Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed into law legislation that expands the list of places where Georgians can legally carry firearms, including schools, bars and government buildings. Today, we present arguments for and against guns in church sanctuaries. The pro-guns essay comes from the pastor of a small 90-member church. The anti-guns column comes from the pastor of Atlanta’s Central Presbyterian and one of more than 200 religious leaders in Georgia, including Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory and Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple synagogue in Atlanta, who oppose the law.
Commenting is open.
By Thomas E. Rush
The Georgia Legislature has taken a huge step in the right direction when it comes to concealed carry. The passing of House Bill 60 has not been without controversy, much of that related to allowing churches the option to defend themselves through lawful concealed carry. It was a disappointment that in the end, the bill was changed to an “opt in” provision rather just removing the prohibition against lawful carry in churches.
Some members of the clergy and the media are outraged, but they appear to be missing the point. Recently, the Georgia Baptist Convention, representing over 3,600 churches and 1.4 million members, weighed in on the issue.
“As Southern Baptists, we believe in the autonomy of the local church,” said public affairs representative Mike Griffin. “We believe in the right of churches to be self-governing and to determine their own policies. The Georgia Baptist Convention is not advocating for or against weapons being in churches; it is saying that, as a convention, we believe churches have the right to choose for themselves.”
The process for each church to make this decision will be different, depending on its governing policies.
Churches should have the same rights as other incorporated entities and businesses to determine their policies relative to their willingness to be responsible for their defense. The overwhelming majority of church members are law-abiding citizens who should not be forced to give up their Second Amendment rights merely for pursuing their First Amendment rights.
Gun-free zones are an open invitation to a killer. In fact, such persons intentionally target these locations. We are all aware of tragedies that have occurred in churches and schools when someone came in and did unspeakable harm to the defenseless persons present. Recently, in the Atlanta area, a shooter entered a business marked as a “gun free” zone and did harm to others before taking his own life. Such tragedies could be prevented, or at least mitigated, if law-abiding citizens who work at or attend such places were accorded their Second Amendment rights.
For me, the primary issue is the safety of my congregation. We are fortunate to have a law enforcement officer as a member of our church. We all feel safer when he is present. When he is unable to be present, we have other church members capable of providing on-site security, but who are not allowed to do so under current Georgia law. Thankfully, that changes July 1.
The controversy seems to beg the question how Jesus would view the lawful possession of weapons in church. It is not unusual for people to create an image of the God they want, rather than the One who is truly revealed in Scripture. The Bible reveals Jesus’ disciples were armed. Peter had a sword and used it, in an attempt to protect Jesus when He was arrested (John 18:1-11). He was never told by Jesus not to carry inside God’s house. Peter’s timing in using the weapon lacked good judgment, but the fact that he was “carrying” is evident.
When Jesus instructed the disciples to prepare to serve Him after His departure, He reminded them that they would need some things they had not necessarily needed while in His direct presence on earth. Among those things was a sword. Jesus plainly said, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one” (Luke 22:35-38).
Unquestionably, Jesus thought it was acceptable for one to protect his family and property by the use of a weapon.
A diligent reading of Scripture reveals that the use of weapons for the defense and protection of people and property is biblical, godly and just. In fact, it could be biblically argued that it would be unjust not to protect the innocent. Armed citizens have made America a place any enemy would fear to invade. Any religious organization, business or school that values the protection of innocent life would do well to take advantage of the new law allowing it to do so here in Georgia. For those churches and groups that disdain the presence of guns in their facilities, they remain free to ban them.
Thomas E. Rush is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Social Circle.
By Gary W. Charles
Directly across the street from the Gold Dome stands Central Presbyterian Church, at the intersection of power and powerlessness. There we are called to speak words of compassion and hope to the homeless who sleep on our sidewalks and others in need, but also to speak what we believe to be truth to the neighbors who shape and enact the laws that govern us.
Whatever our message, we are a welcoming community, making our space available to a wide variety of citizens throughout the week. Every Sunday morning, I or one of our other pastors opens the worship service with a warm greeting to all in attendance. Often, we specifically note that we are pleased to have them with us in this place of sanctuary, be they Democrat or Republican, poor or rich, gay or straight, and whatever the hue of their skin.
We also are a faith community that is shaped by the Judeo-Christian commitment to non-violence. We dare to embrace the wisdom of Jesus who told Peter to put away his sword when the disciple sought to use violence to prevent Jesus’ arrest.
To combat a prevailing culture of violence offered to them every day, we teach our children and young people that non-violence has greater transformative power. We hold up to them — and their elders — the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Sitting in a Birmingham jail cell, Dr. King celebrated the “real heroes” who fought majestic battles against racial segregation, armed only with the tools of non-violence. “One day,” he wrote, “the South will know that … these disinherited children of God … were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage.”
At Central, we embrace those values and reject the terrifying logic that the presence of more guns in more public places makes us a safer society. For that reason, House Bill 60 presents us with a profound dilemma about the limits of the welcome we wish to continue extending. How can we in good conscience and with integrity invite armed visitors into a space we call a sanctuary?
So, our governing body has concluded that guns are not welcome at Central.
My prayer is that one day, Georgia will celebrate those congregations and classrooms and bars that stood up for the best of the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage by refusing to welcome the culture of violence within their doors.
So, please join us at Central Presbyterian any Sunday morning. You are welcome here. Your guns, though, are not.
Gary W. Charles is pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.