In February of this year, Georgia became the ninth state to permit individuals to bring weapons into churches. (The other states are Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming and Arkansas.) The law states that Georgians can brings guns into churches (and bars) as long as the owner of the property has not banned firearms. Another 20 states allow guns in places of worship because of "right to carry" laws although these statutes do not specifically focus on churches.
The guns-in-church people defend their position via at least three arguments. Noting that in a recent year approximately 75 people were killed in houses of worship across the country, advocates state that firearms are necessary to protect churchgoers. Pastor Larry Dickey of the First Baptist Church in Sunizona, Arizona, stated that "If someone were to come into our church with a gun or knife, they could do a lot of damage before the police could get into the church." It's an interesting position inasmuch as most church victims were killed by guns that are now viewed as the solution to the problem.
This remedy for church shootings is a version of NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre's logic: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." I can see the headline now after a shooting at a church with a well-armed congregation: "Lone gunman kills three in church; members return fire and kill 10." The fact that from 2005 to 2010 almost 3,800 individuals in the U.S. (many of them children) died from accidental shootings never seems to enter into the "Good guys with guns save lives" argument.
The second position is articulated by Larry Pratt, director of the ultra-conservative Gun Owners of America (think NRA on steroids). According to Pratt, "When we're talking about firearms, we're not really talking about a right, but an obligation, as creatures of God, to protect the life that was given" to us. In an essay entitled "Bring Your Pieces to Church Sunday," Christian Reconstructionist Joel McDurmon states that "Every Christian should own a firearm" and suggests the faithful organize for target practice after services.
The third argument is that the founding fathers were divinely inspired in their writing of the Constitution, including the much-debated Second Amendment. In 2013, former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told enthusiastic NRA members that the Second Amendment came "from God." It follows that, since God Almighty ordained the unfettered accumulation and use of firearms in this country, to challenge the interpretation and scope of the Second Amendment is tantamount to opposing God. An interesting argument.
Let's extend the divinely inspired perspective. If God was the guiding hand behind the U.S. Constitution, then He must have sanctioned slavery (which the Constitution, while not outright condoning, does not prohibit). In His wisdom God also chose not to extend the vote to women and other minorities for 150 years. (Perhaps the Almighty was testing them.) Apparently God did not think much of Native Americans, as the Constitution did not prohibit the annexation of their land as well as the slaughter of untold thousands of indigenous people.
Recently in Troy, New York, the pastor of Grace Baptist Church raffled an AR-15 assault rifle (modified to comply with state laws). Pastor John Koletas stated that "I'm just trying to be a blessing and help gun owners and hunters. ... It's the right thing to do." (Los Angeles Times reporter Patt Morrison noted it apparently never occurred to Pastor Koletas that raffling a year's worth of health coverage or a $500 savings bond for a child's education instead of a deadly weapon might be a better thing to do.) In Kentucky, church gun giveaways are a regular occurrence. Earlier this year, a raffle of 25 guns by the Paducah Lone Oak First Baptist Church attracted almost 1,300 people.
The guns-in-church policy might provide a much-needed boost to declining church attendance as many less-than-devout firearms enthusiasts discover Rambo-Jesus. However, if the guns-for-God movement is to be successful, it will require some manner of theological revision, starting with a new Lord's Prayer. Perhaps it would go something like this:
Our gun-packing Father who art in
Hallowed be the National Rifle Association.
Thy assault-weapon Kingdom come,
Will be done in your churches
As it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily ammunition
And forgive us our poor aim and missed shots
As we battle the secular-humanist wimps
who oppose the Second Amendment.
Lead us not into gun control,
But deliver us from the anti-gun lobby,
For Thine is the fire-power and guns-for-glory
For ever and ever. Amen.
The convergence of Jesus and Smith & Wesson presents some interesting questions. For example, who would Jesus shoot? Would He shoot to kill or to wound? And of the utmost importance: What will Jesus be packing at the second coming? An American-made Winchester (in accord the with the "American Exceptionalism" position) or an assault weapon from a developing country indicating a love of firearms made by all His children?
Churches will no doubt begin to change their names. For example, St. Luke the Beloved Physician is too mild-mannered for a gun-packing congregation. St. Arnold the Feared Terminator is preferable. Even better, St. John Wayne the Dead-eye Sharpshooter. Mary Queen of Mausers, perhaps Our Lord of the Lugars - the possibilities are endless.
Bearded and kindly St. Peter standing at the Pearly Gates, separating the good guys from the bad guys, is history. He'll be replaced by a militant Peter wearing combat fatigues and brandishing automatic pistols. Pistol Pete will raise his guns and exclaim: "Go ahead sinner, make my day!"
My revisionist theology, is, of course, ridiculous. But no more ridiculous then bringing firearms into a 21st-century church to worship the Prince of Peace while believing that Jesus Christ would condone such behavior. That is the height of absurdity, if not outright blasphemy.
George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale, retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.
Beasley, D. (Feb. 18, 2014) "Georgia House votes to allow weapons in bars, churches," Reuters News, www.reuters.com
Cervantes, B. (Dec. 21, 2012) "10 top quotes from NRA's Wayne LaPierre," Politico, www.politico.com
Chandler, D. (Feb. 8, 2013) "Guns: 'Packing heat in church increasingly allowed in U.S.," Baptist Press News and Christian Perspective, www.bpnews.net
McDurmon, J. (April 23, 2010) "'Bring Your Pieces to Church' Sunday," The American Vision, americanvision.org
Morrison, P. (March 11, 2014) "Guns for Jesus: Churches fill their pews with weapons giveaways," Los Angeles Times, www.latimes.com
Posner, S. and J. Ingersoll (2010) "Gun Ownerships: 'An Obligation to God'" Religious Dispatches, University of Southern California, www.religiousdispatches.org
"Rich Santorum Praises NRA as Constitution Warrior," (May 3, 2013) The Huffington Post, www.huffingtonpost.com
"Statistics on Gun Deaths and Injuries," (Nov. 16, 2012) Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, smartgunlaws.org