Thursday, August 14, 2008

Preacher, Get Your Gun


We have an interesting and kind of scary political discussion going on here in my home state of Georgia.

House Bill 89 became law on July 1. The new law allows someone with a firearms license to carry a gun into a state park, onto mass transit, or into a restaurant that serves alcohol. Since I don’t tote a gun, I can’t say that I’ll personally feel safer the next time I go to High Falls, ride on MARTA, or eat at Applebees, knowing that I may be surrounded by people who do.

Now comes word that some Georgia lawmakers are considering making it legal for people to carry their guns other places including—get ready, now—onto college campuses and into churches. That’s right—if some of our lawmakers have their way, you’ll be able legally to carry your gun to attend class at Augusta State or to worship at The Hill Baptist Church.

My goodness.

The logic, as expressed by one legislator, is that unlicensed lawbreakers have guns anyhow so there’s no sense in not allowing licensed law-abiding citizens to have theirs with them. I see his point. Who wouldn’t want duly licensed persons to have the peace of mind they need to study algebra or to worship God—the kind of peace of mind that can only come from having your trusty firearm tucked away in your pocket or in your purse?

I can only imagine how my experience of worshipping the Prince of Peace would be enhanced by the warm feeling of blue steel tucked in its holster between my arm and torso. I can only imagine how my trust in God would soar because of my knowledge that if anyone threatens me during my prayers, I could blow him away as fast as you can say “Amen.”

Seriously, though, I do understand the kind of fear that might lead someone to conclude that having guns at church is a good idea. After all, every so often a shooting takes place at a church. It was just a few days ago that it happened at a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville. Some churches have armed security guards; one such guard shot and killed the gunman who attacked parishioners at New Life Church in Colorado Springs in December 2007. No doubt the guard’s action saved lives. And, as unseemly as it is, I can envision circumstances in which a church might have to utilize security guards, and maybe even armed ones, although I’d want to avoid that if at all possible.

I’m not na├»ve. While I believe that the Christian default setting should be peacemaking and non-violence, I also know that we unfortunately live in a world in which the exercise of force by evildoers sometimes has to be countered with the exercise of force. For example, in the movie Tremors, which incidentally is the greatest movie ever made about giant subterranean people-eating worms, Michael Gross and Reba McEntire (yep, Reba McEntire) play a couple whose home is a fortress the basement of which is an arsenal stocked with every kind of firepower short of a tank. And brothers and sisters, believe you me, if that giant subterranean people-eating worm came crashing through your wall like it did through theirs, you’d be glad for every weapon you could get your hands on.

Still, I think that I would prefer to face a giant subterranean people-eating worm with nothing but a slingshot than a congregation of armed Baptists. I mean, we preachers know that we face the possibility of criticism but to know that we are facing the possibility of confrontation with an angry and gun-toting church member raises the stakes considerably.

I might be forced to change my ways. I would hate to have to get my own gun license so that I could go into the pulpit Bible in hand, gun in pocket (to reverse the phrasing of the title of Ross Phares’ excellent book on frontier religion). I would hate to be put in a position where I might end up going down in history as another J. Frank Norris, that (in)famous fundamentalist who shot and killed an unarmed man in his study at First Baptist Church in Fort Worth in 1926 (he was acquitted of murder).

Such a situation would also have liturgical implications. I might have to select my benediction depending on how I perceive the sermon to have gone.

One Sunday I might pray, “The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

But on another Sunday the benediction might be: “Go ahead--make my day!”

Oh my.

5 comments:

Drew Hill said...

Great post. I'm with you, Mike. Bring on the people-eating worms, but don't bring armed Baptists to a committee meeting.

Seriously, this issue makes me think of Jesus directing Peter to put down his sword. I can understand having security guards, but that's as far as I go, and only then when absolutely necessary.

Dana Clark Felty said...

I'm a religion reporter in Savannah--how is it that I too was talking about "Tremors" with someone the other day???

Love the column! Hope it's okay if I post a link on my recent blog about guns in church.

Michael Ruffin said...

Drew,

Amen to no guns at committee meetings, brother.

There is a fine line to be walked here regarding security. We want our worshipers to be safe. But it sure doesn't seem in tune with the spirit and example of Jesus to have guns around the church.

Dana,

Thanks for visiting and commenting. Links are always welcomed. Maybe we should write an article about the theology of Tremors--if there is any!

The Beast said...

Although the topic of this post addresses a serious concern, I found myself laughing out loud as I read your insight.

And if you want to start a separate blog on the greatest Kevin Bacon movie of all time, count me in. Probably 10% of my vernacular comes from Tremors quotes, including "Run?! Running is not a plan, running is what you do when a plan fails."

Scott Parrish said...

Well done! I read about you today in the Augusta Chronicle. I'm here in Augusta at Trnity on the Hill as a mission pastor and on campus at ASU with Wesley Foundation. We need to catch up sometime as I'm a 1990 grad of SBTS. Find my mission ramblings, including this blog today, at http://kudzulife.blogspot.com/