By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
April 11, 2019
RALEIGH – Americans keenly remember that horrific night in 2015 when a gunman killed nine people during a prayer service at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In 2017, a murderous fiend parked his SUV in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas. He started firing in the parking lot, killing two persons. He then entered the church to methodically murder 24 more while they were holding a worship service.
In October of last year, a shooter entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and took the lives of 12 people.
Since that time, attitudes have changed about bringing guns to church. It used to be that wearing a gun was considered inappropriate attire for church, but not anymore. Religious centers are legitimately concerned about the safety of their congregations.
Today many churches across North Carolina have developed voluntary security teams who have concealed carry permits and are “packing heat.” By the time the parishioners of these houses of worship start with an opening prayer, the policies and plans of the security team are already working.
State law allows firearms in churches, unless the church prohibits them. But state law also forbids them in schools. So what happens when your church is meeting in a school building as many do across the state?
Rep. Rena Turner (R-Iredell) is seeking to address this issue in HB 110 – Protect Religious Meeting Places. Turner’s bill would authorize persons with a concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun, under certain conditions, on educational property that is both a school and a place of religious worship. The handgun, however, may only be possessed and taken on educational property outside of school operating hours.
After debate on the measure in the House Judiciary on Wednesday, Rep. Ted Davis, Chairman of the committee, asked if citizens from the public wanted to comment on the bill.
Rev. John L. Saxon, a Unitarian Universalist clergyman, from Hillsborough made his way to the microphone to speak. With a tone of sarcasm and animus toward the proposal, Saxon delivered what might be deemed a rebuke to lawmakers.
Saxon first told the committee that he wasn’t representing anyone but himself.
“Speaking first as a Minister, I just have to say that I don’t recall anywhere in the Gospels about Jesus ‘packing heat’ or his disciples ‘packing heat.’
Speaking as a former lawyer, I have to say that the questions that have been raised, and still with vague answers from staff…leave me with the impression that this bill is not ready for prime time. And I urge you not to pass this bill forward today.”
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said Saxon’s remarks about Christ and his disciples ‘packing heat’ were dead giveaways of a liberal or progressive position on guns and self-defense.
“He was, in those words, scorning lawmaker’s consideration of the bill, and suggesting the Christian faith prohibits self-defense by churches. I had not planned to speak on the bill. I was there only to monitor it,” said Creech, “but what he said bothered me. I felt that what he had just told the committee was dangerous and another Minister ought to counter it. So I also stood up to speak.”
Creech told the committee:
“I take just the opposite point of view than that of the Minister who was up here before. This is not about Jesus ‘packing heat.’ That has nothing to do with it. This is about churches that are vulnerable today. We’ve heard in the news about numerous churches, about religious bodies that have been under assault, attacked, and some folks even killed. This provides them a means by which they can be protected. We need a ‘carve out’ here for that kind of protection, and this kind of legislation provides it. I urge you to pass the bill.”
Saxon then caused a disturbance in the meeting. As Creech passed Saxon on his way back to his seat, Saxon said angrily and loudly to Creech: “I’m not surprised!” It was an apparent censure of Creech’s person, as well as his well-known and distinguished stand on theology, social issues, and politics.
The disturbance by Saxon was significant enough to precipitate the Sergeant at Arms demanding that he cease his protest. Quickly after that Saxon left the conference room.
Later that same day, Creech received an email from Saxon, reiterating his liberal condemnation of churches using guns in self-defense:
“I don’t read stories in the Gospel about Jesus and the disciples ‘packing heat.’ What I read is Jesus commanding Peter to put away his sword when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus and admonishing the disciples that ‘all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword’” (Matt. 26:52).
“I often find the hubris of liberal clergy exasperating. The violence that they do to Scripture indicates they know little about hermeneutics, the science of proper interpretation. And their conclusions can be dangerous,” responded Creech. “It’s not moral to remain silent when they champion such error.”
“It’s true the Gospel account in Luke 22 says Jesus rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of the High Priest’s servant, but that account shouldn’t be used as a pretext against self-defense. Jesus was actually concerned that his disciples didn’t do something that would hinder or stop his crucifixion for our sins. Moreover, he didn’t want his disciples initiating a military uprising against Rome. Our Lord didn’t want Peter to believe or the other disciples to attempt advancing the kingdom of God by force, which was what they were erroneously expecting the Messiah to do – to deliver the Jews from Roman occupation – not deliver them from their sins.”
“Look at this same account in Matthew’s Gospel, and you will see something very important. Jesus didn’t tell Peter to throw away his sword, but to keep it, because he said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its place.’ It was right for Peter to continue carrying a sword, but not to use it to prevent Christ’s arrest or crucifixion, and not to attempt advancing the kingdom of God by overthrowing the Roman government with a sword. That would only fail, and the disciples and anyone who joined them would perish by the sword.
“Hermeneutics teaches us that context is everything when seeking to interpret a passage. You can’t take what Jesus said to Peter and make a broad-sweeping and absolute command out of it against self-defense. Jesus also said, ‘Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.’ But if you take that verse and make it a broad-sweeping absolute for every situation, it’ll bankrupt you. It’ll bankrupt the church.
“There are many reasons which justify self-defense, and those reasons are supported by Scripture. I also suggest failing to oppose a violent and unjustified attack can often lead to more harm if it isn’t resisted.
“There is nothing sinful about church people ‘packing heat,’ especially when it is in the interest of protecting others. No one should be surprised at that.”
HB 110 has been calendared to be heard by the House Committee on Education K-12, on Tuesday, April 16th.