A few thoughts on the open carry article that came out in the Houston Chronicle today, January 11, 2016.
First, when Mr. Turner, who is a fine reporter, called, I had never considered the question or discussed it with our council. I offered, as the article indicates, my personal feelings on the matter and was speaking for no one in the congregation. I know that several people in our congregation would prefer not to have weapons of any kind openly displayed. In truth, neither would I. But it’s a matter of what I can personally tolerate, and that is how I answered the question.
Second, I have talked to others since then, and I our church does not have a policy on this matter, nor do we wish to become the face of churches that advocate open carry. Like I said, we have not discussed it as a congregation or even thought about it until last week. Open carry is the law of the land, and we will let it stand, and we will address it on a case-by-case basis. Our congregation hosting a gun show is not our goal. We offer worship to our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit on Sunday morning and invite others who are looking to do the same, not to be the center of attention for this cause. Our cause is Christ and him alone! I guess I’m the only pastor who wasn’t opposed to it, so I got quoted, but it is not as though we are looking to be the face of open carry churches.
Third, I specifically asked that our congregation not be photographed and the Chronicle did not respect my request. A photographer for the Chronicle, at the conclusion of our service camped out on the street and took photographs of our parishioners leaving their worship service. I suppose that is public property and they have the right to do that, but it was against my request. I realized who it was that was taking pictures too late and by the time I could have said anything, they left. (Sometimes, photographers and students do take pictures of the church just because they like church architecture, etc., and I thought that may be who was taking photographs.) The Chronicle asked me if I would allow photography and I said no. They took the pictures anyway.
Fourth, while I may personally not be bothered by firearms, the truth is that if my parishioners are or will be, I would speak to someone about their firearm if they ascribe to open carry. As a Christian community, we all have to give and take. If someone insisted on having an open carry weapon and it continued to make other members feel uncomfortable, I would advocate for those members who were uncomfortable.
Fifth, this is an issue because we have seen a strange spate of public shootings at schools, workplaces and yes, churches. The truth is that we hear about these stories and they concern us, and the Open Carry law is a response to people feeling unsafe, and the corresponding belief that those who wish to do ill will do so anyway and we may as well have those who can do good armed. Those are my personal beliefs and that is what I shared.
Sixth, my comments were based on what I, personally, see as a response to gun violence, which is to post signs declaring this space or that space as a “gun free zone”. I think such signs may simply invite unresisted violence, and I was reacting to what I believe is a rather foolish policy. (Because criminals don’t care what signs say.) And unlike the large congregations quoted in the article who I am sure have armed security as a substantial part of their budget, we are a small congregation. We do not have armed security. And I certainly was not going to put our ushers and greeters in a position to ask someone to leave the building because they (legally) were in possession of a firearm.
Seventh, my members, especially those photographed, are probably very surprised that we have become the face of open carry churches. I have never preached about the second amendment, gun control or politics at all from the pulpit. I did not advocate for Open Carry; I hardly knew it had become law. The message of my preaching and teaching is the Gospel of God in Christ, and I believe if you asked my parishioners, they would agree with that completely. This has not been a conversation we have had as a congregation, and I did indicate that to the Chronicle. Therefore, it is not exactly correct to say that we “allow” members to open carry. None of our members ever have, so it has never come up. I’ll only say it is the law of the land and we will handle it on a case-by-case basis with pastoral discretion.
To conclude, I offered my thoughts, and I did not speak for the congregation. I did not ask to be the face of Open Carry, and I asked not to be photographed. We have never dealt with the question because no one in our congregation openly carries a weapon, and we have never discussed the law. Our focus – and all of our ministries and all of my time reflects this – is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our chief desire is for the world to know this good news.