Written for Disciples Peace Fellowship in the wake of the massacre at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, TX. Parts of this were first published as Opponent Testimony to a bill that would allow guns in churches to the State Government Committee of the Ohio Legislature on June 10, 2015.)
Like many of you, I was horrified to learn of the most recent mass shooting in our country. Like many of you, I spent the morning in church. Heights Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ congregation in Cleveland, OH. It was All Saints Sunday which always seems to bring tears, even when the deaths we are honoring are not my own family or people I even knew particularly well. The previous Sunday, my husband and I led a discussion during the adult education hour about gun violence. We began with referencing our denomination’s resolution that called Disciples congregations to responsibility and action in working to reduce gun violence deaths and injuries. The timing of this particular conversation was in the aftermath of the largest gun massacre in modern history – the killing of 58 people and injuring of 500 more at an outdoor concert venue in Las Vegas.
Sadly, just one week after our presentation, the need for the conversation was quickly back again, in our faces and breaking our hearts. My husband and I lead an organization, God Before Guns. Through our work we are aware that a conversation about what to do about gun violence could happen on any given day. It is the mass shootings that capture our attention, if fleetingly. But on any given day, more than 100 people will be shot and killed. The numbers of gun deaths are climbing. Twice that number will be injured, many with lifelong disabilities.
We expect what we get after a mass shooting. This is not the time to talk about guns. It’s too soon. Don’t make this political. It’s not the guns. There’s nothing we can do. It’s the price of freedom. Our thoughts and prayers. Etc. Etc. Etc. Although this time we are already hearing from the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, who says that this is going to happen again and that more church members need to be armed for their own protection. It is not the first, nor likely the last time we have been told that if only more people had been armed, a tragedy like this could have been prevented.
Compelling to consider? After all, no one wants more people shot in church on a Sunday morning. Perhaps, but it’s just not true that more guns means fewer deaths. Only 10% of all mass shootings in our country happen in gun-free zones. That means 90% of them happen where guns are allowed. More guns do not make us safer. We might also consider that if only there had been a good guy with a gun, these shootings would not have happened. That too is not supported with any credible evidence. More people armed in a situation can make it difficult for first responders to find who the actual shooter is, as happened most recently at the Wal-Mart shootings in Colorado.
But when we’re talking about church, this conversation takes on so much more than statistics or politics or any misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment. Because my work and home are in Ohio, some of this is Ohio-specific. For more about our stance on guns in churches, go to our website. Please read on:
I am a Christian pastor who believes that faith communities have traditionally been – and must continue to be – places of sanctuary. By definition: Sanctuary is a sacred place. By definition: Sanctuary is a safe haven. Church fits both definitions. Church is where we go to commune with God, together with others. Church is a house of prayer and encouragement. Church must be inclusive of all persons. Church is a place of love and acceptance where we learn how to be God’s active messengers of love, peace and justice in the world.
That message of love and acceptance and that place of sanctuary (both definitions) are especially important for our children and youth. In the congregation I served in Cleveland Heights, I was pastor to a large number of middle school and high school youth and their parents. Those youth attended several different school districts in Cuyahoga and surrounding counties. To my surprise and shock, I became aware that every one of these children had been on school lockdown at some point in their schooling. They not only knew the drill, they had seen it for real. Some of our youth experienced the danger first-hand from that horrible February Monday when T.J. Lane shot and killed 3 high school students and caused lifelong injury to 2 others at Chardon High School. Those teen-agers know the danger because they were there in cafeteria to witness it. It was just months later when the Newtown massacre of first-graders happened, and as a pastor, I was once again faced with helping those kids deal with their fears and anxieties. Our children know these situations are real. They know they could be victims themselves.
It is especially critical now in these times of too much violence in our culture, that our children know church as sanctuary — definition safe haven. A safe place where they can express their fears. A safe place where they can freely talk about anything. A safe place where they will not be bullied. A safe place where weapons have no place. From the advice of our local police department, we began displaying no weapons signs on all entry doors. We did this to reinforce the current Ohio law in place that prohibits guns in places of worship — unless an individual church decides to permit them. In other words, no church that wants firearms is prevented from allowing them. Legislation has been proposed to put the burden of responsibility on us to keep guns out. With legislation that allows guns, even if we post No Guns Allowed signs, will they be ignored? Will churches need to go to the trouble and expense of metal detectors and bag inspection as a regular part of Sunday morning worship? I pray not.
In Ohio, there is no evidence that most churches want firearms on their premises. There is no evidence that a majority of Ohio faith leaders are clamoring for more firearms in church. And so, Ohio’s elected officials should not consider a new law that presumes that firearms are welcome in Ohio churches. Nor should any new law force Ohio faith communities to take action to exclude them. Instead, lawmakers in Columbus should consider the tens of thousands of people outside of the Statehouse who want their places of worship to remain places of peace. Churches that are sanctuary – sacred spaces and safe havens – are a powerful presence that have positive and rippling effects on entire neighborhoods and communities.
Guns are dangerous. The presence of a gun always increases the possibility of accidentally misplacing it and of accidentally discharging it. The presence of a gun increases fear and the intimidation (whether intended or not) of other persons. The presence of a gun increases the potential for deadly and injurious confrontation if the armed person loses his or her composure. There are no compelling reasons to increase these dangers in churches because there is no credible evidence that churches with no guns allowed are any more dangerous than places where guns are permitted. There is no credible evidence that allowing guns in churches will make people safer than they are without guns. As to the rights of CCW permit holders to carry their firearms everywhere, these persons represent a very small minority of the adult population in Ohio. Expanding their rights ignores the rights of all of the rest of us Ohioans who wish to have places where we can be free from being close to persons carrying concealed and loaded firearms.
As to guns being our protection: A church looks to God as our ultimate source of protection. As to wearing a gun in church even as we are passing the peace with others in the pews: As a follower of Jesus – as a Christian — I am called to a standard of loving my neighbor – a definition of neighbor that includes even my enemies. It will take my lifetime to meet that standard. If you are a Christian, you join me in that lifetime of work. If we believe – and we legislate – that we can only safely interact with other people if we arm ourselves against them, we will never get even get close to that standard.
I am a follower of Jesus. Jesus commands that we put away our swords. Swords were the weapon of choice in the 1st century. I believe Jesus would command us to do the same with today’s weapon of choice – a concealed carry gun.
There is no place for guns in our houses of worship.
Now, back to November 2017 and the call to arm ourselves in churches. I call to your attention this portion of our denomination’s resolution:
FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that congregations within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), along with the other expressions of the church, be encouraged to promote dialogue, cooperation, advocacy, and action that moves toward a reduction of gun violence and promotes anti-racist, pro-reconciling education in our communities and nations, and to consider making clear their commitment by openly declaring their properties gun-free zones where state and local laws do not already do so.
Nothing about arming ourselves as a solution. I urge you to find out what your state’s existing laws are concerning guns in churches. Find out if there is pending legislation and speak out against it. Contact us at God Before Guns if we can be a resource for your congregation.
Rev Kristine Eggert
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Co-Founder of God Before Guns