and in some cases they carry firearms.  This Bronze Age concept has spawned a cottage industry.  There are books, blogs, training courses, websites, and providers of services. 

Judging from a random assortment of forums there are many people who find their pastor’s armor bearers intimidating.  Why is that?  Well, varied descriptions of the appointment, roles, responsibilities, and personal attributes speak to self aggrandizement, a cult of personality, and a preacher who thinks himself more important than the message.

Among this particular branch of the faithful there is much talk of spiritual warfare.  

"Much of Christianity today is cowering before the enemy with our entire spiritual arsenal stripped from us because we have compromised ourselves before our enemies of the faith.  What is needed today are new heroes of the faith who are willing to do great exploits by taking great risks in faith to insure the victories that are needed."

Call me a weak reed if you must, but when I hear armed bodyguards talking about their protectees as though they are Old Testament prophets and secular society, church dissidents, and would-be assassins as the personal representatives of Satan I get a serious chill.

According to the book "God’s Armor Bearer," by Terry Nance, an Armor Bearer must:

Provide strength for the leader
Have a deep-down sense of respect for the leader, and acceptance for and tolerance of, the leader’s personality and their way of doing things
Instinctively understand the leader’s thoughts
Walk in agreement with and submission to the leader
Make the advancement of the leader the most important goal
Possess endless strength so as to thrust, press and force their way onward without giving way under harsh treatment
Follow directives immediately and correctly
Be a support to the leader
Be an effective communicator
Have a disposition that will eagerly gain victories for the leader
Have the ability to minister strength and courage to the leader

Talk about a recipe for delusions of grandeur, of biblical proportions no less.  Still, if all this were only about preacher's egos, surrounding oneself with yes men, or imagining oneself a Solomon my reservations would be mostly academic.  The problem is that assassins are created by their cultures and communities.  Madness is made worse by unhealthy surroundings.  And sometimes the person you piss off is a bigger whacko than you, and a convicted killer to boot.  Dynamics that create in group/out group distinctions, perceived inequity, discomfort, fear, a sense of helplessness, or an abusive or toxic work (or worship) environment can confound attempts to manage a workplace violence threat. 

We don’t have any reason to believe such issues apply to this case (Fogle was a former deacon not an armor bearer), but then we don't yet know much about the power relationships at Greater Faith Christian Center Church. I expect we will learn more about this sad case.  I predict - unhappily - that it will prove even uglier than it currently appears.