This week’s column is offered as a public service to readers who intend to pack your pistol to next week’s worship service at the mosque, synagogue or church. Leave your firearms at home, in the gun rack of the pickup truck or check them at the door with the ushers. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 20, 2012, upheld a 2010 Georgia law forbidding firearms in the Lord’s house. I don’t know whether the law allows one to carry a rifle to a church sponsored hayride or bring a shotgun into a one of those wedding ceremonies that take place because of certain unplanned conditions, but at least houses of worship must legally remain free of firearms.
This decision will not be universally welcomed, of course. In fact, the lawsuit challenging the legality of the law was filed by The Reverend Jonathon Wilkins, pastor of Baptist Tabernacle in Thomaston, in cooperation with GeorgiaCarry.org. These groups unsuccessfully argued that citizens have the right to carry registered firearms into places of worship. The Baptist Tabernacle had sued to allow its ushers and greeters to be armed, just in case something horrible happens in Upson County, GA, hardly a locale with a history of violent crime.
Having been in a few tense board meetings over the decades I, for one, am grateful that the court ruled against these souls who — by a huge leap of illogic — cited Jesus’ obscure advice (Luke 22:36) about purchasing a sword as commanding the followers of Jesus to purchase guns and carry them to church. That’s a bizarre line of reasoning, to be sure; one might suggest that were we to take Jesus literally we would each purchase not a gun, but a sword, which, as far as I know, may still be legal to carry to church.
I’m not sure why the state of Georgia chose to protect the religious community from itself, but I’m glad they did it. Along with nuclear facilities, prisons, state mental health facilities and court houses churches remain a gun-free zone. There are rifle ranges, plenty of good hunting property, and practically every other public place in Georgia where a person can legally carry a registered pistol. I don’t know whether it’s legal to bring brass knuckles, ninja stars or small switchblades into your house of worship, but guns, at least for the present, are illegal there.
It’s an interesting comment on our society when the courts must resolve what the religious community should know and practice for itself: that weapons are appropriate in many places and settings, but not in houses of worship where both the message and the lived-out weekly experience should be to model for the world a community that transcends the need for guns. When the Federal Appeals Court ruled against Rev. Wilkens, maybe he discovered that it’s easier to make a compelling case from the pulpit than before the bench.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.