Thursday, February 12, 2009

Packing Heat In The Pews

Arkansas lawmakers have approved a bill which would allow for concealed weapons to be carried into church. The measure now moves to their state Senate for a vote, and the governor has already said he'd sign it into law if it lands on his desk.

Currently, only churches and bars are exempt in that state from conceal and carry laws. Under this new law, churches would have the option of allowing or not allowing concealed weapons as long as they posted a visible sign at their church as to their stance. About 20 states already have similar laws.

The bill was pushed before and failed, but this time Republican Rep. Beverly Pyle got the vote thru on a 57 to 42 vote.

During committee hearings on the bill prior to the vote, one representative, who is also a pastor, John Phillips Jr. said:

As a group of lawmakers, are we really wanting to send the message that we are raising the white flag of surrender to the anarchy that's in the streets and that the only way that our citizens can feel safe in their houses of worship and churches is that we come packing heat in the pews?"

Phillips, now a minister at the Central Church of Christ in Little Rock, testified that a "deranged individual" shot him in 1986 while Phillips was working at another Little Rock church. Phillips said his life was saved by a member of the congregation, who came to his defense.

"I don't know that having a concealed weapons individual designated to bear arms in the church that day would have made any difference in that situation," he said.

Another minister spoke to the press in favor of the bill:

To me, being in church is probably one of the most vulnerable places anyone can be as far as an attack happening," said Pastor Mark Thorton of the Big Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Malvern. "And if there's no one there who can legally carry a handgun, we're going to be on the 6 o'clock news."

My father was a Baptist minister and I wonder what his reaction to such a plan might be.

I think perhaps first he would not be happy that government was taking up church operations and regulations as part of legislative activity. He would often talk politics while sharing coffee with folks at the local diner in the mornings, and we'd often have heated debates about politics at home, and he often wrote letters to elected officials to weigh in on all kinds of issues.

But I can't really recall a time when he spoke out on a political issue from the pulpit -- one on one with folks, yes, but not as part of sermon. Of course, you have to realize that as a squirrely young boy I was usually not paying real close attention during all the thousands of sermons I heard as I would sneak in a couple of little toys, Matchbox cars, army men or cowboys or little guys in spacesuits. Or I'd play tic-tac-toe with some nearby fellow ne'er-do-well who, like me, was surely headed to Perdition.

Dad's no longer among us, so I can't ask him directly for a reaction. But all the while he was alive and even after he was not, I always have a sort of talk with him in my head about pretty much everything. I did pay attention often to how he worked as a pastor, as a person, and as a father. We might agree or disagree on many things, but he always seemed pretty smart to me and he did educate me to consider the effects which might follow any and all decisions I made or failed to make. So I ponder about a lot of things and yes, even this humble-but-lovable blog is often my wee little pulpit and sermonette.

I know that in the past both recent and ancient, people have been attacked in churches by folks who bring in a gun or other weapon and inflict much harm on those within. Sometimes those people are stopped and their plans foiled, and sometimes they are not. Both good things and bad things happen in this world - in or out of a church house. I also know that compared to the rest of the world, this country is a mighty safe place. I don't think that more bad than good is happening, I think we just hear and see more due to the speed at which information travels today.

I tend to think my father would be opposed to folks feeling a need or a right to bring a gun into church in our times. Might have been different in centuries past, but as for our times, I think he might see such behavior as a general lack of Faith. He might say that while in church, your thoughts should not be on worldly things but on spiritual ones. I also think he would be far more eloquent addressing this topic than me.

It was a rather shocking day last year when a crazed gunman strolled into a Unitarian church in Knoxville and began shooting, so the reality of what can and does happen looms large in most minds in East Tennessee. I also marvel at the selfless acts of members of that church who took on that killer with nothing more than their hands and their desires to stop the violence. I'd like to think, should some similar event take place where I might be, that I would have the courage to resist an attack. I think I would. I hope I never have to find out.

Oddly, while I may not have always been the keenest listener in my father's churches, I do see that the words 'hope' and 'faith' still have a hefty place in my writing and my thinking. Most of the time anyway, though not always.

Seeing a sign posted at a church saying they allowed for concealed weapons or had armed security guards would not be very inviting to me, though I suppose some might feel comforted by such. For me, it indicates just how a person and a church regard the spiritual realm in many, many ways.


  1. Anonymous3:38 PM

    where is my hollowed-out bible ?

  2. The The Rev. Jonathan Rudd, aka Bob Mitchum, sure had his in "5-Card Stud" ...