“God and guns” has been a frequent topic of news coverage — and GetReligion commentary — in recent years.
It’s a subject that tends to lend itself to compelling sound bites.
“Jesus loves me and my guns,” said a speaker at last year’s National Rifle Association prayer breakfast, which I covered for the Washington Post.
From past GetReligion posts, other quotes — from a variety of perspectives — that have stood out to me include:
• “Jesus is not a member of the NRA.”
• “All of us here are not going to turn the other cheek while you shoot us.”
• “You can fight by everyone throwing a Bible at them, and I mean that in a very respectful way because I am a Bible-fearing person.”
• “I think people in the South have a certain familiarity with guns and are also strong in their religious beliefs. But we don’t always think about the relationship between them.”
• “It is very common for Christians to simply assume that they live in Mayberry, trusting that because they know the Lord Jesus, everything will always be fine and nothing bad can happen to them and their families.”
I bring up this subject because of an in-depth NBC News story this week with the headline “Guns and God: Growing number of churches want armed security.” There’s a lot to like about NBC’s report. At the same time, its lack of attention to theology disappointed me.
This is the question I wish NBC had pursued even just a little: Would Jesus pack heat?
More on that in a moment. But first, let’s check out the compelling opening paragraphs:
When Chris Crews prepares for church on Sunday mornings, he follows a routine. He rises early. He puts on his church clothes, a button-down shirt paired with blue jeans or khakis. Then, before leaving the house with his wife and two children, he straps a firearm — a 9 mm or a .45 — to his right hip.
“I don’t leave home without a gun,” Crews said. “It’s kind of like the old American Express card ads: I just won’t leave home without it.”
Crews, 47, is part of the security team at Ava Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church of 300 members in Ava, Missouri. The church has no paid security guards. Instead, it counts on a team of 18 church members to keep fellow congregants safe. None of the security team members are paid and all carry handguns.
That’s good stuff.
Keep reading, and NBC offers important context:
Carl Chinn, founder of the Faith Based Security Network, a nonprofit that offers safety guidance to faith communities, said he is aware of more than 1,000 volunteer-run security teams in houses of worship in the U.S. Two hundred of them, in 34 states, have registered with his network in the past 11 months. The majority have armed members.
Many of the teams were formed in direct response to deadly attacks at houses of worship, like the 2015 shooting at an Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed nine; the 2017 shooting at the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in Texas that killed 26, including an unborn child; and the October shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 12.
From a security and legality standpoint, the story does an excellent job of providing crucial information.
But there seems to be a holy ghost when it comes to explaining why houses of worship do — or don’t — allow weapons in their sanctuaries.
This paragraph, for example, seems to cry out for elaboration on exactly what was said:
Gun control advocates have argued against weapons in houses of worship on the grounds that armed volunteers can cause confusion for law enforcement responding to reports of a shooting. And then there are the unintentional shootings that go along with guns, such as the man who accidentally shot himself and his wife in a Tennessee church in 2017 during a conversation about church shootings.
Yes, there are links where readers can do more research on their own. But why not quote some of the religious material in the story itself?
Not until the final paragraph of the story — when quoting Sutherland Springs pastor Frank Pomeroy — does NBC hint at a theological statement:
"There's no scripture that shows me that we need to keep weapons out of the church,” Pomeroy said. “There is scripture that says we are supposed to protect the flock.”
Would Jesus pack heat?
No, the answer to that question is not the entire story. But it should be at least a part of it. Right?