God and guns: Open carry debated deep in the heart of Texas

The new year brought a new law to the Lone Star State.

As of Jan. 1, licensed firearms owners can openly carry a handgun in most places in Texas, as The Wall Street Journal reported:

However, the law lets places of worship decide whether to allow guns, as the Journal noted before the measure took effect:

First Baptist Church of Arlington, near Dallas, which typically sees some 2,500 worshipers each Sunday, will allow open carry.
Senior Pastor Dennis Wiles said the church came to its decision after discussing the matter with its legal team—in addition to congregants, including police officers who already carry concealed guns.
“We decided it was best to allow responsible people to do this if they choose,” Mr. Wiles said. “We will probably assess the situation in a couple of months to see how it goes. When it comes to a church, I don’t think we’re going to see that much difference.”
In contrast, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas decided to ban open carry in its 75 churches in North Texas, and it is erecting signs explaining the restrictions as required by state law for places of worship, a spokeswoman said.

I've been looking for media coverage of churches wrestling with the issue.

Religion News Service referenced the debate last week — but in a report tilted heavily toward the anti-gun side:

The RNS lede:

(RNS) In a blistering critique of what he describes as congressional kowtowing to the gun lobby, the Roman Catholic bishop of Dallas is praising President Obama’s new actions on gun control and ripping the “cowboy mentality” that allows open-carry laws like one that just went into effect in Texas.
“Thank God that someone finally has the courage to close the loopholes in our pitiful gun control laws to reduce the number of mass shootings, suicides and killings that have become a plague in our country,” Bishop Kevin Farrell wrote in a column, posted on his website on Tuesday (Jan. 5).

Later in the RNS story, there's this:

Farrell’s broadside this week was also informed by the new law that went into effect on Jan. 1 that allows Texans to openly carry weapons, including in houses of worship, unless expressly forbidden.
The state’s Catholic bishops, as well as many other religious leaders, objected to the law and have said worshippers cannot carry arms into church. Farrell said the statute is evidence of what he provocatively called a “cowboy mentality.”
“It is difficult to see how this new law allowing persons with concealed handgun licenses … to openly carry firearms can accomplish anything other than cause people to feel threatened and intimidated.”

Are there any people of faith in Texas — any "cowboy mentality" folks — willing to offer a different perspective? Not in the RNS story.

For much more balanced coverage of the issue, check out Houston Chronicle religion writer Allan Turner's recent story:

Turner's lede:

More than a week after the state's open carry law went into effect, religious leaders in Houston are still deciding if openly displayed handguns - recently legalized in Texas - will be welcome in their Sunday-morning pews.
With memories of last summer's deadly shooting spree at a black Charleston, S.C., church still fresh, religious leaders are split on whether the overt presence of armed parishioners would enhance or impair worshippers' safety. While many area congregations autonomously will make the decision to ban or accept open carry, at least two major denominations have issued recommendations to member churches.

And unlike RNS, the Chronicle Godbeat pro quotes a supporter of open carry:

"This might sound crazy," said the Rev. Evan McClanahan, pastor of First Evangelical Lutheran Church, "but sometimes to love thy neighbor might include protecting them in a pinch."
An outspoken "supporter of the Second Amendment," McClanahan said he does not oppose worshippers openly carrying firearms in his church.
"I'm not pretending to speak for everyone in my congregation," said McClanahan, "but my basic feeling is that criminals commit crime. Criminals have weapons. It wouldn't bother me at all if church members had open carry. We don't worship guns, don't like them per se. But it's a fallen world and guns are part of a fallen world."
He disagreed with the assertion that the presence of firearms might detract from the worship experience.
"That seems to presuppose that one needs to get into some kind of proper emotional state," he said. "I don't have that view. Worship is where we receive what God gives in his word and sacrament. It's something we honor. It's something that is right and proper to do, emotions be damned.
"Let me put it this way. At least one of my members carries a concealed firearm. It's never once affected my worship life. Other members know the same. They've never come to me with any problems."

Kudos to Turner for producing a well-rounded news story instead of a one-sided editorial.

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