God and guns

God, guns and theology: In lengthy trend piece, why not ask if Jesus would pack heat?

God, guns and theology: In lengthy trend piece, why not ask if Jesus would pack heat?

“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.

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'It Is Well With My Soul': Grieving Santa Fe, Texas, sings, prays and seeks answers after school shooting

'It Is Well With My Soul': Grieving Santa Fe, Texas, sings, prays and seeks answers after school shooting

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

— "It Is Well With My Soul," one of the hymns sung at Arcadia First Baptist Church of Santa Fe, Texas, on Sunday

• • •

Two days after the nation's latest school shooting claimed 10 lives, residents gathered for worship Sunday — and reporters, not to mention Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, were there.

Given the location of the shooting, that's no surprise: Grief-stricken Santa Fe, Texas, is a "deeply religious community," as NPR described it. 

The people of the small town south of Houston "turned where they always do when they are troubled: their faith," the Dallas Morning News reported on its front page today.

Already today, tmatt delved into news coverage of the Greek Orthodox heritage of the 17-year-old gunman, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who characterized himself on Facebook as an atheist.

But beyond the religious beliefs — or lack thereof — of the shooter, religion is a crucial angle of the story in Santa Fe. Here's why: It's impossible to understood that community or its response to this heart-wrenching tragedy without considering residents' faith in God. 

Given that, the New York Times deserves kudos for emphasizing the faith angle even before Sunday rolled around.

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Bring your Bible to church? Check. Bring your gun? Yes, say some leaders after Sutherland Springs

Bring your Bible to church? Check. Bring your gun? Yes, say some leaders after Sutherland Springs

A week ago, I highlighted the first wave of church security stories that followed the Sutherland Springs massacre. Our own Terry Mattingly tackled the issue again later in the week.

My original post prompted an interesting comment from reader Steve Weatherbe, who complained, "No story yet has referred to the 2007 shooting at a Colorado church, where 5 were killed in the parking lot but when the gunman entered the church itself he was shot by a church member and volunteer security person who was a police officer too."

Religion News Service national reporter Emily McFarlan Miller must have read Weatherbe's mind. Or great minds think alike. Or pick your own cliché ... 

But just about the time Weatherbe made his comment, RNS published a piece by Miller focusing heavily on the Colorado shooting. (Full disclosure: I write occasional freelance stories for RNS.)

The lede on Miller's story:

(RNS) — In 2007, the unthinkable happened at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
A gunman opened fire outside the church, just as its midday service had dismissed. His bullets hit several members of the same family as they left, wounding David Works and killing his two teenage daughters, Rachel and Stephanie.
More than 600 people were on the church campus when Matthew Murray — a 24-year-old man armed with an assault rifle, two pistols and enough ammunition to kill 100 people — made his way inside the building, church pastor Brady Boyd remembered.
“I know there’s a great theological debate about what Jesus would do,” he told RNS. “I just know firsthand for me, on the day the shooting happened on our campus, we lost two very good, sweet, young teenage girls, and that was awful and horrific, but we could have very well lost 100 people that day.”
Boyd believes that didn’t happen because Murray ran into Jeanne Assam, a former police officer and member of the church security team who was legally carrying a pistol. Assam returned fire, ending the attack that had started 12 hours earlier, when the gunman had shot and killed several others at a nearby mission center.

The weekend drew more major coverage of God and guns from two of the nation's leading newspapers — the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Both papers published stories (with Godbeat pros Laurie Goodstein of the Times and Ian Lovett of the Journal as the lead writers) on churches that see a need for armed protection in the wake of the 26 deaths at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

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After #TexasChurchMassacre, it's an obvious must-cover story — and major news orgs are doing so

After #TexasChurchMassacre, it's an obvious must-cover story — and major news orgs are doing so

"How can we be safe?" asked a minister I interviewed after Sunday's mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

With the death toll at 26, countless church leaders — all eager to protect their flocks — are posing the same question.

Again.

Just six weeks ago, a separate mass shooting at a church — this one at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn. — raised the church security issue, as I pointed out in a GetReligion post:

Sadly, in America in 2017, a mass shooting in which one person dies is not going to dominate the news cycle for long. Such tragedies have become too common. Even then, I noticed a national Associated Press piece just today on houses of worship addressing security in the wake of the Tennessee shooting.

Two years ago, church security made a bunch of headlines after nine people were killed at a Wednesday night Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. I remember writing a front-page story for The Christian Chronicle with the headline "God, guns and keeping churches safe."

And no, the issue of church safety didn't start with Emanuel. 

Sadly, here we go again.

Given the magnitude of Sunday's tragedy, church security is an obvious must-cover story for journalists across the nation. Already, some major news organizations are doing so, including Time magazine.

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Gospel of guns falls short: Something's missing in paper's exploration of faith, family and firearms

Gospel of guns falls short: Something's missing in paper's exploration of faith, family and firearms

"Faith, family, firearms drive Georgia's devotion to Second Amendment," says the headline on an Atlanta Journal-Constitution piece tied to last week's mass shooting in Las Vegas.

What we have here is a case where I really wish the story had lived up to the headline.

Unfortunately, guns — not God — are the star of this report.

To some extent, maybe that's to be expected. On the other hand, I had hoped that the Journal-Constitution would delve — really delve — into the religion angle. Alas, faith makes just a few cameo appearances in this story focused more on economics than spirituality.

Up high, the article hints at a deeper religion angle than the paper chooses to explore:

An outsize American flag flies above the factory where Daniel Defense makes some of the world’s highest-priced assault rifles.
At NASCAR races, the No. 3 car flashes the Daniel Defense logo.
And when the company’s founder talks about his values, he distills them to three potent words: faith, family, firearms.
Daniel Defense, based in Bryan County, 25 miles northwest of Savannah, is a Georgia success story, one that embodies a culture that often conflates patriotism, religion, regional pride and devotion to the Second Amendment.
But the company, and the culture, came under scrutiny last week after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Late Sunday night in Las Vegas, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire on an outdoor music festival from his 32nd-story hotel suite, killing 58 people and wounding nearly 500 before taking his own life. Authorities reportedly found about 20 guns in the hotel suite – including at least four military-style rifles manufactured by Daniel Defense. The rifles appeared prominently in crime-scene photographs by the Las Vegas police.
“Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of the Las Vegas incident,” the company said Monday on its Facebook page, its only public statement on the shooting. Company executives did not respond to telephone messages and emails requesting an interview.

So what is the role of faith that the company's founder distills?

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Sticking to his guns: Episcopal priest denounces weapons, with Los Angeles Times' help

Sticking to his guns: Episcopal priest denounces weapons, with Los Angeles Times' help

An Episcopal priest in Oregon inserted himself into a gun controversy -- actually, created one -- and then he acted shocked, shocked at the public blowback.

So did the Los Angeles Times, in an article that could have been written by public-relations professionals working for anti-gun advocates.

Rather than lengthen this intro, let's just load up and chamber the first excerpt:

The Rev. Jeremy Lucas brought an olive branch to a gun fight recently, hoping for a mellow outcome. It began when he won a semi-automatic rifle in a local raffle, then revealed his plan to destroy it and was mostly congratulated for his stand.
But the 44-year-old Episcopal priest’s token attempt to take another gun off the streets did little to keep the peace. In response to his gesture, Lucas got threats and demands for his arrest.
"I’ve come to learn a lot about the nature of social media," Lucas said last week of some of the comments about his one-man, one-gun protest. "The rabid gun activists come out swinging, trying to close down any meaningful conversation and attempting to intimidate people into silence."

But the article has large silences of its own, including many primary sources and a religious "ghost."

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Dare ya! Just try to imagine a Texas 'way of life' that doesn't include a lot of religious stuff

Dare ya! Just try to imagine a Texas 'way of life' that doesn't include a lot of religious stuff

Believe it or not, candidate Barack Obama was not talking about Texas when he was taped explaining the whole red-zip-codes God, guns and gays puzzle to the elite audience at a San Francisco fundraiser back in 2008.

Think back. You may recall that he was talking about the culture of small towns and working-class people in Pennsylvania and across the heartland Midwest.

Now what was the guts of that infamous quote

... It's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them. ...

Wow. Times sure have changed.

It's good to see that all of those cultural warfare issues have faded into the background, far from the headlines. Especially in places like Texas.

Oh wait. There is this rather epic headline at The Washington Post right now:

‘Straight into the paper shredder:’ Texans the first to decry Obama’s schools directive about transgender bathrooms

OK, journalists, make that God, guns, gays and gender (as in clinging to biologically based concepts of gender).

Now, this latest lighting strike of executive privilege had not come down from on high when we record this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in). But we did talk about the great and very unique state of Texas and that recent attempt at The New York Times to explain Texas to the rest of America.

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This surprising thing happens when AP quotes real people on guns in churches

This surprising thing happens when AP quotes real people on guns in churches

In a 650-word news story, one doesn't expect a deep exploration of theological questions associated with "God and guns."

The Associated Press' report on Mississippi's new Church Protection Act certainly doesn't provide one.

But on the positive side, I was pleasantly surprised by what could have been a routine bill-signing story:

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A holstered gun sat on top of a Bible on Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant's desk Friday when he signed a law allowing guns in churches, which he said would help protect worshippers from potential attackers.
The Church Protection Act allows places of worship to designate members to undergo firearms training so they can provide armed security for their congregations. It specifies that those designated can carry guns into church buildings and gives them legal protections.
The law also loosens gun permit requirements by allowing people to carry holstered weapons without a permit, making Mississippi the ninth state with such a law, said NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter.
The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police says that part of the bill dismantles the state's licensing system and makes it harder to check if someone with a gun is a violent criminal. Other opponents say it endangers people by putting more guns in untrained hands.

Yes, that inverted-pyramid lede qualifies as pretty conventional.

But after that, the story improves.

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Rocky Top, you'll always be good for a great debate on the Bible's place in Tennessee

Rocky Top, you'll always be good for a great debate on the Bible's place in Tennessee

They're at it again in the Volunteer State.

A year ago, we noted Tennessee lawmakers' debate over whether to make the Holy Bible the official state book.

In that 2015 post, I suggested:

If a reporter just listens to both sides and reports what they say, this is one of those stories that almost writes itself — and, in the process, makes for pretty entertaining reading.

Welp.

I'm not so sure that journalists with national media outlets such as The Associated Press and the Washington Post got that memo. Take the AP coverage, for example. Mark Hemingway — former GetReligionista, senior writer for the Weekly Standard and, most importantly, husband of Mollie — passed along the wire service's report.

The subject line on Hemingway's email:

The snark in this lede ...

Uh huh:

Having already made a .50-caliber sniper gun the official state rifle, Tennessee lawmakers on Monday gave final approval to making the Holy Bible the state's official book.

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