Any of you diehards out there who are still reading my articles because I wrote them (hi Mom!) may know that this isn’t the first time I’ve written about guns at church. Yet I feel like it is a topic worth exploring on a regular basis. So I’m exploring it again.
A happy story to get us started. This is my go-to church/gun anecdote, and it illustrates all of the hope I have for humanity. Once, a few years back, I was in the local Walmart, admiring their ammo selection. This happened long ago, back when there was more rimfire rounds in a single Walmart than there were emails that Hilary deleted. And who should I bump into but an old man I knew from church. “Knew” is a relative term (And I don’t mean it in the biblical sense). I knew who he was because I saw him at church every Sunday. And any other time I went to church. He was always there, at the door, standing tall while everyone else sat for worship. To protect his fragile anonymity, I’ll call him Wally.
When Wally saw me there in the ammo isle, he ambled up and struck up a conversation. We talked Springfields, and he whipped out his XD, right there in Sporting Goods, and we both fawned over the gun. Turns out Wally had a nice collection of defensive firearms, and exercised them regularly. After about an hour of gun talk, we both got on with the shopping. That was the last real conversation I had with Wally, though we regularly spoke. Every Sunday, at some random point during the service, I’d happen to catch his eye. Wally would wink and pat his pocket, the one with the XD in it (I came to recognize the print of the holster). And I knew what he was saying. He was watching over his flock.
If you’re still with me after this brief narrative detour, I’ll ask this: do you carry at church? Here in Arkansas, where I live now, churches can set their own rules. Even private schools associated with churches can establish rules for who can and who can’t carry. As I’m the Editor here at GunsAmerica, and a staunch proponent of everyday carry, you might guess how I feel on the matter. I’d carry everywhere, if I could. I carry at home. I carry when I’m on the road. I carry where carry is legal. And where it is not, I often find myself improvising. I carry what I can. A knife. A stout pen. Steel-toed boots. My wits.
For the sake of transparency, I’ll share a bit about my religious upbringing. I was raised in protestant churches–Presbyterian and Methodist, mostly. Most of my mother’s family is Baptist, or evangelical. My father’s side was loosely Episcopalian, and I’m married to a devout Catholic (and have been attending masses regularly now for close to 20 years). I’m going to leave my scriptural interpretations at the door and talk about practicalities. I can quote my way out of most scriptural arguments–but I also understand what Tom Waits means in “Misery is the River of the World” when he sings “The Devil knows the Bible like the back of his hand.”
For me, it goes well beyond scriptural teachings on violence. The issue itself is deeply theological. It cuts to the core of my beliefs. See, I’m a doubter. I doubt. Everything. I could easily construct an argument that says New Testament teachings on pacifism demand that I stand idly by. I could turn the other cheek until I have no more cheeks to turn. Then doubt creeps in and says what if I was placed here to defend someone else? It is heady. And it can inflate your ego in unhealthy ways to imagine that you’re the right hand of the Lord.
I’ve heard well-meaning Christians argue that there should be no guns in church because Jesus preached nonviolence, and peace. Still, some of these same upstanding Christians own guns, and are prepared to defend themselves outside of church. They get prickly when I suggest that such a stance amounts to abject hypocrisy. If you believe in total pacifism, I’ll support and defend your beliefs, but you have to carry those beliefs with you in the world. You can’t check your faith (or your gun, I’d argue) at the church door.
I would however like to add another element to the conversation. Below is the full text of a letter sent by Rev. Edward Fride to his parishioners at Christ the King Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan (h/t TTAG).
The full text of the letter is copied here. It is a beast. Something tells me this man can deliver one helluva sermon. He certainly got the wind in his sails on this topic. But I’d suggest that you kick back and read the whole thing.
Unfortunately for the priest in question, the one who’s approach to this question seems–to me at least–very well considered, he answers to the Bishop. After his letter garnered media attention, the Bishop shut him down. That quote is below, too.
The Letter from Fr. Fride
“We’re Not In Mayberry Anymore, Toto!
I have received some feedback from two events recently, one, the announcement I made at the 4:30 Mass on Palm Sunday concerning the CPL (Concealed Pistol License) class and some description of local threats, and the other, concerning the offering of a CPL class at the parish, co-sponsored by the parish. I’d like to respond to some concerns in the context of the broader issue of personal safety and reasonable protection in relation to the parish’s role.
Are We Still in Mayberry?
For those of you who do not get the allusion (the blessed ‘young’ among us), it is a bad mix of two entertainment references.
Mayberry was a fictitious, idyllic rural American city in which the public safety needs were met by a kind-hearted sheriff and a clueless but well-intentioned deputy. The only ‘threat’ to public safety was a bumbling, genial ne’er-do-well who was so accustomed to staying in jail that he had his own cell, which was never locked. The show, The Andy Griffith Show, was so popular that it had two spin offs, Mayberry RFD and Gomer Pyle, USMC. It was popular because it showed a kind of life that everybody wished were true, no threats, everything is fine, everybody’s perfectly safe, etc. There is no crisis that cannot be solved by hugs and Aunt Bea’s cooking. The “Toto” reference is to a famous line from The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy, who comes from a rural Kansas version of Mayberry, but suddenly finds herself in a dangerous environment of witches, deadly flying monkeys, (I still have nightmares about those wretched and heinous beasts!) and real threats to her life. She begins to comprehend this and says to her cute dog: “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!” 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. Those who have followed the Lord Jesus for more than 20 minutes, however, have often experienced first-hand that the reality of living in a fallen universe can be very different. How to balance faith, reality, prudence, and trust is one of those critical questions that we struggle with all our lives. Pretending we are in Mayberry, while we are clearly not, can have very negative consequences for ourselves and those we love, especially those we have a responsibility to protect. If we are not in Mayberry, is there a real threat?
Let’s be specific about what we are talking about: for our purposes, a threat is an awareness of a condition that could result in clear and present danger to our lives or our property. What is that condition? In terms of our personal safety, and the safety of our homes, the situation is that approximately 50 years ago or so, the ratio of police to bad guys, i.e. criminals in the traditional sense, was more or less sufficient to reasonably control crime. However, in more recent years two regrettable factors have taken place. First, the amount of crime has substantially grown; second, due to budget cuts, there has been a significant reduction in the availability of an armed police response. This situation was highlighted recently by the chief of police of the City of Detroit who publically encouraged the law-abiding citizens of Detroit to arm themselves for their protection and the protection of their homes. He went so far as to say: “Good Americans with CPLs (Concealed Pistol Licenses) translates into crime reduction.” His statement included the idea that the police could no longer adequately protect the citizens of Detroit and it was therefore their responsibility to take seriously their obligation to assist in their own protection and the protection of those they love. This has actually been good for Detroit, and ironically bad for us, or for those who live in the suburbs. During the CPL class last Saturday at Christ the King, a police officer from a suburb of Detroit who was conducting part of the class pointed out that because more Detroiters are protecting themselves, more of the criminals are now targeting the suburbs, because most of the suburbs consider themselves distant or immune from the threat. But in point of fact, as the officer pointed out, the threat is actually growing there. It is not just in the big cities either. The police chief of Williamston where Fr. Mark serves told him recently that he encouraged people to get CPL’s because if they wanted to be safe, it was necessary (and Williamston is a whole lot closer to Mayberry than the Ann Arbor/Ypsi area). That same officer from the CPL class personally thanked me for having the parish do this class and expressed a hope that more would follow suit, because having law abiding citizens armed makes their job as police so much better. When the police are expressing the fact that they cannot now sufficiently cover the areas assigned to them and are explicitly encouraging people to arm themselves and carry, who is the expert in the field of our protection that we should listen to more than them? Who knows more about the lack of safety than the ones who are formally tasked to attempt to provide it? Prudence requires taking their advice seriously. How close to home is this? A few weeks ago some of our folks had their next door neighbor killed in a robbery. It doesn’t get much closer than that.
I was curious about the local church situation so I called some of the local congregations to see what their approach was to folks having weapons. At Knox Presbyterian, which has a history of having their parking lot robbed by the same gang that had targeted us and St. Joe’s Dexter, they had no policy and told me they would have to have a committee to discuss it and I should get back to them in a few months. I pointed out that I had walked into the building, through unlocked doors, during a time when the building was filled with Christ the King kids and others doing the homeschool co-op. I found their lack of security or even awareness of its need distressing at best. On the other hand, when I talked to several Protestant ministers in Ypsilanti, they told me that they all regularly carry (i.e. carry concealed pistols) and that especially during their services, they have armed uniform guards present. They take the threat to their folks and their worshipping congregation seriously. They told me that they felt that they had a duty to acknowledge the reality of the threat and to take appropriate action for their people’s safety.
Others have made similar observations, for example, the movie theaters. In the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting, you may have noticed that Rave Cinema started having armed guards present at their Friday and Saturday nights’ shows. They were very visibly present, and armed. It brought about a sense of security, and actually helped to establish that security. However, Rave was sold and according to theater employees, the new company didn’t want to foot the bill for security and now there are toy cops present, who in an actual threat would be of as much use as screen doors on a sub. What about a police response to a theater threat? In the Aurora situation, it could not have been more ideal, the police where already on site handling the traffic for the Batman opening. They were at the theater where the shooting was taking place in 90 seconds. A 90 second response time would seem to be great, right? In those 90 seconds the shooter had shot 82 people, killing 12. Ninety seconds is an eternity. The shooter drove by two other theaters which allowed patrons to carry firearms and went to the Aurora theater which didn’t allow people to carry.”No firearms allowed” turns out to be crazy-speak for “target rich environment.” The shooter knew he would have the whole place to himself, and he did, for as long as it took to shoot 82 people. The toll would have been much higher but his primary gun malfunctioned.
What about our schools? The fact that two active shooters got within yards of Father Gabriel Richard before they were taken down by SWAT demonstrates that the threat is real. This druggie couple from Detroit stole a car and it broke down at Plymouth and Dixboro. They went through the woods and had almost reached the high school when they were stopped. Because it was a Mass day, the doors were open so the parents could get in to attend the Mass. There is zero security at the high school. Had the shooters got in, we would have had our own Columbine. But what if their car had broken down on Plymouth and Earhart instead? They would have been coming through the woods into our parish center backyard on a day when the parish center was full of kids. What then? I recently participated in ALICE training with faculty from FGR, SSA, and HVCS. It is training faculty and administration to respond to an active shooter on their site. The protocol has been radically changed from ‘basically duck and cover’ to ‘rush the shooter.’ The ‘duck and cover’ approach turned out to be disastrous, since during the Virginia Tech shooting the shooter just went from room to room shooting students. Now faculty is being taught that rushing the shooter will result in saving lives. In fact, the superintendent of one school district advised all the kids in their schools to bring a canned good from home to keep at their desk so they could throw it at a shooter if one came to their classroom. That catastrophic morning, the principals at Columbine and Sandy Hook probably thought they had done everything prudent they could to protect their kids, and ended up with schools full of dead kids. I bet they go to bed most nights wondering about what more they should have done. One response other people made was that in the area around the Sandy Hook school, CPL applications went up 300%.
That the threat is real we are hearing loud and clear from our police and their input to us is to be protected, ourselves and our families. They are openly supportive of CPL’s and doing what is necessary to adequately protect our families and our homes.
One comment made after I made the announcement at the Palm Sunday 4:30 Mass was that the announcement caused fear in some. Let’s analyze that for a moment. Fear is a normal response to a perceived threat condition. Our emotions, though distorted by the Fall, were, in part, given to us to assist in making decisions under certain conditions. For example, a significant experience of fear puts the body into ‘fight or flight’; a specific physiological response that prepares us to defend ourselves against a significant perceived threat, either by fighting or escaping. The emotion of fear also communicates, in this situation, two fundamental realities: a threat is present (or is being described as present) and we are not equipped to deal with that threat. It demonstrates the second in that our normal experience is that when we are faced by a threat we know we can handle, we don’t experience fear, or at least we do not experience it at the same level. When I get into the sparring ring with a hundred pound yellow belt, there is no fear—there is a threat but it can easily be handled. If at the last minute Chuck Norris jumped into the ring and took his place, the fear would be very real! If most of us were placed in a combat situation, the fear would be very real, so real as to almost be paralyzing; if some Team Six Navy SEALs were placed in the same situation, there would be great focus and concentration, but little fear. So, when we hear about the threats enumerated above, what is our response? If it is fear because we perceive that both the threat is real and that we are unprepared, then we need to have a better response.
The Responses to the Threat
There are a few different responses that can be made to this, most problematic but one highly useful. On the problematic side, number one is ostrich syndrome—bury your head in the sand, pretending that the threat isn’t there—if you can’t see it, it can’t see you. Good luck with that. What that approach ends up with is just a lot of dead ostriches. The police have made it clear that the threat is real, they have given specific advice as to how to deal more effectively with that threat. Ignoring their professional advice is problematic at best.
A variant on that, and one that is likely much more prevalent here is ‘I’m not worried, I’m a Christian, God will protect me.’ This is a Christian variant on ‘Mayberry syndrome’ Sounds pious, even Biblical, but is it true? The reductio ad absurdum of that argument is fairly simple: this argument requires us to believe that none of the kids killed at Columbine, or Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or the adults at Aurora were Christians. We clearly know otherwise. There was in the past a certain kind of ‘magical’ thinking in some communities that because we were so special, so faithful, so charismatic, so whatever, that nothing bad could ever happen to us, to our marriages, to our kids, etc. History has demonstrated the radical insufficiency of that perspective.
It is the case, of course, that the Lord Jesus can intervene to protect us. I have personally experienced the wonderful combination of word of knowledge and release of the charismatic power gifts that have literally saved my life in several situations. However, not to be too blunt about it, but I would bet that there are not more than a handful of people in the parish that are currently operating in the charismatic gifts at that level so that they could utilize them in an attack situation for the defense of their family. Repeated pleas to folks to take our advanced courses and learn more about the power of the Spirit have not generally been well-heeded. Perhaps this new reason to do so (which in fact was always part of my pushing those classes) may get better attendance in the future. But I would also point out, that notwithstanding my capacity to use the gifts in serious threat situations, twice the Lord Jesus had me respond to imminent very dangerous personal threats using more prosaic means, e.g. disarming an attacker in one case and physically challenging members of an attacking gang in another.
What about the passive choice, i.e. I choose to not resist, I chose to turn the other cheek? This certainly has Biblical grounds. What about this? In 1971 I met the Lord Jesus, got Spirit-filled, and became Catholic. I had always had pacifist leanings (I was a Ghandi groupie) and when I turned 18 I decided to be a conscientious objector. The Vietnam War was still raging, the draft was still in effect and my graduating class, the class of 71, was the first one to be ineligible for the student deferment. St. Francis was my patron Saint, his approach considerably moved me, as did the testimony of so many others. The Biblical evidence was clear, the pacifist position was an option. The Church’s approach simultaneously allowed and blessed both alternatives, the pacifist approach and the right to protect the common good with military action if necessary. My parents were absolutely opposed as were many of my friends. I continued doing research and praying and eventually decided to file a Form 150, petition to be granted conscientious objector status. My draft board was notorious for not granting them but in my case they did. So, I am well aware of all the arguments for the pacifist position, and I still respect it for those who wish to take it for themselves. So what changed? For me, as is not surprising for an immature 18 year old, it was all about me, what should I do, what should be the ramifications for my life, etc. As I matured and especially as I became more and more aware of the Catholic moral teaching on the common good and the right and obligation to protect it, I began to see how completely individualistic my choice had been. This was not surprising, coming from a Congregational background in which the common good is not taught and the individualism and the individual congregation is the absolute decider (hence the name). But as I studied Catholic moral teaching more, I realized that if I made a choice like that, I was not only making it for myself but for all those who might have a reasonable call on me for their protection. It is no accident that the percentage of Catholics in police forces and the military is far higher than the percentage of Catholics in the general population. Catholics are raised with this idea of self-sacrifice and the active promotion of the common good, even at the cost of self. The quote often used to describe the military experience sums this up so well: ‘they don’t fight because they hate who is in front of them, but because they love those who are behind them.’ I began to consider a set of moral scenarios, ‘what would I do if’ scenarios. I eventually concluded that I was certainly no longer a pacifist absolutist; there were situations in which I would actively intervene, even to a lethal level if necessary. I could not generally see myself doing that simply to protect myself—especially if martyrdom was involved, but what if I came across a woman being beaten or sexually assaulted, or somebody attacking kids? In those cases my response would be immediate and sufficient. The ‘what would Jesus do’ is often used as a defense for pacifism, but when you read what Jesus actually does, as Revelation describes as He leads His army to destroy those attacking Israel, to say it does not go well for the bad guys would be something of an understatement. (Or you could ask Ananias and Sapphira how that ‘Jesus is a pacifist’ worked for them.)
What then should our response be? Here we have the advantage of Catholic moral teaching, which can assist us in not falling into fundamentalist traps. The virtue of prudence has been given to all of us, it is the capacity to judge what is the appropriate action at a given time. The Church urges us to grow in our understanding and exercise of the virtues and in this case in particular, prudence is of paramount importance. So what is prudent in this situation? If those tasked by our society to protect us are telling us that they are no longer sufficiently able to do so, and they in point of fact are urging us to arm ourselves for our protection and the protection of our families, how could it possibly be prudent to ignore that? How could it be prudent to ignore their professional advice? Ignoring their advice would mean one of four things: you think that they are wrong, or you and your family are already adequately protected, or the odds are ‘ever in your favor’ against an attack occurring, or you have already decided not to defend yourself or family if attacked. As to the first, if you have hard data that puts you in a better place to make judgments about these issues than the police are, I’d love to see the data. As to the second, good for you. As to the third, risking your family’s safety on essentially a coin-toss approach is ludicrous and in fact ignores the police input. As to the fourth, I have known many pacifists in my earlier times with the Quaker peace groups, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, etc. Some of them were absolutists who would not defend themselves and their families in any attack situation. My response was that if the adults had made that decision, that was one thing, but no adult has the right to make that decision for a minor. Kids have an absolute right to expect their parents’ protection.
CPL and Christ the King
Part of the announcement that I made at that Mass was misunderstood to suggest that I was about creating a CTK militia to fight against the Moslem threat posed by Dearborn. In point of fact the comments I made about the jihadi threat were specifically in relationship to the published ISIS threat against the domestic families of our military, a threat the military has responded to very seriously. I will address the threat to our military families in a different email. The threat that I am most concerned about is not a religious threat to the parish or our members, though for those who think “it could never happen here,” those were exactly the sentiments of the ancient Christian community of Mosul, who are now dead or in exile and whose ancient Cathedral has been desecrated into something else. But that is a different topic. The point here is that the threat that the police have been addressing is not the jihadi threat but the ‘normal’ threat of a progressively more dangerous society in which we live. The point of having the CPL class at Christ the King was two-fold. First, I have spoken to many folks about getting CPL’s and difficulty scheduling; inconvenience, etc. had stood in their way. Second, and more importantly, doing it here at the parish, co-sponsored by the parish, was an attempt to get people to realize the reality of the threat and take it seriously. In a conversation with one person, I was told that when people hear me say these things, they just think to themselves, ‘well, that’s just Fr. Ed’ and they ignore it. You have no idea how deeply hurtful that was. But, in any event, that’s why my approach here was not to simply say what I think, but to try to point out the reality of the situation, especially as the police themselves are articulating it to us. If you don’t trust my insights into the situation, at least trust the professionals whose job it is to protect us. Case in point, two parents had their kids temporarily removed from their custody because they let them walk some distance away from their homes without adult supervision, this was seen as negligence on the parents’ part by child protective services. While that particular case could be seen as an over-reaction. Clearly there are neighborhoods no longer safe for our kids to be unaccompanied. If child protective services and the courts are now demonstrating a high standard of protection for our kids, precisely because of the perceived greater threat, should we not pay attention, especially if the police themselves are saying the same thing and pointing out their inability to adequately protect us and our families?
So, the choice of course is yours. Each family must consider what it is prudent for them to do. We will offer the CPL class on two more Saturdays and it is my fervent hope that people will take advantage of it, for the reasons I have mentioned. I think it perfectly appropriate for the parish to offer this class because the protection of our families and our kids is of paramount importance to us. Since the police have informed us that it is naïve and simply wrong to think that they can adequately protect us, then we must take the necessary steps to do so. The steps must be reasoned steps and not simply knee jerk reactions. Several people have said to me, I’m afraid of guns. My response to one woman was, ‘well, how do you feel about rape?’ While that may seem extreme, when we chose against one option, we do, in a sense, empower the other. Ann Arbor was plagued by a serial rapist not long ago, no doubt every woman raped had thought it could never happen to her. The threat is real, fear is a choice. If we are adequately protected, fear need not be the reality. Our families, especially our kids, are the second most precious gift given to us by the Lord Jesus. He Himself being the greatest. How we respond to threat to this gift should be very seriously considered and it is my fervent hope and prayer that all the families in Christ the King will do so.
Your brother in the service of Christ the King,
My hat’s off to Fr. Ed. I hope I get to meet him someday. Maybe take him to the range. But I’d promised the Bishop’s response. And here it is, via Fr. Fride:
That statement appeared yesterday. This one came today:
“The Bishops of Michigan have weighed in on this topic numerous times, most recently in December 2012, saying: “Churches are meant to be a place of sanctuary for worshippers to gather in peace, free of the threat of gun violence.”
Bishop Boyea himself said in 2012, “At the core of our mission is service to the most vulnerable persons in society. Many have already been wounded in body or mind by the American epidemic of violence. Fragile people come to us for help every day, and it is essential that our sites be refuges — places of peace in every sense. We are followers of Jesus Christ, who raised not a hand against those who mocked, tortured, and finally murdered him. While we grasp both the Second Amendment and the legitimate right of some persons to defend themselves, our churches and our schools are dedicated to a far different approach to life’s problems.”
Flowing from this, Bishop Boyea has never given permission for anyone to carry a concealed weapon in a church or school of the Diocese of Lansing.
This ban on weapons has now been extended to “open carry” in our churches and our schools, thus making them gun-free zones.
Additionally, Bishop Boyea further states that Concealed Pistol License classes are inappropriate activities to be held on Church property.
As always we rely on the public or professional security forces to provide for public safety on Church property.”
So there you have it. Despite the fact that the Vatican has a standing army, with lots of gun, ready to defend the tiny city, the churches of Michigan stand on their own. Good luck parishioners. Peace be with you.