A mother and son stand at a makeshift memorial for victims of a mass shooting, outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, on June 22, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on June 24, 2015.

Do we need unholy guns in holy places? (COMMENTARY)

A mother and son stand at a makeshift memorial for victims of a mass shooting, outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, on June 22, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on June 24, 2015.

A mother and son stand outside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 22, 2015, at a makeshift memorial for victims of last week's mass shooting. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on June 24, 2015.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(RNS) Inevitably, after the massacre at Emanuel AME Church, people are beginning to talk about arming congregants for self-defense. It is a sad image: 25 souls sitting around at Wednesday night prayer meeting, some packing heat in case the next church attacker should happen to be among them.

Some people consider it a ridiculous idea, or dangerous, or even sacrilegious: Guns don’t belong in the house of the Lord Jesus, who taught turning the other cheek and peacemaking; guns don’t belong in the hands of angry people, and Lord knows people sometimes get real angry in church. Imagine an enraged deacon calling for a vote on whether to fire the pastor, gun in hand. (This might affect the church’s democratic process just a bit.)

Others have been in favor of guns in church for a long time. “Open carry” and/or “concealed carry” legislation has already been passed in numerous states, with application to numerous public places, including churches.

In Georgia last year, local church leaders found themselves on opposite sides of the issue, breaking down pretty neatly along left/right lines -- yet another reminder that political ideology almost always seems stronger than shared Christian commitment in our red/blue culture. In the end, opponents managed to get an opt-in rather than opt-out system, so that churches would have to declare “guns welcome here” rather than having to declare the opposite. (An interesting addition to the run-of-the-mill messages on church signs.)

My most core Christian convictions center in the lordship of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life but did not take anyone’s life -- and taught his followers the same pattern. When he could have defended himself, he did not. When the early church could have defended itself, it did not. Martyrdom and not defensive violence became the Christian paradigm. The early church dreamed of and worked for a renewed world and an end to its bloody violence.

But eventually Christians came to a theoretically limited embrace of violence, first in defense of the (supposedly Christian) Roman state and then its successors after the fourth century. Sometimes they embraced violence in the name of both state and church -- for example, in suppressing heretics. Christians tended to support and participate in the violence governmental leaders ordered them to commit in criminal justice and in war, though just war/just violence theory set some limits -- which gradually became refined over time.

Just-war thinkers always drew a sharp line between defensive and offensive violence, between justified and unjustified force. But just-war theory was primarily focused on the defense of the community or the state, not the individual Christian or the congregation. Romans 13:1-7 was read to authorize state violence as a deterrent, as defense, and as punishment of the wicked for violating communal peace and harming innocent people. But responsibility for executing that violence was left in the hands of government and its officials, which could and did include individual Christians but was separated from the function of the church. I could be shown to be wrong, but my reading of the Christian tradition is that the idea of heavily armed congregations hunkered down in self-defense in their houses of worship is a foreign concept.

But maybe that’s because for most of Christian history and in most places Christians did not need to feel afraid when they gathered in church. Excluding Muslim-Christian violence on those particular frontier lines -- and after Christians in Europe and the colonies figured out how to stop killing each other over doctrinal differences -- the average Christian didn’t need to be afraid of violence when she went to church.

This, of course, has not always been the case for the historic black churches in the United States, as Emanuel AME’s own history attests -- though most white American Christians did not really notice before last week. As the center of African-American communal life, and often as the focal point of resistance to racist injustice, the black churches have periodically been victimized by violence. And yet I am not aware of any general pattern of African-American churches arming themselves in self-defense.

Perhaps that will change after last week. Certainly a general posture of open hospitality to the stranger could well be threatened.

A front view of the Great Synagogue of Rome.

A front view of the Great Synagogue of Rome.

I keep thinking about one stubborn fact of my own (limited) experience: I have never attended a Christian church that employed armed security, and I have never visited a Jewish synagogue that was not guarded by armed security. I first noticed it at a prosperous synagogue many years ago in northern Virginia, but since then have seen it elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad. I will never forget when my wife and I visited the historic Great Synagogue in Rome -- where a 2-year-old boy had been murdered, and 34 children injured, in a horrific 1982 attack on a Shabbat service. A machine-gun-toting Italian police officer guarded that synagogue the day we were there. Armed security was certainly present in Jerusalem when I visited a synagogue in that city.

People regularly victimized by violence, including in their holy places, will seek to protect themselves. I cannot fault them for it. I fault those whose crimes have evoked this response.

Bottom line: Mosques, synagogues, churches and other holy places should not require armed security. But sometimes, in our wicked world, they face real threats to the unthreatening people praying there. State officials bear primary responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable. If they won’t or can’t do their job, it is terribly sad but not inappropriate for houses of worship to pay for the level of security required to keep their children and senior citizens from being murdered. This is preferable to the other solution -- arming lightly trained or untrained civilians whose weapons probably risk doing far more harm than good.

May none of us ever stop yearning and working for the day when all this killing will end.

LM/MG END GUSHEE

Comments

  1. There is no place for guns in a Church, or The Church.

  2. Interesting that Dr. David Gushee’s real world experience is limited in this way. I suspect that I have not attended nearly as many churches as he has, yet I know that there was armed security at several that I have attended. I know that many churches organize their own armed security, commonly church members who have military and police experience, as I have.

    I am part of the security team at my church, and most carry concealed weapons. They are not obvious, and perhaps that is why Dr. Gushee has not noticed them at any church that he has attended.

    I know of several cases where these armed members of the congregation acted well and stopped armed attacks. I have not found one case where they created more problems than they solved.

  3. The author writes a civil, well-reasoned opinion. However, I encourage him to learn more about the subject. His précis doesn’t indicate his religious affiliation, but a few thoughts to expand his understanding. Some are symbolic only.
    1. How is Michael, the archangel, often symbolized? As a martial angel, wielding a sword to drive Lucifer into Hell.
    2. If the Bible is the word of God, translated by man, how is it we’re told of WAR in Heaven, between God’s angels, but may not be allowed the instruments of defense ourselves?
    3. In old England, and in early Colonial days, firearm use and carriage on Sunday (Sabbath) was required.
    The whole subject of not having firearms in church is a new theme. There were no proscriptions against it in earlier years. I remember having mine in our car (a rifle) while attending mass, so we could go to an uncle’s home to visit, eat, and shoot in the afternoon. While that isn’t “in church”, I at least think it follows the same lines…

  4. “State officials bear primary responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable.”

    In most contexts is not the individual primarily responsible to protect the vulnerable? I, as a father, am responsible to provide food and clothing, love and nurturing, shelter and education to my children. Why then does the provision of physical protection fall to the state?

  5. Matthew 5:21-22, 38-48 and Romans 12;9-21. All I’ve got to say on this matter.

  6. I would assume the doctor is aware of Luke 22:36. How does he explain that admonition from the Lord?

  7. “State officials bear primary responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable.”

    Sounds like a nice sentiment but in actuality the Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that it is not reality.

  8. “State officials bear primary responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable.”

    Well, that’s only in a general way, not a point specific way.

    The Supreme Court ruled in Warren v. District of Columbia that the police (the state power that would be the ones providing that ‘protection’) did not owe a specific duty to provide police services to individuals, only that: “the duty to provide public services is owed to the public at large, and, absent a special relationship between the police and an individual, no specific legal duty exists.”

    So, Dr Gushee, is sadly mistaken if he really believes that statement is accurate.

    THE STATE IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR PERSONAL SAFETY, OR MINE, OR ANY ONE ELSE IN PARTICULAR!

    They are the “Clean up in aisle seven” gang.

    And the quicker more people realize this and make arrangements for their own security, the better.

    Sorry it’s this way. But it’s just the way things are.

  9. BZZZZT!

    False premise. Guns are not “unholy”.

    DILDOS are unholy.

    Please learn the difference.

  10. Like most reasonable interpreters, he probably knows that Luke 22:36 has nothing to do with the question of whether Jesus’ followers should use lethal force to protect themselves and others and everything to do with Jesus playing the part of an outlaw to fulfill scripture.

  11. “And the quicker more people realize this and make arrangements for their own security, the better.’

    Just like Jesus didn’t.

  12. “Why then does the provision of physical protection fall to the state?”

    Because the “state” by definition has a monopoly on the use of lethal force in a delimited geographical context. And the social contract that Americans accept as citizens entails surrendering a degree of personal autonomy for the benefits of a collective government that, in principle, seeks to secure the protection of life and property for all citizens. Not really that complicated.

  13. David Gushee, who is an ordained Baptist minister, understands the issues, the Bible, and history quite well, I’m sure. And as for your references to war in heaven, if you can’t tell the difference between God and humans, perhaps you need to reread your Bible. Start with Genesis 1 and good luck.

  14. You are a person trained to provide security. That puts you in a far better position than just some person who goes to a gun store and practices on the range. Your average gun owner is not proficient or clear minded in extreme situations to be anything more than a potential hazard to others in dangerous situations.

    “I know of several cases where these armed members of the congregation acted well and stopped armed attacks.”

    I know of none.

    I know of plenty of accidents, stolen weapons, and altercations turned lethal because people were armed in public settings. All in all, the negative consequences are exponentially more frequent, likely and plausible than those incidents one is allegedly protecting against.

  15. Also mostly because citizenry lack the proficiency and training to take on the role of law enforcement.

    Personally arming one’s self for protection is statistically more likely to result in:
    -The gun being stolen by criminals for use in committing future crimes
    -The gun being in the hands of unauthorized people such as one’s children or their friends because the owner was too obsessed with being “ready for trouble” that they failed to secure it safely.
    -The gun being used to accidentally shoot members of their family
    -The gun being used in a domestic dispute
    -The gun being used for suicide of a member of the family
    -The gun being brought to a school by one’s child
    -Injuries to the owner because they were careless with their own weapon

    Carrying weapons for personal protection usually mean the owners compromise badly on safety and are more likely to endanger others accidentally.

  16. Larry, too bad the actual facts don’t back up your inaccurate and/or misleading statistics.

    And you know what they say about statistics.

  17. Ah, Eric? Wasn’t it Jesus who told His disciples “if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”? (Hint Luke 22:36) But then wasn’t it the Prince of Peace who declared to His disciples “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

    BTW, a sword was very much the same thing in the 1st Century that a handgun is today.

    Oh, and I, too, have stood armed guard over a Church. Seems a group was in a little chapel praying over the Host when armed men broke in and robbed them. Shortly thereafter the Parish contracted with a security firm for armed guards 24/7. I am not a Roman Catholic but I consider anyone who would rob a Church to be totally depraved and basically unsalvageable. I would HAPPILY shoot such a one.

  18. Thanks, James. You articulated the truth perfectly.

  19. Funny, I have a Bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and I always figured He meant exactly what He said. I never heard about the Carpenter’s Son “playing the part of an outlaw to fulfill scripture.”

    Also, in the original language the 6th Commandment was a prohibition against Murder, not homicide in general.

  20. A person carrying or owning a firearm for their own personal protection is NOT taking on or acting in the “role of law enforcement”. Would you have all people disarmed? How does that make anyone safer other than criminals and tyrannical rulers?

  21. I was under the impression that dildos filled holes.

  22. “Bottom line: Mosques, synagogues, churches and other holy places should not require armed security.”
    I wish this counted for the grocery store, the shopping center, or my place of work as well. In this day of modern communication technology is there no way to get the message out to criminals and nut-jobs to leave the rest of us alone? I guess until that day comes I’ll continue to carry concealed.

  23. So owning the means to defend ourselves means that we are “playing the part of an outlaw”? If you say that about the law abiding I can only wonder what you have to say about the law breakers?

  24. What is an unholy gun? Defense of innocent life seems pretty righteous. There author shows his bias just at the title.

  25. When President Jimmy Carter attended church, his bodyguards carried _guns_. When President Obama goes to church, his bodyguards carry _guns_. The Pope is protected by the Swiss Guard. Throughout the Vatican City they carry machine guns.

    How stupid do you think we are?

  26. If you think your gun is really keeping you safe from either, you probably should not be owning one. At least for the safety of anyone around you. Somalia has plenty of guns and a very well armed population. By your standards they are the most crime free and democratic nation on the planet.

  27. This is same argument gun alarmist always say and it boils down to one simple fact. These people do not trust citizens. They do not think the average citizen has the capacity, the mental aptitude, or the discipline to carry a concealed weapon. This opinion stems from their own lack of confidence. If “I” don’t trust myself and never been around guns, I don’t trust anyone else either.

    As a Christian, I still believe there are more good people than bad in this country. Like it or not, evil exists in this world and the only way to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun. Let people choose to carry or not to carry. Gun free zones are like a neon “Welcome” sign for the criminals.

  28. Where do you find the “monopoly of force” doctrine in the federal or state constitutions? That doctrine was promulgated by a German legal philosopher at the end of the Great War.

  29. You’re a little late, Brave one. If you had just said that to Dylann Roof a couple weeks ago, you could have save a lot of lives.

  30. I’m not sure what the author means by “unholy guns.” Is he implying that all guns are unholy, or just some of them? The Pope has an armed security detail 24/7. Are their guns unholy?

    I figure if the Pope’s life is important enough to be protected with guns, then so is mine. I understand those who are uncomfortable around guns, but any building, including a church, with a “no guns allowed” sign on the door is a beacon to violent criminals looking for defenseless victims. It is no coincidence that almost every single mass shooting in the US in the last 60 years has happened in a “gun-free zone.”

  31. Wrong. The ‘social contract’ theoretically delegates to the state the authority to *initiate* force to achieve societal goals. And how could that power have been delegated to the state if the people didn’t have it? Nothing in the social contract legitimately deprives citizens from using force *defensively*.

  32. Easy solution – divide the congregations into one where firearms are okay and another congregation that would prefer to be victims. See, that wasn’t too difficult.

  33. Written just like Benedict Arnold would have.

    While guns have no place in a Church other than for persecuting Christians, anyone that is anti-gun ownership is an enemy of American freedom.

    There is no First Amendment without the Second Amendment.

    Um, this gun ownership issue is settled by the Supreme Court. And we all know that liberals and progressives demand that once the Supreme Court decides an issue, it is over.

    So while anyone that can still think for themselves knows that anti-gun positions are a rabid, foaming at the mouth anti-American position, those that want to rule the populace need to disarm the people.

    With the ruse of Christian-whatever or not, those that decry guns and want them out of the hands of the citizenry are as unpatriotic as ye old Hessians.

    But still, no guns in Church. Keep them at home or in the car. Unloaded for the most part.

    Martyrdom is not something you take up arms over. Let the anti-Christians do what they do.

  34. If you write an article for this place, odds are you are an anti-gun fanatic. It seems most of this place is the standard lefty deal. It’s fascinating watching the reach of the mind (and soul) control that the liberal/progressive movement has in this world. How incredible the Bible’s “predictions” about this.

  35. While guns have no place in a Church other than for persecuting Christians, anyone that is anti-gun ownership is an enemy of American freedom.

    There is no First Amendment without the Second Amendment.

    Um, this gun ownership issue is settled by the Supreme Court. And we all know that liberals and progressives demand that once the Supreme Court decides an issue, it is over.

    So while anyone that can still think for themselves knows that anti-gun positions are a rabid, foaming at the mouth anti-American position, those that want to rule the populace need to disarm the people.

    With the ruse of Christian-whatever or not, those that decry guns and want them out of the hands of the citizenry are as unpatriotic as ye old Hessians.

    But still, no guns in Church. Keep them at home or in the car. Unloaded for the most part. Martyrdom is not something you take up arms over. Let the anti-Christians do what they do. Whether labeling Christian life homophobic or hate, or coming in armed.

  36. “They do not think the average citizen has the capacity, the mental aptitude, or the discipline to carry a concealed weapon. ”

    Most don’t. Statistics concerning accidental shootings bear that out. Very few people who own guns for personal protection are particularly proficient in the skills needed to be useful in a dangerous situation. Outside of people, who as part of their professions, have to run the risk of armed robbery, its simply just a totem. Something to make one feel safe for irrational reasons.

    In the majority of situations, people who purchase firearms for protection take far too many liberties with the safety of the weapon. Usually it results in a stolen gun or accidental shooting. Instead of relying on trigger happy amateurs, “gun free zones” should have some measure of professional protection. It is usually the case (the NRA pretends otherwise).

  37. Easier solution. Armed guards. People who are professionals in safeguarding the lives of others.

  38. I have no problem with gun ownership. I own a couple myself. Expensive ones. I would like to see gun rights people advocating responsible and sane ownership for once. Encouraging people to be careless with guns out of paranoid fantasies and panic is not responsible or sane.

    Encouraging people with no training or experience in using their weapons outside of a firing range to walk to carry them in public is a recipe for a ton of accidental mayhem.

    “But still, no guns in Church. Keep them at home or in the car. Unloaded for the most part. ”

    Get your fainting couch and clutching pearls ready……..
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    I agree with you.

  39. I don’t have info on percentage of hits civilian versus police, but Cato Policy Analysis No. 284 (http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=1143&full=1) by Jeff Snyder states the cops are 11 times more likely to shot the wrong person than a “civilian.”*

    Consider, for example, an argument that is not made by opponents of licensing laws but that they could also use to suggest that citizens’ carrying arms will result in needless deaths. The police, who are “extensively trained” in the use and security of their weapons, mistakenly kill about 330 innocent citizens a year. [77] How many more wrongful deaths, then, might one expect at the hands of poorly trained permit holders? Although the argument exhibits the same logic, opponents of licensing laws do not seize on it. Doubtless that is due in part to the fact that it does not show the police in too favorable a light, yet it is upon them that the opponents of licensing laws are asking us to rely when they try to disabuse us of…

  40. “Encouraging people with no training or experience in using their weapons outside of a firing range to walk to carry them in public is a recipe for a ton of accidental mayhem.”

    Sorry Larry. History refutes your speculative assumptions. Over the past twenty five years, nearly forty states have adopted concealed carry laws and the number of people with carry permits has exploded. Over 11 million people in the US can now legally carry in public. During that same time period, violent crime rates have plummeted and accidental deaths involving guns have also decreased (it was a pretty low number to begin with, compared to other types of accidental deaths).

    You can look up the CDC data yourself if you like. Further, you’ll note that the incidence of accidental firearm fatalities in gun-friendly states (such as Vermont, where no permit is required) are no worse than in heavily gun-controlled states.

    Allowing people to protect themselves is more likely to make communities…

  41. This makes no sense.

    If I’m not a trained shootist then I need to consider my “lack of experience” and how it might endanger the life of others in an emergency scenario where my life or the lives of my family members, neighbors hang in the balance?

    I don’t think so.

    Would rather have a gun and no certified training in such a situation than go to my grave with accolades of “community sensitivity” having never fired a shot in my own defense.

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