The sign that greets visitors of River at Tampa Bay Church warns anyone with plans to harm those inside: Members of the congregation are armed — and they will use "deadly force" if necessary.
The sign — which well-known charismatic senior pastor Rodney Howard-Browne noted is on every door at the Florida church — has been up for about a year, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
But it got greater attention when Browne posted an image of the sign on his Instagram page following the deadly Texas church shooting that took 26 lives.
Welcome to the River at Tampa Bay Church - our sign at every door of our church #welcomesign #theriverattampabaychurch
A post shared by drrmhb (@rodneyhowardbrowne) on
"It is a deterrent," associate pastor Allen Hawes told the paper. "Look at what is going on. In the past two months, look at what happened in Texas. Look at what happened in Las Vegas. Because we are a church that is on television, we are very involved in the community. We want people to know that this is a safe zone."
Hawes himself has a concealed weapons permit and a Springfield Armory 1911 handgun, the Times reported, adding that he's far from alone in the 21-year-old church.
"If you walk through the door with the intention to harm, that sign serves as a deterrent to you," he told the paper. "We are not a soft target. People here will defend their families."
River at Tampa Bay Church also has hosted concealed weapons permit classes, the Times said.
Reactions to Browne's Instagram post of the ominous church sign have run the gamut from starkly opposed to fully supportive:
- "I feel soo awesome and safe 1000% at my church!!" one commenter wrote. "We are blessed and loved."
- But a number of others took exception to the sign with responses like, "Can’t believe we worship the same Jesus" and "This is a terrible way of exemplifying [Christ's] life."
- "What bothers me more than the 'heavily armed' part is the 'right [of] admission reserved,'" another commenter said. "Jesus said, 'Come to me ALL...' I understand the concern about desperate people with guns, but what about the desperate people without them?"
- Browne's response? "Trust me all are welcome — our church has hundreds coming on buses on Sunday .... so desperate people are welcome."