Pro & Con: Should Georgia continue to ban guns in places of worship?
YES: Places of worship must be havens of peace, trust and healing.
Pro & Con: Should Georgia continue to ban guns in places of worship?
Last summer I read a newspaper article about a pastor in Kentucky who held a “bring your guns to church” day. “God, Guns and the Gospel” was the title of his sermon.
“When someone tells me that being a Christian and having firearms are incompatible with the Gospel — baloney,” the pastor declared. “Now the Gospel is at stake.”
Some 40 states allow people to carry weapons into places of worship in some fashion. Now a lawsuit has been filed attempting to add Georgia to that list.
Like the Kentucky pastor, I believe the Gospel is at stake here, although for entirely different reasons
Yes, I know that places of worship are not immune from violence. Last summer, a doctor who performed abortions was murdered at his Lutheran church in Wichita, Kan., where he was serving as an usher.
Two years ago, two members of a Unitarian church in Knoxville were killed and seven others wounded as they worshipped.
And longtime Atlantans remember the Sunday morning in 1974 when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother, Alberta King, and a church deacon were gunned down during worship at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The horror of these violent deaths was compounded by the fact that they happened in churches that are supposed to be places of peace.
If a place of worship has received threats of violence, then it may be necessary to hire security. But arming clergy and congregations against possible random violence is not an act of safety or of faith.
One of scripture’s clearest mandates is that people of faith should not live in fear. “Fear not.” “Do not be afraid.” Those phrases are found 59 times in the Bible.
ME: (I'm sure "Fear Not" was a great comfort to those who were murdered in a church. Not.)
Despite these admonitions, we are becoming a fearful people. Our lives are often built around anxiety and fear, rather than trust and courage.
Those who advocate bringing guns to worship — whether they be lawyers, legislators or clergy — are finally not acting in faith, but are playing to our fears.
Faith requires us to acknowledge those fears and work to overcome them. People of religious faith are not always to mirror the values of the majority culture, but to transform the world. “Beat your swords into plowshares,” the prophet Isaiah tells the people of Israel, and fear not.
Fear is isolating. Fearful people build barricades, arm themselves, distrust strangers. This is not the way of life to which faith calls us.
Radical hospitality is a hallmark of most religious faiths. In welcoming the stranger, we imitate God’s welcome of all God’s children.
Our places of worship should be havens of peace and trust and healing. A room with guns at the ready is not a place of welcome or hospitality.
Most of those in our state who advocate legalizing concealed weapons in places of worship are Christian. Perhaps they should ask themselves the popular question — what would Jesus do?
All the gospels give a clear answer to that question. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane one of his followers drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of those coming to arrest him.
Jesus was quick in his rebuke. “Put your sword back in its place,” he commanded, “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
In the current issue of Harper’s magazine, Dan Baum concludes his reflection on his brief experience of carrying a gun with this stark reminder: “My gun is not a prop, a political statement, or a rhetorical device, but an instrument designed to blow a ragged channel through a human being.”
What would Jesus do, indeed?
The Rev. Patricia Templeton is rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta.
NO: An armed congregation keeps the peace against those who would harm.
By Jonathan Wilkins
As you may know, the Baptist Tabernacle in Thomaston is seeking an injunction against a provision in Georgia law that forbids its members from carrying guns to church.
The question asked by our critics is, “Why would any one want to have a gun at church?”
Folks are genuinely astonished that a pastor and his congregation would want to exercise such a right. Let me list several reasons why this is so.
Theologically, the critic objects by echoing the words of Christ in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the peacemakers”!
And yet Christ told us in Luke 11:21 the way to maintain peace was to arm oneself. “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.” It is the armed man who deters those who wish to disturb the peace.
On another occasion the Lord stopped in the middle of a sermon and said to his congregation, “he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”
To this the disciples replied, “Behold here are two.” Rather than reprove them for surreptitiously bringing a weapon to “meeting” Christ said, “It is enough.” The lord of the church authorized and sanctioned the concept of “concealed carry.”
Historically, the churches of America have always had guns present. From the early days of the Pilgrims with their blunderbuss, to the circuit-riding Methodist Andrew Jackson Potter, who would lay his revolvers on either side of the pulpit — guns and churches are notoriously linked.
In fact early colonial and later state laws required men to bring their guns to the church house. The earliest gun law is found in colonial Virginia in 1619. It said all those attending church “shall bring their pieces, swords, pouder and shotte [sic].”
Legally, this is a constitutional and private property issue. Corporately, as a body of believers, on our own property, it should be our decision and not the state’s as to whether we will allow armed people on that property.
Current law is discriminatory — if we were just a “civil organization” rather than a “place of worship” there would be no infraction. And if the Second Amendment is indeed the “law of the land” then Georgia nor the federal government has any right “infringing” upon my right to “bear arms,” even in church.
Practically, this is a self-defense issue. People believe the illusion that churches are somehow “safety zones” where bad people will “supernaturally” respect a prohibition of guns in churches.
But in 2007 Bob Unruh published an article titled “Church Shootings on the Rise in U.S.” in which he listed 10 church shootings since 1999.
After 2007, I have noted six additional churches that have fallen prey to gun violence. And tragically current Georgia law advertises the fact that church attendees are unarmed, leaving the congregation vulnerable to attack by lawless renegades.
Therefore theologically, historically, legally and in all practicality the church should be free to allow its members the right to bear arms.
And to those who believe guns in churches would lead to violence — remember most states in this union have no gun bans in regards to the churches, and there is relative tranquillity.
An armed congregation keeps the peace by deterring those who would do us harm. May God vindicate our cause!
The Rev. Jonathan Wilkins is pastor of Baptist Tabernacle in Thomaston.