Posted in Moments of grace

Should you bring a gun to church?

Photo by Achim Pock on Unsplash

About twelve years ago, a few of the ushers were chatting about handguns a few minutes before a worship service was about to begin. One of them was considering a new purchase, something a little smaller and easier to conceal. Floyd, sitting there listening, raised his pant leg revealing his weapon in an ankle holster and said, “Like this one?” That was the first time I realized that folks in my church came to church with their guns.

The news of mass shootings in schools, movie theaters, churches and other public places has prompted more and more men and women to purchase and carry guns with them for protection and peace of mind. That same news has moved these same folks to bring their guns to church, too. With weapons concealed beneath sport coats and inside purses, I know our worshipers are carrying on Sunday morning. Is that a good thing? Should you bring a gun to church or any house of prayer?

On the one hand, I appreciate having someone watching my back and noticing who comes into the church. We’ve had visitors in church who arrived on bike, carried backpacks, and looked a little nervous as they found a place to sit. We’ve never had a problem with any of them, but they initially made some feel uneasy.

On the other hand, I doubt that many armed worshipers spend much time honing their shooting skills at the range. Law enforcement officers train and certify often. Should a threat arise, I not confident my average attender would be able to pull and effectively fire a weapon. I’m not sure I would want them to.

And anyway, a very small number of shootings have happened in churches. Though such shootings make the headlines, they are few and far between. As they should be, churches are safe places. Church (or synagogue or mosque) violence is disconcerting, but from what I’ve observed, rare.

I do remember that when we worshiped in Haiti, I caught a glimpse of a 9mm on the belt of just about every male worshiper in the building. But in that country there were also armed guards sitting by every gas pump and grocery store entrance. A local guide with an automatic rifle who accompanied every medical mission team like ours from outside the country. I’m thankful for those who watched out for us. I’m also thankful to live where I can fill my gas tank without a guy with a sawed-off shotgun watching me.

I do not own a gun and do not plan on getting one. Right now, I think that any place where I would need to be armed is most likely a place I shouldn’t be going anyway. But a church has never felt like that kind of a place. And if I should be somewhere, even in church, when someone starts shooting, I know I’m not going to be the hero who takes him out.

Posted in listening, questions

How many guns do you need?

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Not too long ago I was wondering, “Who has a gun?” Since then, one headline caught my attention: “Only 3% of Americans own half of the nations guns.”

On the morning of the recent Las Vegas mass shooting, I was on my way to a conference with two colleagues. As we glanced at the TV in a rest stop restaurant area, the reported number of fatalities and injuries continued to rise. Our conversation over lunch turned to guns.

One friend began talking about his concealed carry permit, and the gun he preferred when carrying. He went on to describe some of his handguns and rifles. Some had been customized. Some were special orders. Some had been hand-me-downs. Some were for hunting. Some were for self-protection.

Finally I asked, “How many guns do you have?” Looking up, he mentally counted through his own personal inventory. I don’t remember the exact number he mentioned, but it was more than ten.

Now I’m wondering, “Why does a person need so many guns?” I understand the need for different kinds of guns for different kinds of shooting or hunting. I’m sure there are new models and new technology, as well as old favorites and classic designs. It just never occurred to me that someone would have that many.

The subtitle to the previous headline read, “7.7 million Americans own between 8 and 140 firearms.” Apparently, “that many” isn’t that many when it come to guns. The Las Vegas shooter Steve Paddock owned 47 guns.

The guys I’ve gone out shooting with all own a variety of guns. Each time I’ve gone out, they’ve brought a selection for me to try. They’re always eager to demonstrate their collection. “Here, try this one.” “How did that one feel?” “You’ll like this one.” “This is what I carry.”

I still have a lot to learn about guns, ammunition and shooting. My dad had a couple of rifles. When he was growing up, you had have a gun and you had to know how to shoot. If you wanted to eat. He never taught me anything about them. He never took me hunting with the beagle. But I know he was pretty good. They always had food on the table.

Posted in lessons, Life

I think I know someone who could do that.

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Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Thinking about guns, people who have guns, and people who use guns, I started thinking the other day. I wondered if anyone in my circle of acquaintances, friends and parishioners fit the profile of a mass shooter. Do I know anyone who could snap and start to take lives?

I did a little bit of non-scientific online research. Multiple sources report that 13% of Americans over the age of twelve are taking antidepressants. Three percent of the population is bipolar. In my county, there are between eight and twelve arrests for domestic violence every week. Over fifty percent of adults who have some kind of mental illness are not being treated for it.

I believe there is a good chance that I know someone capable of being the next shooter of innocent people in a crowd somewhere. No, I don’t have anyone particular in mind. But I do know some really angry people. I know a few who are really bitter about the hand life has dealt them. I know others with really short fuses.

I also know that each of us is capable of any number of atrocities against humanity — or as we pastors like to call it, sin. The first sin mentioned in the bible outside of the Garden of Eden was murder. Cain killed his brother Abel, in a dispute over worship styles (Genesis 4). Obviously it didn’t take much to flip his switch. King David arranges for Uriah to be conveniently killed in battle, so he can have his wife, who he has already slept with and impregnated (2 Samuel 11). When a Samaritan village didn’t receive Jesus, disciples James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to eliminate the entire population, an ancient version of a drone strike on an enemy village (Luke 9:51-55). And by the way, these weren’t tax collectors or sinners or atheists or devil-worshipers. These were believers. They were God’s people. Yikes.

Whether it is a senseless mass shooting on a college campus or a movie theater or a concert venue, it’s a reminder of the evil in this world and the evil in me. I like to think that I am a cut above those who would abuse children, strike their spouse, or steal offerings from a church. But I’m not. And you know that’s true, because pastors have done all those things. And more.

Every headline about violence reveals the dark, disgusting underbelly of our world, our nation, our community, and people just like you and me. This is a nasty place, and we are nasty people. And Jesus became one of us, like us in every way, experiencing anger, despair, pain and death. When the Bible says that he who knew no sin became sin for us, it means that he became that dark, nasty, disgusting underbelly. He became the mass killer, the suicide bomber, the violent father, and the abusive spouse. He became us, so that we could be something different. So we could be like him.

Maybe some laws will change because of what happened in Las Vegas. Maybe not. Maybe people will turn to God for help and for hope. Maybe not. Probably not. In the book of Revelation, no matter what disaster is poured out on the earth, people still refuse to turn back to God.

But in the midst of all this, who’s on the throne (in control)? Who got hit and killed in the violence of this world? And who says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled?” Jesus.

I not only know someone capable of doing horrible things. I also know someone who brings light to the darkness.