Skip to comments.Opinion: Gunfight at the OK Sunday school class?
Posted on 03/04/2011 4:02:35 AM PST by marktwain
(ABP) -- It is no longer illegal to carry a gun to church. Scott Lewis, a Texas community college student, made that point recently as a rationale for his support of pending legislation to allow college faculty, staff and students (above 21 years of age) to carry concealed weapons on campus. He apparently believes that if Texans can bring guns to Sunday school, they can surely take them to them to psych class.
While Texans debate the presence of guns at college (and well they should), the possibility of concealed weapons in church is a sharp reminder that many religious communities still have not confronted the pastoral, theological and spiritual realities of life in a country with the worlds highest concentration of personal firearms.
The recent shooting in Tucson that left six dead and 13 wounded including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords highlights the vulnerability of all Americans in public settings, church included. During the last few years a variety of congregations across a wide theological spectrum -- Mennonite, Lutheran, Baptist, Unitarian-Universalist and non-denominational -- have experienced shootings that brought death of persons gathered for worship.
Guns in church are certainly nothing new. Ross Phares 1971 text, Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand, detailed life on the American frontier where rowdies would get likkered up and harass camp meeting preachers mercilessly, sometimes in life-threatening ways.
Where no formal law and order was present, frontier preachers sometimes toted weapons, more to discourage attacks than to actually return fire. Peter Cartwright, the 19th century Methodist circuit rider in Indiana, was known to carry a knife, and supposedly a gun, from revival to revival.
Baptists recall the 1926 murder trial of the Texas Tornado, J. Frank Norris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, who used the gun kept in his desk to shoot to death D. E. Chipps, a longtime (and unarmed) critic. Norris was acquitted in a change of venue trial in Austin.
Today, wherever religious individuals may stand on questions of gun control, gun rights, or related legislation, the fact remains that the United States is a firearm-oriented culture where, according to the Center for Disease Control, some 30,000 persons die annually as a direct result of firearm-related incidents. For every person killed, two are wounded.
Thus religious communities can no longer act as if firearm attacks are a cultural anomaly. Rather, they must pursue new strategies that respond to the presence of gun-related violence throughout American society.
Persons of faith are clearly divided over Second Amendment issues, a volatile debate that continues unabated.
Many denominations, local congregations and religious coalitions are on record in support of firearm regulations.
One United Methodist resolution, for example, urges development of advocacy groups for the eventual reduction of the availability of guns in society with particular emphasis upon handguns, handgun ammunition, assault weapons, and other automatic firearms.
Various urban alliances, some involving Christians, Jews and representatives of other religions, have united in response to particular epidemics of firearm violence in their respective communities.
Other religious individuals and communities firmly support gun rights as a necessary response to evil, insisting that concealed weapons, even in church, may protect against deranged shooters who wreak havoc on unprotected crowds.
Still others contend that the prospect of a gun battle in the house of God reflects a culture broken at its roots. What then to do?
Churches should be intentional about congregational security, whether formal or informal. In a firearm nation, safety, even in church, cannot be taken for granted. Many congregations already utilize security guards, cameras and other protection devices. Some keep medical professionals and trauma counselors on call. Every faith community should have a plan.
Congregations should seek legal counsel regarding insurance coverage and liability, another reality of the times.
Theological schools must intensify training in pastoral care and specialized ministry to individuals and families that experience firearm-related violence. Clinical Pastoral Education programs should give increased attention to grief therapy for persons in these peculiar circumstances.
Congregations should decide how best to deal with legislation that permits worshippers to carry concealed weapons. Will they accept the unseen presence of handguns at worship or recommend a weapon free worshipping environment? (A friend suggests that some services could be concealed weapon friendly while others would encourage checking guns in the narthex, but this is no laughing matter.)
Most importantly, what specific spiritual resources should communities of faith muster for life in a country with the worlds largest firearm concentration? In such an environment is it time for a theology of firearms?
There is no time to waste. If a 9 year old can be gunned down at a democracy moment held at Safeway, then everyone is in danger. Faith must strengthen persons to live with that reality, awaiting a day when Glocks are beaten into plowshares, and AK47s into pruning hooks.
Bill J. Leonard is a professor of church history at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity.
CHOICE kills over a million yearly.
What ‘theological implications’ do we derive from THIS data?