Sunday, November 25, 2012

Holy Shoot

Churches offering gun training to attract members

By Justin Rocket Silverman


A neighbor’s sign “has been an attendance driver,” preacher Jeff Copley says of a critic of his church’s gun classes.

(The Daily) MARENGO, Ohio — Salvation isn’t automatic — but it might be semiautomatic.

In an effort to increase membership, a number of U.S. churches — including the Church of Christ congregation in this rural village 30 miles north of Columbus — are offering an unconventional public service: Concealed weapons training.

“Church has done a good job with coffee klatsches or whatever, but we haven’t really reached out to guys,” said Jeff Copley, a preacher at the church. “And guys in Morrow Country, they shoot and they hunt.”

Hundreds of students have enrolled in the 10-hour course, which meets the state requirements for earning a concealed weapons permit. The training includes two hours on a church member’s private shooting range.
“I grew up going to church, but hadn’t attended in a number of years,” said David Freeman, 52, a local engineering manager who attended a firearm safety class at the church. “Always considered myself a Christian. I came for the gun classes and have been coming back for two years.”

The Marengo church launched its program several years ago and was likely among the first in the country to offer concealed weapons training. But from Texas to North Carolina, a smattering of congregations have recently followed suit, as ministers seek to capitalize on local enthusiasm for gun culture and demand for carry permit classes to expand their flocks.

Central Baptist Church in Lexington, N.C., held its first concealed weapons classes in March, in what the Rev. Ryan Bennett described as just “another avenue to reach people.”

“We want to draw people in to our campus,” Bennett told a local newspaper at the time. “And we’re going to try anything that we can to do that.”

While conceding that he carries a 9mm pistol with him at all times, he said he doesn’t want his congregation to be labeled “gun-toting.”

“We promote responsibility. We don’t endorse violence,” he said. “It’s just another way to draw people in.”
In Texas, where it’s legal to carry guns into any church without a specific no-firearms policy, Heights Baptist in remote San Angelo began offering concealed carry classes in June. The class was a response to security concerns among congregants.

“We’re about 150 miles from the border with Mexico and we’re very unsure about our insecure borders — about what’s coming into our cities,” Pastor James Miller told NRA News. “Personally, I feel more secure that should our worship time be interrupted by a life-threatening intrusion, that we would at least stand some kind of a chance in stopping either a mass killing or terrorizing experience.”

Preacher Jeff, as Marengo Christian’s Copley is called by his flock, likewise emphasizes the spiritual importance of being able to defend oneself.

“Jesus advises his disciples to sell their cloak and buy a sword,” he told The Daily. “He instructed his people to be prepared to defend themselves. It’s really hard to find someone in our congregation that doesn’t shoot somehow.”

In part, the new offerings represent a response to broadly declining religious enthusiasm. Across the country, about 20 percent of Americans identify themselves as unaffiliated with any church, up from 15 percent five years ago, according to a study released this month by the Pew Research Center.

Against that backdrop, the classes “may reflect the desperation of some churches to attract members in a time of decline,” said Bill Leonard, a professor of church history at Wake Forest University.

But gun training remains out of step with mainstream doctrine. For example, the National Council of Churches of Christ, which represents about 100,000 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and Evangelical churches comprising 45 million members nationwide, endorsed strict gun control in a 2010 position paper.

Conceding the need for an armed police force, the council wrote that “to allow assault weapons in the hands of the general public can scarcely be justified on Christian grounds. The stark reality is that such weapons end up taking more lives than they defend, and the reckless sale or use of these weapons refutes the gospel’s prohibition against violence.”

But advocates of gun ownership rights cast the new classes as a reflection of widespread public support for gun rights.

“The Ohio church’s classes are an example of the general cultural shift in the United States over the last two decades, in which people who support responsible gun ownership have become less timid about speaking up in public,” said David Kopel, a policy analyst at the conservative Cato Institute.

Concealed carry licenses have seen a boom in demand in recent years. In Ohio, for example, county sheriffs issued 49,828 new licenses last year, compared to 22,103 in 2007.

But judging from a sign posted in the yard next door to the Church of Christ property, not everyone in Marengo agrees that houses of worship should be offering gun training.

“Some think the Bible is a hunter’s guide,” the sign says. “They are lost.”

For his part, Copley was unfazed by the criticism.

“Frankly the sign has been an attendance driver,” he said. “We’ve had two families come and place memberships because they said this is the kind of thing we’d like to support.”


1 comment:

Old Bob said...

If the government intensifies its persecution of Christians and Jews (which I'm sure is going to happen with Obama in a second term), we Christians will need all the training we can get. I personally think that the present administration is not above using force or violence to shut down churches that don't parrot the party line.