By David Waters
An Assembly of God pastor in Kentucky is encouraging his flock to bring their guns to church June 27 to pay tribute to the Second Amendment, learn about “responsible gun ownership” and enter a chance to win a free handgun.
Meanwhile, a Catholic bishop in Phoenix was given a suspended jail sentence because his tolling church bells violated a local noise ordinance. The judge said the bells could now be tolled for only two minutes on Sundays and religious holidays.
Guns in church: legal. Tolling church bells: illegal. What’s wrong with this picture?
Church bells are a vestige of our pre-wireless, pre-electricity days. They called parishioners to prayers and worship, they marked births, weddings and deaths, and they were the only way to gather an entire town. They were used for sacred and secular purposes.
A judge in Phoenix didn’t see much purpose in the bells at Christ the King Cathedral, which rang every hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Neighbors complained to the city about the noise. A judge gave Bishop Rick Painter a suspended sentence of 10 days in jail and three years probation. The judge also restricted the bell-ringing to no more than 60 decibels for two minutes on Sundays and specific religious holidays. Painter plans to appeal, quietly I hope.
Guns followed church bells by nearly a thousand years, although people had been finding ways to kill each other long before the first bell tolled. Jesus never encountered a gun, but he did order his disciples to disarm and not to resist his arrest or crucifixion at the hands of the authorities. As far as I know, he never preached a sermon on “responsible sword ownership.”
That won’t deter Pastor Ken Pagano from hosting gun appreciation day at New Bethel Church in Louisville. “It’s just a celebration we’re doing to coincide with Fourth of July. There are people who own firearms and do so responsibly and enjoy them as a sport, maybe like golfing or bowling,” Pagano said. Because golf clubs don’t kill people; golfers do.
Pagano is calling the event “Open Carry Church Service.” What next? Open Bar Church Service to encourage responsible drinking? Open a New Pack Church Service to encourage responsible smoking? How about an Open Mic Church Service to help the congregation find someone who’s familiar with the gospel?
“We need to change the culture of violence in this country,” Rev. Art Suggs, pastor of First Congregational Church, told NPR in April. The church is in Binghamton, N.Y., where a gunman killed 13 people and then himself in a shooting rampage in April. The killer used two handguns — a 9 mm and a .45-caliber — for which he had obtained a permit more than a decade ago.
The Sunday after the shootings, First Congregational rang its bell 14 times, once for each gun victim. According to the CDC, about 250 Americans are wounded or killed by guns each day. What if every church bell rang for every gun victim every day?
Think of the noise that would make.