Sunday, March 1 is the first Sunday in Lent. In keeping with our church’s theme of the season, The Covenant, I will be largely focusing on the Hebrew lectionary texts. The reading for the first Sunday in Lent is taken from Genesis 9, the account of Noah and the flood.
Of course, it is impossible to consider the ending of this narrative (chapter nine) without looking at the entire story. One of the most poignant, if not pathetic, statements in all of scripture is found in the sixth chapter of Genesis and is directly attributable to God. I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created ”people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them (v. 7).
It is an appropriate theme for the Lenten season, perhaps, because we can’t help but wonder if God has said this to himself over and over since the days of Noah. And given the current news here in Arkansas, who could blame God for still feeling that way, for being sorry that he made us? Unfortunately, I have a perfect example with which to illustrate the point.
A bill that has passed in the Arkansas House of Representatives, and is now before a state Senate committee for its consideration, would allow churches to decide if they will allow concealed handguns to be brought into their respective houses of worship. Handguns in church! I feel like Charlie Brown: Good grief!
Before you go looking down your nose at Arkansas, however, be advised that 42 states currently allow concealed weapons in church. Maybe you better frisk your parishioners when they come through the door.
We all know that occasionally churches have been victimized by gunmen. The latest took place last year in a Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tenn. But does anyone honestly believe that allowing worshipers to shoot back is the answer?
One Baptist pastor in the southwest Arkansas hamlet of Fordyce says he has a signed petition with the signatures of 40 area pastors who support such an idea. He says it isn’t about the right to bear arms as much as it is the right for congregations to choose for themselves without government telling them what to do. I wonder if he would be so quick to trot out the separation of church and state if the issue were prayer in schools rather than guns.
Apart from a biblical response to such thinking, much less a constitutional one, let’s apply some common sense to the situation. Suppose a gunman did come into one of our worship services. What if, let’s say, we have two or three people sitting in the pews who have handguns on their belts and they choose to respond. Now, you have bullets flying from all different directions. And suppose someone gets in the way of one of those bullets and is shot. By whom? Would you want to carry the guilt of having injured or killed a fellow worshiper?
I have made an appeal to our state senator, whose sister-in-law is one of our church staff members, to stop this ridiculous effort. He is of the opinion the bill will not get out of committee. If it does survive the senate, however, I will indeed encourage our congregation to make it clear to anyone who enters our church that we will tolerate no handguns inside our facilities which, of course, is exactly what the proponents of this bill have in mind. Oh well.
I’ve been a pastor for more than 30 years, and I cannot believe we’re in a situation where I’m even writing about this issue. My stance on this bill may seem ironic given that I love westerns. But those days are over, and much of the mystique of that era is due to Hollywood anyway. Today, we live with reality, and it is hard for me to comprehend the thinking of those who would even consider this idea.
I can’t help but wonder if God is still thinking, I am sorry that I have made them.
Randy Hyde is senior pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.