We have an interesting and kind of scary political discussion going on here in my home state of Georgia.
Bill 89 became law on July 1. The new law allows someone with a firearms license to carry House 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.
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. 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. Or how my trust in God would soar because of my knowledge that if anyone threatens me during my prayers, I could blow him away faster than you can say “Amen.”
I 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 naÃ¯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. 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!”
Michael Ruffin is pastor at The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga. He blogs at On The Jericho Road.
Curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.