TAMPA, Fla. — Members of a Florida church congregation will not turn the other cheek to those who might wish them harm.
They are armed and ready to retaliate.
That is according to a sign outside the River of Tampa Bay Church in Tampa, which warns in all capital letters that the sanctuary “is not a gun-free zone.”
The sign continues with a deadly warning: “We are heavily armed -- any attempt will be dealt with deadly force. Yes we are a church and we will protect our people.”
It is signed by “The Pastors.”
The sign at the 21-year-old church was erected about a year ago, Associated Pastor Allen Hawes told The Tampa Bay Times.
However, the warning drew more attention when Senior Pastor Rodney Howard Browne posted a photo of it on his Instagram account. The minister was responding to the deadly church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in which 26 people were killed and 20 more were injured.
“It is a deterrent," Hawes told the Times. “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 has a concealed weapons permit and said his congregation of nearly 1,200 people has “many armed members” ready to use force if necessary.
“If you walk through the door with the intention to harm, that sign serves as a deterrent to you," Hawes told the Times. "We are not a soft target. People here will defend their families.”
Hawes said his congregation is also paying close attention to the string of four unsolved murders recently in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa.
"I think just collectively, we pay very close attention," he said. "Look at Seminole Heights. Someone is murdering people. This stuff is happening all the time. Do you wait for another shooting to take precautions?"
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