By Jacqueline J. Holness
It has been argued that guns are as American as apple pie and baseball. From fuzzy black and white westerns showcasing a swaggering John Wayne to high-definition, full-color, post-apocalyptic flicks featuring a fearless Will Smith, the allure and power of guns and weaponry are the real stars in these movies. Guns are often glorified in rap and other genres of music. The most popular video games simulate the goriest of gunplay. And where basic water guns were once sufficient, Super Soakers are even better. We Americans seem to love our guns.
While our love affair with guns once seemed to be generally relegated to entertainment, guns and the control of them have become a part of our everyday conversation. As a part of the fallout from mass school shootings such as Columbine High School in 1999 to Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, gun control laws are being thoroughly debated from government chambers to the kitchen table. Gun control is also a part of the discussion about Stand Your Ground laws, which have been invoked in two incidents in which two unarmed teenagers, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, were shot and killed in Florida by George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, respectively.
Although some may believe gun control is only a conversation for politicians and political pundits, the church is being asked more and more, whether by force or voluntarily, to take part in the discussion. In February, with a majority vote of 119-56, Georgia’s House of Representatives voted to allow churches and bars to decide if gun owners are allowed to bring their guns with them. The National Rifle Association refers to House Bill 875 as “the most comprehensive pro-gun reform legislation in recent state history.”
At the time of this writing, House Bill 875 has yet to be voted on in the Georgia Senate. According to an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a Georgia Baptist Convention representative said in a House committee hearing that his denomination “endorsed HB 875 and its language to allow concealed weapons in houses of worship—unless the local congregation or other administrative unit should declare otherwise.” However, about 200 interfaith religious leaders, including Baptists, bought a full-page ad in the same newspaper criticizing the house bill.
Religious leaders and organizations in other states are also targeting the thorny issue of gun control, albeit from a different angle. According to The Courier-Journal, the Kentucky Baptist Convention is hosting Second Amendment Celebrations, through which local churches aim to attract nonbelievers through gun giveaways.
“You have to know the hook that will attract people, and hunting is huge in Kentucky. So we get in there and burp and scratch and talk about the right to bear arms and that stuff,” said Chuck McAlister, the Convention’s team leader for evangelism. Over 1,600 men have come to Christ as a result of these types of events, McAlister noted. In March, Reverend John Koletas, minister of Grace Baptist Church in Troy, New York, raffled off an AR-15 assault rifle during a Sunday morning service to attract gun lovers to the church.
In Florida religious leaders and organizations are also confronting the Stand Your Ground law. Bishop Kenneth Carter, leader of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, has written a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott “asking him to consider either revising or repealing the ‘Stand Your Ground law,’” according to ABC WFTV in Florida. “I’m a non-partisan person, but for me, the law transcends political partisanship,” said Carter.
Jim Wallis, president of the Christian social justice advocacy group Sojourners, also criticized Stand Your Ground in his opinion piece in The Huffington Post. “Where just laws were meant to preserve the common good, unjust laws like Stand Your Ground excuse us from living out our best values. It is time to make that clear from our pulpits, starting in Florida.”
Wherever you stand on the gun control debate, it is clear that guns, which are beloved in American culture, have moved beyond entertainment and politics and are now being laid at our collective feet. With God’s direction and a thorough consideration of all the factors involved, it is our responsibility to address gun control issues head-on and be the Christian soldiers we are called to be.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service,
an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.