Bring your swords, and guns, to church

Back in my high school days, my family attended a Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas. Most every Sunday, our minister made the same request before he preached.

"Hold up your swords!” he’d say, and we’d all raise our Bibles to show that we brought them.

I don't recall him ever asking us to hold up our guns. Of course, that was years before Texas passed a law allowing the carrying of concealed handguns.

In the days since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, we've seen a barrage of news stories and social media posts on the gun control issue.

ReligionLink produced a helpful primer on "God and gun control," with background articles and expert source suggestions for reporters covering the faith-based response to the Connecticut tragedy.

A Religion News Service headline caught my attention today:

Churches under fire for using gun classes as outreach

When I clicked the link, I noticed that the story had an Oklahoma dateline. Since that's my home state, my interest was piqued even more.

Here's the top of the story:

PRYOR CREEK, Okla. — Pryor Creek, Okla., is gun country.

Located midway between Tulsa and Siloam Springs, Ark., the town of approximately 8,500 sits in the heart of Oklahoma’s greenbelt. Hunting and fishing are simply part of everyday life in Pryor, as it is known to locals.

Derek Melton is the assistant chief of police in Pryor, as well as senior pastor at Pryor Creek Community Church, a congregation he describes as Baptist, but not Southern Baptist.

Immediately, two things struck me about this story. First, the lede seemed to lack condescension or outrage. That's not always the case when the national media report on gun-toting folks in the sticks. Second, the writer (or his editor) felt compelled to identify the nature of the church. How many journalists would have put a period after "Pryor Creek Community Church" and left it at that?

Instead, RNS elaborated on the church's denominational affiliation (or more precisely, its lack thereof) even before getting to the nut graf:

“We follow the 1833 Baptist Confession,” Melton said. “We are an historically evangelical church.”

The confession is better known as the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833, and there are very few churches around the country that subscribe to it. They answer to no denominational headquarters, no bishop, no overarching authority, except the Holy Spirit as mediated through the congregation.

Pryor Creek Community Church is also one of a few dozen churches around the country that are offering concealed carry certification classes as a way to reach out to non-Christians and attract new members. Melton sees no conflict between being a Christian and possessing weapons.

The story runs only 660 words but gives both gun proponents and critics ample space to express their points of view.

Even better, the critic is allowed to present a nuanced perspective. In other words, his position isn't totally black or white. There's a little gray, just like in real life:

Cizik, who was a top official at the National Association of Evangelicals before leaving it and helping form his new group, said he is concerned about churches using weapons training as a means to reach non-Christians.

“I grew up in gun country,” Cizik said. “I am not intrinsically anti-Second Amendment; however, this seems to be an ethically suspect message. The gospel should be’Put your faith in Christ.’ This seems to be’Put your faith in Glock.’”

Cizik said he believes it’s difficult to make a hard and fast judgment about the method, though. He believes gun ownership and even concealed carry permits are matters of personal judgment.

“The church has always used a variety of methods for drawing people in,” he said. “However, I do think that there are plenty of organizations more suitable that could be doing the training.”

For the sake of full disclosure, I recognized the name of the writer whose byline appeared atop this story. I have known Greg Horton for more than a decade. When I served as religion editor for The Oklahoman, he frequently e-mailed me with his critique — positive and negative — of the Saturday religion section and other religion stories that I wrote.

I think I'd still give the church gun story a positive critique even if I didn't know the writer.

But by all means, GetReligion readers, check it out and weigh in with your journalism-related comments.

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