Pastor Tom Vineyard killed a 14-year-old intruder in his home in Oklahoma City on December 22. Vineyard is the senior pastor of Windsor Hills Baptist Church, probably the largest Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church in Oklahoma. The description is capitalized because it’s actually a loose affiliation of fundamentalist churches nationwide. Using the term “Baptist” to describe them is unfair, as any Southern Baptist or Freewill Baptist or any other Baptist will attest. IFBs are the Amish of Baptist life, which is to say, whereas the Amish stopped adapting to new technology in 1850, the IFBs stopped evolving with the larger world in 1950.
The church and a school that was added later were founded by Tom Vineyard’s father, Jim Vineyard, who is now listed as Pastor Emeritus on the church’s website. Tom Vineyard took over as senior pastor in 2007. It is more than fair to say that both have an unhealthy attachment to firearms and violence. Tom Vineyard has a concealed carry permit, and the church once famously offered a gun as a raffle at a youth camp.
Before getting to the details of the shooting and the ramifications of a pastor who has a concealed carry permit and who chooses to enter his house after a motion detector activated rather than call police, a brief explanation of what IFB actually means. Independent Baptist congregations separated from larger Baptist denominations over fear of creeping modernity, mainly in the early to middle 20th century. Yes, there are Baptists who thought that Southern Baptists–a group that did not apologize for their support of slavery until 1995–were too liberal to hang out with. The churches are known for political conservatism (obviously), hyper-masculinity, traditional gender roles, a “literal” reading of the King James Bible, and regressive social and sexual ethics.
Increasingly since the late 1960s, these churches have pushed for a patriotism that borders on idolatry, if one is to take seriously claims in the Jewish and Christian tradition that the role of the community of faith is to “speak truth to power.” These congregations are comfortable homes for military veterans and law enforcement, as they push a version of Christianity that makes of Jesus a “man’s man.” It’s far easier to discuss the cleansing of the temple or the Jesus of the Revelation than the Jesus who goes peacefully to his death or commands love of enemy. And there is the crux of the issue.
Tom Vineyard went armed into his own home–yes, it’s his right, obviously–after receiving notification that a motion detector had activated, and after allegedly being attacked by the 14-year old, he shot the child to death…in self-defense. It should be noted that Vineyard had apparently been burglarized previously, and so had posted signs around his property and on his home stating: “Nothing on this property is worth your life.” Clearly, though, they were worth taking the life of a teenager, an irony that should not be lost on anyone. Christians follow a Savior who commands love of enemy, turning the cheek, and giving away all that we own to the poor. Shooting someone, especially a child, over stealing stuff seems the most callous disregard of those ethical admonitions.
The narrative of Jesus that Rev. Vineyard believes makes Jesus a liar or a fool, which is to say, in the parlance of modern conservatism, a liberal. Silly Jesus expects people to be robbed without resistance, and the Bible in all of its foolishness commands believers not to love their lives unto death. In other words, you should be willing to die before resorting to violence. That is clearly a narrative that is lost on modern evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, both in America and abroad.
In the present case, it was not even necessary that Vineyard be a pacifist, a position that Jesus clearly favors, even if it’s difficult to explain some of his behavior in the biblical text. It is reasonable to say that Vineyard could simply have waited for police to arrive. He might have lost some stuff, but what kind of Christian ethic values property above human life? Windsor Hills Baptist is relentlessly pro-life according to the modern definition that actually means anti-abortion, but how can a pastor be pro-life and simultaneously place protection of property above sanctity of life?
Pro-gun non-theists will sympathize with Vineyard because he is defending the right to private property while exercising his Second Amendment right. He’s an American wet dream, complete with pistol, Bible, cross, crewcut, and bald eagle, but the narrative of the Bible is contra empire, and Vineyard is clearly a citizen of the wrong City, to borrow a phrase from St. Augustine’s City of God
The Bible is also greatly concerned with the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law, and while Vineyard may have survived the litmus test for adhering to the letter of the law–he was within his rights–he clearly failed the spirit of the law: a 14-year old is dead. Just dead. Yes, he was a burglar, but the Jesus who was crucified between thieves would surely have preferred to die before he took the life of a young man whose life was so tragically, and yes, criminally, off kilter. Only an American civil religion that borrows the vocabulary of Christianity to facilitate the propagation of a political and cultural conservatism could possibly use the Jesus who died at the hands of “the state” to justify the killing of a child at the hands (gun) of a “pastor.”
Co-published with Literati Press.