A Florida church has a stark warning to all who enter who may wish to do harm--"we are heavily armed."
The River at Tampa Bay Church regularly broadcasts its services live on social media, and in the wake of the Texas church massacre where 26 people were killed, a leader of the congregation made a splash on social media when he posted a photo of the sign.
"Welcome to The River at Tampa Bay Church -- right of admission reserved -- this is private property," it reads. "Please know this is not a gun free zone -- we are heavily armed -- any attempt will be dealt with deadly force -- yes we are a church and will protect our people." The message is signed "The Pastors."
Associate Pastor Allen Hawes told FOX 13 Tampa the sign has been up for over a year at the non-denominational church, but garnered attention after Senior Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne posted it on his Instagram account.
Hawes has his own concealed-carry weapons permit, and said those armed during services that draw over 1,000 could include parishioners with concealed-carry permits, private plainclothes guards, or uniformed deputies hired for security.
"If you think you are going to come here and do that, this is a deterrent for you because it is everywhere, it's not like we hide these signs,” Hawes said. “They're big signs, and it's going to tell these people, we will protect our people.”
"Would I rather ruffle a few feathers, or do I want to count bodies?"
The associate pastor said church leaders are fulfilling a biblical teaching to look after those in their care.
"I believe, if you look at the teachings of Jesus, Matthew, and different places in the scriptures, we see it will get increasingly darker, wars, rumors of wars, and people with not good intentions are going to look for a way to make a statement,” he told FOX 13.
Despite criticism from some social media users on the church's warning, Hawes said recent events such as the Texas shooting and the ongoing search for the serial killer in a Tampa neighborhood prove violence can happen anywhere.
"Would I rather ruffle a few feathers, or do I want to count bodies?" Hawes said.