Issue #345 -------
April 12, 2008
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the
security of a free state, the right of the people
to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Constitution of the United States
2nd Amendment, 15 Dec. 1791
In a speech before the National Press Club on September 11, 1997 in Washington, D.C., the noted actor and National Rifle Association leader, Charlton Heston, made the following insightful observation concerning the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution -- "It is America's first freedom, the one that protects all the others. Among freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly, of redress of grievances, it is clearly the first among equals. It alone offers the absolute capacity to live without fear. The right to keep and bear arms is the one right that allows rights to exist at all." I believe it is important to note that the founding fathers of this great nation did not bestow the right to bear arms by virtue of this second amendment to the Constitution, instead they clearly stated this right "shall not be infringed." They assumed, therefore, a pre-existing right to bear arms, which many believe to be inherent within the statement in the Declaration of Independence 15 years prior (1776) -- "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Life is a gift from our Creator -- an "unalienable right" -- and thus we have an inherent right to maintain that life, just as we have the "unalienable right" to maintain, even to fight for, our liberty. No document grants the "right" to preserve our own life; it is a "right" with which we have been "endowed" from God Himself. The 2nd Amendment merely declares that no one, not even government, shall infringe upon that God-given right. Bearing arms, then, is considered by many Constitutional scholars to be, at least in part, central to the preservation of life against those who may seek to take it from us by force. Endowed by our Creator with this right to life, no one shall infringe upon our right to preserve this gift from above by depriving us of the means of our own self-defense. There is, of course, a great deal more involved in this, including the defense of our nation, but the most basic of rights is individual in nature.
Endowed with such an "unalienable right" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and assured by the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution that a means of safe-guarding this right, the bearing of arms, "shall not be infringed," we, in this nation, have a sobering obligation and responsibility; one that should never be taken lightly, nor taken for granted. My founding fathers felt that "we the people" have a right to bear arms in our own defense, in the defense of those about us, and in the defense of our great country. They were so convicted of this right that they amended the Constitution to assure the people that this right would never be infringed. I believe this right predates our own founding fathers, however. I firmly believe our Lord Himself has authorized the bearing of arms, not only by a nation, but also by His own disciples. The apostle Paul described governing authorities as "ministers of God ... who do not bear the sword for nothing" [Rom. 13:4]. Most believers, unless they are avowed pacifists, don't have a problem with city, county, state and federal authorities maintaining an armed force for the protection of its citizens. It is the idea of individual citizens, and especially individual Christians, armed with deadly weapons that raises questions in the minds of some. There has long been a debate among believers regarding whether or not Christians may serve in the military or be police officers. I personally believe they may, and deal with this very issue in Reflections #232 -- Christians Bearing Arms.
But what about private citizens, who just happen to be Christians? May they bear arms? Again, I believe Scripture addresses this matter, and the answer is in the affirmative. Following the institution of the Lord's Supper, and just prior to going into the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to His apostles, "Let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one" [Luke 22:36]. At this time it appears only two of the apostles were carrying, for they told Him two swords were at hand. Think about this, brethren. At the Last Supper of our Lord, during which time He instituted the Lord's Supper, two of the apostles were "packing heat." We know who one of them was, for a few hours later Peter used this sword on Malchus, the servant of the High Priest [John 18:10]. Did Jesus urge him to get rid of this deadly weapon? No. He merely told Peter to return the sword to its sheath [vs. 11]. Jesus had come to this earth to lay down His life for mankind, thus this show of force in an effort to thwart this sacrifice was not in keeping with His mission. Nor was the Kingdom of God to be advanced at the point of a spear or by the edge of a sword (as was attempted during the Crusades). However, Jesus did authorize His servants to bear arms, and this would most logically be for the purpose of self-defense against the criminal element that abounded at that time. Yes, most of these men later willingly laid down their lives for their faith, considering martyrdom an honor. But, martyrdom for one's faith is a far cry from being brutalized by godless thugs on some dark, lonely road outside a village one is entering for the purpose of preaching the gospel. Thus, Jesus told them to make sure they were armed so they could defend themselves at such times.
In a nation where bearing arms is a right of the people, one can be assured that many of those bearing arms will be Christians. There is some debate, however, on exactly what is being suggested by the phrase "bearing" arms. Does this suggest the right of possession only, but not necessarily the right to carry it on one's person? If it suggests the latter, is it to be carried openly (visibly), or may it be carried concealed from the public view? Our 50 states have differing understandings of this, but most believe that, at the very minimum, ownership of firearms by the private citizen is allowed, and they may be kept within their homes (and by extension within their vehicles). Some states, such as my own state of New Mexico, are known as "Open Carry" states -- i.e., one may carry a weapon openly (although there are some restrictions on where one may go with such a weapon). Most states also have what is known as "Concealed Carry" permits, where certain approved persons may be granted authority by the state to carry a deadly weapon concealed somewhere on their body. Again, New Mexico is one such state. As is true in virtually every state where such a permit is available, there is a rather rigorous process one must submit to in order to receive this privilege. In New Mexico, one must take a Concealed Handgun Carry Class from an instructor who is certified by the New Mexico State Police. This involves extensive classroom instruction in the laws and regulations involved in carrying a concealed weapon, as well as instruction in firearms safety, the psychology of avoiding a criminal attack and how to control a violent confrontation, techniques for nonviolent dispute resolution, and the like. There is also a day spent on the firing range in which various scenarios are presented where one may be forced to use deadly force, and these are "live fire" scenarios. One must also pass a written exam on the law and safety issues, as well as qualify with a handgun on the shooting range. One must then be fingerprinted, which prints are then submitted to the State Police and the FBI for background checks. One must sign, and have notarized, a release for the State Police to examine one's medical records for any possible mental health problems, drug use issues, etc. The applicant must submit his/her original birth certificate (not a copy), a completed application, the training certificate they were awarded, and a $100 fee. It can take the state up to three months to look thoroughly into your life to see if you are responsible enough to be granted a Concealed Carry Permit [which is good for four years; and which requires the holder to requalify on the shooting range at the midpoint of that four year period. NOTE: Some states issue/allow a badge with this permit (like the one pictured at the very beginning of this article), others, however, do NOT. Indeed, in some states, such as New Mexico, it is illegal to carry such a badge. Each permit holder, therefore, is advised to check the law in his/her own state regarding this matter]. Obviously, not everyone is willing to put themselves through such a process, and not everyone who does so is assured he/she will be approved. I believe such screening is essential, since, quite frankly, there are some persons who should not be carrying around a loaded weapon (convicted felons, the mentally ill, those who may have a history of anger management problems, and the like).
Nevertheless, an ever-increasing number of our nation's citizens are applying for and receiving permits from their respective states to carry a concealed weapon, and due to reciprocity laws, most state permits are now recognized in a good many other states as well. The New Mexico permit, for example, is recognized in about two dozen other states (including Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Missouri, Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana, Idaho, Michigan, Florida, Alaska, Wyoming, Montana ... just to name a few). Thus, being licensed in New Mexico also allows me to carry concealed in these states as well. It is interesting to note that statistics have shown that in areas where the issuing of concealed carry permits is on the rise, violent crime is on the decline. When the "bad guys" aren't sure anymore who might be carrying a weapon, they tend to "think twice" before attempting some violent crime.
With all of this background information in mind, let's return to the main questions before us in this issue of my weekly Reflections. With more and more Christians bearing arms (many of whom have concealed carry permits), the likelihood is quite good that on any given Sunday there may well be several men and women in your congregation armed with a deadly weapon. Unless your state has specifically forbidden weapons in a church building (which very, very few states have), or unless your congregational leadership has signs posted prohibiting weapons on the premises (which they have a right to do, but which very few congregations have done), it is legal for a person to carry a concealed weapon into the church building, even during a Sunday worship assembly, if they possess a CCW permit. This raises some rather interesting questions for both members and leaders alike. When God's people are gathered together corporately to worship their God, is this an appropriate time and place for the presence of deadly weapons? I wonder how Peter might answer that question, given the fact that he had a sword with him during the Passover meal when Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper?!! I wonder how Jesus might answer that question, given the fact that He knew Peter was "carrying" (as well as one other apostle), and yet did not suggest they remove these weapons from the premises?!! Frankly, there is no biblical basis for prohibiting their presence in an assembly of God's people. Now, if men want to establish such a rule regarding their church building, then they have a legal right to do so, but they can't justify such a choice by an appeal to the Word of God. In those congregations where members and/or leaders are permitted to carry concealed weapons, are there any restrictions or limitations placed upon such? Does such permission suggest a lack of trust in the Lord to protect His people as they engage in worship?
No Way! I Hate Guns!
It certainly comes as no surprise that there were objections to the idea of Christians carrying concealed weapons into a church building, and especially during times of corporate worship. What did come as somewhat of a surprise to me was how FEW such emails I received. Out of the hundreds upon hundreds of responses I received from all over the nation, and from several foreign countries, I only received seven negative responses!! For example, an American citizen living in Germany wrote, "I personally would never think of carrying a weapon of any kind into a church building. My strength is in the Lord, and I believe that fear of evil is absence of faith." A nurse in a trauma hospital in California wrote, "No ... NO ... I do NOT believe that people should be 'packing heat' when going to church. I have great fear of people who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. We do NOT live in the 'Wild West' anymore. If I were to find out that people with permits were carrying concealed weapons at the church I attend, I would no longer attend that church! Period! I cannot imagine any REAL reason for someone to carry a gun in church. If they think it's their right, then I would say that they are paranoid. I HATE guns, Al. ALL guns." A reader from Oregon opined, "I don't understand why a Christian would need to carry a concealed weapon at all. I don't believe I should be so paranoid that I have to arm myself wherever I go. Additionally, I even have problems with Christians owning a gun for personal protection in their homes. We have the best protection there is -- GOD."
I find it rather interesting that one of the arguments some use is that owning/carrying a weapon is a failure to trust in God, and is therefore an absence of faith. If we truly had faith in the protection of our Father, then we would have no need of a weapon. Or, so goes the argument. I wonder, though -- do these same people have health insurance?! Do they carry a spare tire in their automobile? Do they get a flu shot each year? Do they immunize their children? Do they have a retirement fund set up? Why do they do these things?! Don't they trust God? Is their faith lacking? When Jesus encouraged His apostles to arm themselves, was He encouraging a diminishing of trust in the providential care of God? Let's face it, the adopting of prudent measures to prevent tragic circumstances (which are common to all men) hardly constitutes a lapse of faith. Being a Christian does not mean one should disengage his/her brain, cast off common sense, and/or break with reality. Jesus said, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves" [Matt. 10:16]. Yes, there is to be innocence and purity evident within the lives of His disciples, but there must be shrewdness as well. Why? Because there are wolves lurking about, and we're their favorite snack. A reader in Oklahoma wrote, "When Jesus said 'turn the other cheek,' He wasn't saying to park your brain and commit suicide."
Some readers were somewhat conflicted about the issue. For example, a reader in Arkansas wrote, "I have mixed feelings on this. If a member of the church were carrying a gun and took out a bad guy who intruded into the worship services, that might save lives. But how would it look? One part of me says, 'Yes, do it' ... but another part of me says, 'No, don't.'" How would it look if a member killed a wolf who was determined to slaughter as many sheep and lambs as he could? I think most people would give that person a medal. It would probably even attract people to your congregation. So, my guess is, it would look pretty good. A reader in Texas admits to being perplexed by this issue for over 35 years. "I often ask myself -- if I truly believe in God and His providential care for me, should I arm myself for protection? So what if I'm killed, for then I'd be in heaven with the Father, and that is far better than being here. Could I live with myself after taking a life? There are no easy answers to these questions." For some Christians, these are indeed very difficult questions, and I certainly respect those who do not personally feel they could take another person's life, regardless of the circumstances. A police officer in Georgia, who has often carried a concealed weapon into the assemblies, says, "I can tell you that I wrestle with this often. Am I relying on myself or God? Or, am I allowing myself to be used by God to protect His people? I constantly examine and re-examine my heart on this issue." A reader in Michigan said, "I personally do not own a gun, and have never felt the need for one, but if I ever found myself in a position to need one, I hope someone near me has one." This was the view of several people. They didn't want any part of carrying a weapon, but if danger came their way, they certainly hoped someone nearby was "packing." I think a reader in Indiana summed it up well: "I don't own a gun, and would probably shoot myself in the foot if I had one. But, I would take comfort in knowing that one of my brothers was carrying a gun at all times."
We Live In Dangerous Times!
A fact that should be obvious to anyone who pays attention to the news is that we live in increasingly dangerous times. Although theories abound as to the why of this phenomenon, the reality can't be denied. Hardly a day passes that one doesn't hear of some disturbed individual trying to kill as many innocent people as he/she can before ending his/her own life. These events take place very unexpectedly, and they are typically over long before police can even respond. As a result, "we the people" are actually the first line of defense in such horrific situations, and if there are not some among us who are constantly ready, willing and able to step up and stop such crazed killers bent on destruction, we become little more than sheep passively waiting to be slaughtered. A reader in Florida wrote, "It is horrendous that we live in a world where we have to even think about protection against vicious evil doers. But our world is what it is, and things are the way they are, and we had all better wake up and smell the coffee." A law enforcement officer in California informed me that the eldership where he worships has considered the fact that their congregation might at some point be targeted by a disgruntled person. They stated to this officer, "Whatever the numbers of people who would be injured or, God forbid, killed in such a catastrophe would be, they would be at their maximum before any of the local police ever arrived." An elder/attorney in Kentucky (who also teaches concealed carry classes) stated the same reality -- "many lives are usually lost before law enforcement can ever respond. The only means to prevent attacks such as this are armed citizens who are capable of protecting their own lives and the lives of others." A reader from Alaska perhaps made the best case for citizens bearing arms when he said, "When seconds count, the police are only minutes away."
A reader from Oklahoma made this observation: "With the number of fanatics of every persuasion running loose in society, it is only a matter of time before some hate-ridden idiot comes into a worship service and decides to hold target practice on as many Christians as he/she can kill." Well, that time has already come! This is already happening. There have been a good many highly publicized church shootings of late, and I can assure you that, given the nature of our times, there will be more. For example, in September, 1999 in the city of Fort Worth, Texas, at the Wedgewood Baptist Church, a lone gunman burst into the main auditorium on a Wednesday evening, where 150 teens were singing hymns, and began shooting. He left seven of them dead and a good many more wounded before sitting down on the back pew and blowing his own head off. The police arrived minutes later, but the event was over at that point. A reader from Oklahoma wrote, "My supervisor in Saudi Arabia had an 18 year old daughter who was murdered in that church shooting in Fort Worth. That gets a little close to home!" In August, 2007 a gunman stormed into the First Congregational Church on a Sunday morning in Neosho, Missouri screaming "Liar! Liar!" and began shooting. Three people were killed (including the preacher) and five were wounded. He then held 30 to 40 members hostage, with a gun to the head of a girl, until the police finally arrived and got him to surrender. In March, 2005 a gunman walked into a service of the Living Church of God in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and opened fire on the congregation. In less than one minute, the preacher, his son and five other members were shot dead, and four others were wounded. The gunman then killed himself. And, of course, we all remember this past December in Colorado when a gunman started shooting up a church, only to be gunned down by a security guard before he could kill even more people than he did.
Several readers wrote to me to let me know of incidents in their own congregations (incidents that did not make the national news, like the above shootings did). A subscriber in Texas told of a man who had earlier shot and killed his wife and who then showed up at the church building. While the preacher was trying to calm this person in the lobby, the man took out his gun and killed himself right in front of the horrified preacher. He could just as easily have killed the preacher and everyone else in the building, had he chosen to do so. A reader in New York wrote, "I am a retired clergy woman and have been in a threatening situation during the week in the office at church. A man who was high on drugs trapped me in my office, shouting and cursing and waving his arms, demanding I give him money." This woman was very fortunate, as this could have turned out much differently than it did. A minister in Tennessee wrote, "We have had break-ins at our building, and one never knows what a person high on drugs will do. We lost one of our members who was murdered by a man wanting money for drugs and the member refused to give it to him. Church shootings are becoming more and more common." An elder in Texas wrote me the following, which I believe expresses quite well the threat that we face in our fallen world today -- "There is a billboard just south of Burleson, Texas that shows a young man aiming a large bore handgun directly at the camera. The caption reads, 'If he doesn't care about God, what makes you think he cares about you?!'" That's the point ... he doesn't. There are people in this world who would just as soon shoot you as look at you. We must defend ourselves against such madmen.
Al, What Say You?!
Before I move to the final section of this issue of Reflections, which will be some of the many responses I received from you, the readers, let me take just a moment to express my own convictions on this matter (if you haven't already guessed them), as well as some other concerns that should be addressed. I am a proponent of the right of "we the people" to bear arms, and I own several. I also favor Christians carrying concealed weapons, and have been through the certification process in this state. I personally have no problem whatsoever with the members of a congregation carrying concealed weapons during times of assembly, as long as they are properly licensed by their state and are responsible individuals. I do not believe the leadership of a congregation should prevent members from carrying weapons in their midst unless these leaders have good reason to believe that one of their members carrying might be a threat to the other members. I know of at least a couple of congregations where a member managed to obtain a permit, and yet the elders were aware of significant mental instability in that person and thus prohibited him from carrying on the premises. I believe in such circumstances that they have the right, and indeed the obligation, to make such a judgment, and I support them in it.
Carrying a concealed deadly weapon is an enormous responsibility, and it may well call for an enormous decision on your part that will affect people for the rest of their lives (and affect you as well). Those who have been entrusted with such a permit from their state are trained NEVER to draw and fire this weapon except as an absolute last resort. Indeed, ideally, no one should ever know that you are carrying a weapon. In fact, if you remove it and wave it around to try and intimidate someone, you're guilty of "brandishing," which is a serious offense that will land you in a lot of hot water (and may cost you your permit). You are NEVER to draw this weapon unless it is a life or death situation, and there is no other option. This is obviously a decision that, in some cases, will have to be made in fractions of a second. If you hesitate ... if you are unsure if you can actually take another person's life ... this may very well cost you your own life, and perhaps even the lives of those you sought to protect. Obtaining this permit is not designed to make someone "feel big" or "feel important." If that is your motivation, then you are a threat to society, not a benefit to it. Arming oneself is a very sobering act, and those who are properly motivated to do so will truly pray every time they put that weapon on that they will NEVER have to draw and fire it at another human being. However, if that moment comes, they had better be mentally prepared to act decisively and without hesitation. A deacon residing in the state of Massachusetts who is a licensed firearms dealer, and who carries a weapon even during church services, wrote, "To carry a concealed firearm and to be prepared to use it in dire situations is a tremendous responsibility that should NOT be taken lightly. I firmly believe that we, as Christians, should be the most responsible concealed carriers, and thus get as much training as possible so that in both training and capability we stand above the majority of those who carry concealed firearms." I think this is a good attitude.
I believe it is also a good idea to keep the fact that you are carrying a weapon to yourself. This is not something that needs to be broadcast to everyone around you. Indeed, in some states it is even against the law to do so. Undoubtedly, those with whom you have a close relationship will likely be aware that you at least have a permit, and are thus most likely armed (at least on occasion). However, to make a public issue of this is irresponsible, in my view. A reader in Oklahoma, for example, stated, "Our state law specifies that you do not show your weapon or tell anybody that you have one." I think this is probably good advice, even in those states which may not specify such by law. A reader in Oregon said, "Those who choose to carry should be discrete, considering the discomfort others may feel" if they were to discover you are armed. A minister in Tennessee wrote, "Five of our elders have their permit to carry, and a large number of our deacons have their permits. I don't ask them if they are carrying, and they don't ask me." A reader in Texas states, "I would support members having a concealed handgun, but would NOT support it being public knowledge as to who had such a weapon and when." Again, this seems to be required in Texas, as a federal agent writes, "The law in Texas is worded so that the handgun must be concealed from sight so no one but the person carrying it has any knowledge as to the presence of the handgun." A subscriber in Oklahoma observes, "Those that choose to go armed are not to draw a weapon in public unless absolutely necessary. The CCW provision is granted with the understanding that the carrier of a firearm will keep it concealed at all times. It is no one's business if I happen to be carrying a concealed weapon, with the exception of a law enforcement officer." I would basically concur.
The Readers Respond
I was completely overwhelmed by the positive responses I received from the readers on this topic. It seems that most churches have chosen to allow their leaders and their members to carry concealed weapons. In some cases, larger congregations have even chosen to add armed security teams to their staff (either made up of members with permits, or off duty police officers). I am aware of several larger congregations, although I will not identify them (as per their request), who have hired armed plainclothes police officers to sit at various locations in the auditorium during the worship assemblies, and to be ready to act if someone should burst in with the intent of doing harm to the members. These individuals are somewhat like an Air Marshall on airline flights. One congregation was even given a discount on their insurance because they had such a team in place during each assembly. There were many insights and observations and comments made that really impressed me and caused me to do some pondering of my own. In this final section I will share just a few, as there is simply insufficient space to share them all. I hope the ones I have selected will prove insightful and interesting. I also pray that this particular issue of Reflections has generated some thought with regard to this vital topic, since I believe it to be an important one in light of the times in which we live.
California. Most of my friends know that I carry concealed because I am a peace officer by profession. If I were not, I would definitely go to the lengths necessary to obtain a CCW license. I even carry concealed on Sundays, and, yes, during gatherings. I consider the practice of carrying concealed to be an obligation for my personal safety, the safety of my family, and the safety of my community. I truly love people; I love my family, and I want them to be safe. This is a dangerous world we live in -- MUCH more dangerous than most people realize. It only seems logical that I seek to protect those that may not be able to protect themselves.
Oklahoma. For me this is a no brainer! Not only should concealed weapons be permitted, in my opinion at least a few members who have passed all the background checks, and who would have no qualms about using lethal force, should be asked to carry them at each service.
California. As you've often stated, with freedom comes responsibility. If we have the freedom to carry a concealed weapon, there is a grave responsibility that comes with it. People who are unable or unwilling to assume that responsibility have no business carrying any type of weapon. As for your question -- would I have a problem with an elder in my congregation carrying a concealed weapon? Not at all, assuming that he was a responsible individual. In fact, I would draw a certain amount of comfort knowing that this "shepherd" was protecting his flock physically as well as spiritually. Frankly, I would much rather the criminals be afraid that law-abiding citizens might suddenly "take care of business," than for unarmed citizens to be terrorized with no ability to fight back against those who would harm us.
Georgia. I admire the fact that you are looking into some form of security for your congregation. You are literally the first person that I know who has shown that much presence of mind. I believe this idea is a good one. Generally, I think those who would oppose members being armed in the assembly have not had a life or death situation facing them. To me, it is far, far better to have the security and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
Missouri. If I was still preaching in a local congregation, as I did for over fifty years, I would suggest that some of the members get handguns and have them in the assembly!! If all guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns!!
Texas. I have been preaching the gospel full-time for 36 years, and have served as an elder in three congregations where I preached. I am a life member of the NRA and have also served as a sheriff's department chaplain, as well as a reserve deputy sheriff. Both my wife and I have concealed carry permits. We believe strongly in the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and I do NOT believe a concealed carry permit violates Christian principles. I would NOT object to those with a permit carrying a weapon during worship.
Honduras. Living in Honduras is quite different than in the states. Here guns are an every day sight. Personally, I carry a gun in my backpack. I have never had to get it out, but it is security for the time that I might need it. I pray that I never need to get it out and that I never need to make the decision to use it.
Texas. I am an elder at the --------- ------- Church of Christ. We hire an off duty policeman to sit in our auditorium during services to be ready in case of such an emergency. He is linked to policemen outside who direct traffic. Thus, they can alert one another if a situation seems to be developing. Of course, we hope he will never be needed. But, it is comforting to see a man among us who is constantly, but unobtrusively, watching for a possible problem.
California. Having had a concealed weapons permit for many years, I would far rather have a person in our church armed and never need that protection, than to need that protection and have no one armed!!
Texas. I think it is a very good idea for someone among the leadership to be armed. In fact, I think it is being responsible. You never know when an armed lunatic may show up.
Texas. I am a concealed handgun license holder in Texas. Several members of our congregation carry on occasion -- or, as we say here, they "pack heat." I feel comfortable knowing this. If our congregation was ever attacked, it would be our duty to use force to defend our brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, a shepherd sometimes has to deal with a wolf.
Tennessee. What a fascinating question, Bro. Maxey! Perhaps we could consider these men (who carry concealed weapons in the assembly) as having the same function as the armed workers who joined with Nehemiah on the wall. At the sound of trouble they were ready to rally to the source and defend God's people [Nehemiah 4:9-23]. They did God's work, but they did so armed with deadly weapons.
New Mexico. I feel there is absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with church members having concealed weapons on their person during worship services. Furthermore, I think there are some very real concerns for the safety of church personnel who work in the church building during the week. Often, there are only one or two people present in very large facilities. The doors are usually unlocked and goodness knows there are a lot of demented people in the world. Yes, the Lord can and does protect us, but I believe we should still take some responsibility for protecting ourselves and our loved ones.
Texas. Having served as an elder, I believe that a true shepherd must realize that when the church is gathered in one place, he is in the same position literally as a shepherd is when in the field with a flock of sheep. He is responsible not only for the spiritual guidance of the flock, he is also responsible for the safety of the flock in that location. Two thousand years ago, shepherds of flocks out in the field always carried some kind of weapon with them to do battle for the lives of their sheep. In the last few years, the north central region of Texas has witnessed numerous church shootings, ranging from domestic related problems to mass murders of anyone within the gunman's range. In every case, if someone who was trained had been carrying that day, I believe the death toll would have been much lower ... or not at all.
Minnesota. Armed citizens can be and have been on many occasions "angels in disguise." Remember 1 Cor. 13:7a -- "Love always protects" (NIV). Some churches have put signs over their doors saying that no firearms are allowed inside. The liberals made a big deal about this in the state of Minnesota about five years ago. The fact of the matter is, however, criminals and murderers don't care what your sign says!! The only people you will be disarming are the honest law-abiding citizens whose only desire is to protect one another.
California. I am a 72 year old member of the church who in 1986 retired from the California Highway Patrol after 25 years of service. I have carried a handgun daily since 1963. Even as a patrolman on the streets, I felt that all honest citizens should be armed. I prayed daily that I would never have to shoot or hurt another human being. I was blessed, because I never did. When I was young, if I went to a worship service while on duty, I would remove my "Sam Brown" belt and lock it inside the trunk of my patrol car so that I wouldn't "offend" anyone. It didn't take me long to realize how wrong and dangerous that practice was. So why do I still carry a gun? Because I know firsthand just how many criminals and mentally unbalanced people are out there!! I'm sure you have read of the many shootings that have occurred inside church buildings. I want to be able to protect my loved ones if the need arises, and I can't do that if my weapon is locked in my trunk.
Tennessee. I personally know of two men in our congregation that routinely bring their weapons to worship. Both men have a permit for concealed carry. Personally, in my position as a minister, I feel far more at ease knowing that these men are in attendance with their weapons. We have had, on two different occasions, mentally unstable men attend our worship services and cause a scene (one man stood up in the middle of the sermon and started ranting). In both cases we were able to talk the men down and get them out of the building without incident. Our "concealed carry" brothers never unholstered their weapons, but showed great restraint. In my opinion, due to the culture in which we live, I believe we owe our members a certain degree of security while they worship. Our buildings and our practices leave us in a very vulnerable position.
Oklahoma. I attend a Church of Christ with an average Sunday attendance of more than 600. I know of at least three men who are likely to be armed at church on any given day. I plan to attempt the concealed carry certification process this summer, and have thought a lot about the ramifications of carrying in church. C. S. Lewis said, "If the only way we can subdue a bad man from doing harm is to kill him, then that is our Christian duty." I will probably carry in church, but will pray to God that I will never need to use it. Interestingly, the police officers that I know, both inside and outside of the church, are the ones encouraging me to get a concealed carry permit. They are more than willing to trust a properly trained armed citizen.
Colorado. It is my personal conviction that senseless acts of criminal aggression should be resisted vigorously in the interests of justice, mercy and societal stability. I have no fear of good men and women with firearms, but I can think of no sadder situation than a gathering of good people suddenly set upon by evildoers where none are adequately prepared to defend the innocent. Ideally, none of us or our loved ones will ever be victimized in this way, but should such a situation arise, it is wise to have some among us with both the mental preparedness and the tools to stop the victimization of those unable to defend themselves. I see absolutely no benefit in the formulation of an "official policy" regarding carrying arms in any given congregation since such a policy would likely provoke argument and sharp disagreements. In fact, any such prohibitive policy would prompt my own abstinence from assembling with such a group.
Florida. I don't have many answers to offer on this. Just more questions. But, sometimes questions help to clarify the issues, which, in turn, leads to better answers. For example, what happens when no one in your church has a weapon and some crazed killer decides that your church is going to be the "church of the day"? As a church leader, is leaving your sheep defenseless a good thing?! Leaving your flock open to harm seems to me like a failure to perform due diligence!!
Indiana. My personal feelings are that there is no one I'd rather have carrying a loaded gun than a brother or sister in Christ. There will always be disturbed people with access to weapons, and there is always the chance that one of them may choose to wander into our building on a Sunday morning. As you have stated, many people could be injured or killed before the police could arrive. I would take comfort in knowing that one of my brothers was carrying a gun.
Colorado. I am an elder in the Lord's church here in Colorado, and I took a quick poll of our members on this subject. The general answer was -- "I see no problem with members carrying concealed." We all believe in the 2nd Amendment and the individual right it gives. Several of us have concealed carry permits and have carried our weapons during a worship service. No one knew, as it should be. Our nation is in a crisis, and the number of evil people is increasing at an alarming rate. The police can't, and at times they won't, be there to stop a shooter. Thus, the job rests on the shoulders of well-informed and well-trained individuals. Who better than us?!
Oklahoma. I would certainly hope that the elders of a congregation would respect an individual's right to self-preservation. Being persecuted and killed by a government for one's religious beliefs (martyrdom) is one thing. But, to be singled out randomly by some evil individual to be robbed, beaten and maybe even killed is another. I'm all for giving them my money, watch, rings ... but I will NOT give them my life, if I can help it. If it comes down to it, I want to be able to responsibly choose to take defensive action. I am currently waiting for my CCW permit to be approved. If my elders, deacons and preacher want to carry a weapon during services, they won't get any argument from me! By the way, my preacher enjoys guns and shooting. It also wouldn't bother me if their wives carried a .38 in their purses either. The same goes for all my brothers and sisters who choose to carry concealed.
Oklahoma. This is a very special bell ringer issue for me. Coming from a law enforcement background, and having strong feelings regarding self-defense and the defense of my family, I am sure that you can understand my feelings in support of the arming of members within the congregation. It is my firm conviction that it is entirely appropriate that the elders establish a policy of not only allowing, but even encouraging, certain members of the congregation to attend the assembly armed and prepared to defend the flock, even to the point of using deadly force, as there are many infirm persons, as well as others, who cannot protect themselves. Please keep up your good work, Al ... we need sound reasoning now more than ever before!!
From an Elder in South Carolina:
Brother Al, Perhaps you have a copy of Ira North's book titled "Balance: A Tried and Tested Formula for Church Growth." I have read it through twice, and it addresses many areas within the congregation where extremes should be avoided. In chapter 16, the late Bro. North makes a statement worth considering -- "Let everyone have his say and nobody have his way all the time." I have found this bit of advice to be very handy when dealing with stubborn and fixated people of both extremes. Incidentally, Ira North's grandson worships with us, and he is on the path to becoming a fine leader within the Lord's Body.
From an Noted Leader in Texas:
Dear Brother Al, I found the letter in your last readers' section about changing the pew configuration so sad, and yet so typical of the attitudes encountered over the years as we "do church." A little over 40 years ago we made the decision to remodel our meeting house in the congregation where I was preaching at the time. One of the changes was to get all new pews and change the arrangement from 3 rows with 4 aisles to just 2 rows with 3 aisles. In this way we would gain some seating capacity. However, one older gentleman was so upset with the idea that we were changing things that he went to the hospital and decided that it was time for him to die. I talked with the doctor and he told me there was nothing at all physically wrong with him except that he didn't want anything to change, and that he was going to have to change where he had "sat in church" for the past 50 years. It took him about two weeks to starve himself to death (he would not eat, and he would not let them force feed him). I could not believe anyone was that rigid and inflexible ... and yet this actually happened. Another man within this very same congregation caused a big stink when a visiting preacher dared to use a slide projector to illustrate some points in his sermons. This man said that we were allowing "instrumental preaching." He had no problem with using a blackboard, but the fact that the slide projector had an electric cord and had to be "plugged in" was "instrumental," and so in his view we might just as well bring in an electric organ to accompany our singing!! There are a great many people among us today who simply can not believe the endless ridiculous inconsistencies of some of our past legalisms, but it was all too real ... and it is still very much alive and well in far too many places today. I just Thank God for men like Al Maxey, Carl Ketcherside, Edward Fudge, Cecil Hook and others who have had the courage to "stick their necks out" and help our brotherhood see legalism and Phariseeism for what it really is!! Soldier On!!
From a Missionary in South America:
Brother Al, I know this must be discouraging work you are doing. I have been doing similar work here, and from time to time I get really discouraged trying to open people's eyes to the legalism within the Churches of Christ, and also trying to point them toward the freedom in Christ which we have, and which we should also be willing to grant unto others. One thing that encourages me to continue with my ministry is your weekly Reflections articles. I have learned a lot from you, and I've gained several valuable insights into the importance of freedom in Christ. Also, your example to us all of perseverance in the face of what I know must be significant and very discouraging opposition is an encouragement to myself and to many others!! I pray for you that God will continue to lift up your spirit and use you to lead brethren to true balance within the Body. That is indeed exactly what we need, and if we had our eyes fixed more firmly on Him, that is in fact what we would have. Thank you for your work. May God bless you and encourage you!
From a Reader in Missouri:
Brother Al, "Balance Within the Body" was a great article!!! I cried as I read that letter concerning the moving around of the pews. It just broke my heart. Thanks, Al, for keeping up the fight for freedom from legalism. You give us all such encouragement!!
From a Reader in Florida:
Brother Al, Words fail me! In my opinion, your article "Balance Within the Body" is one of your best writings!!
From a Reader in [Unknown]:
Brother Al, I pray that we shall meet one day (although I will probably be amazed that you are not what I have created you in my mind to be!). I remember meeting Jeff Walling once, and he had heard about me from some mutual friends, and he remarked, "Aren't you supposed to be taller?!" Anyway, Al, your Reflections are a study in patience and charity ... they are works of art!! God has certainly granted you clarity of thought and expression to accompany your preciseness. I am getting overtones from your writings that you were perhaps a lawyer with an aborted career somewhere along the line. May God bless you, keep you safe, and show you good things this week.
From a Pastor in California:
Brother Al, I have just read your latest Reflections article "Balance Within the Body." The respectful balance you describe and long for is the norm when members of the Body grasp the difference between essential Truth and personal opinion, because in matters of opinion one person's opinion is as equally valid as another's. In my own faith-heritage -- instrumental Christian Churches -- balance is more prevalent than in many non-instrumental Churches of Christ. Imbalance happens far more frequently in legalistic groups where personal opinions are elevated to the status of essential Truth (which then go largely unchallenged). Balance within the Body fosters loftier love, greater grace, and more effective evangelism. Your own efforts toward that end, Brother Al, are producing more balanced congregations among Churches of Christ -- something I have longed for, but never thought I would actually live to see in my lifetime! May your tribe increase, brother!
From a Reader in Texas:
Brother Al, "Balance Within the Body" was another Grand Slam in the very best sense of that term! I also read through the links you gave to your previous articles, since they were written before I was introduced to your Reflections. I found them to be "right on!" Keep up the good work.
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Brother Al, This last Reflections was one of the very best, thought-provoking articles that I have ever read!! Thanks for sharing your heart.
From a Minister in Georgia:
Brother Al, I would like to say that I very much enjoyed this issue of Reflections. I agree with you that the church can not and will not be able to function unless balance rules. I appreciate you bringing out Romans 14, because so many brethren only believe that passage to be speaking to the brother who is eating the meat, when it is clearly talking to both. And both are wrong if they impose their choices or opinions on the other. I believe that both sides of the Church of Christ can function in a healthy fashion and live to glorify God if they will just understand this balance, and I really appreciate you not making your Reflections just one-sided, because both groups need to hear and understand this concept. I love reading what you have to say about the many different topics you cover, and I hope that we can accomplish true unity within the Church of Christ one day and really be that church Christ died for. God bless you.
From a Reader in California:
Dear Bro. Al, I am always intrigued by the subject matter of your Reflections. It seems to be uncanny at times that you are writing (and therefore thinking) about some of the exact same issues about which I have "heated" discussions with friends, colleagues and co-workers. Thanks for your interesting articles!
From an Elder in Texas:
Dear Bro. Al, Thank you for your Reflections, and for your willingness to write about all the issues in our brotherhood. You are a breath of fresh air that has been needed for a long time!!
From a Reader in Colorado:
Brother Al, Your timely article regarding Balance was, as usual, insightful and thought-provoking. Your appeal to your readers at the end should make every child of God be loving and humble. Thank you for this article, and for the challenges it presented to all who name the name of Jesus. Thank you also for this ministry you have chosen. May God bless all who seek to serve Him.
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