The Kentucky Baptist convention is trying to reach out to the “unchurched” (or the “rednecks” as the convention’s communication director termed them) by promising them that if they attend church events, they will have a chance to win firearms.
The churches, among them the Lone Oak First Baptist Church, hope to draw in crowds via its “faith and firearms” Second Amendment celebration dinners where attendees get a free steak dinner and may win one of 25 handguns, long guns or shotguns at the door. The drive is particularly aimed at young men who are “passionate” about their gun ownership.
At the helm of this drive is the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Evangelical Director Chuck McAlister, an ex-pastor and former Outdoor Channel hunting show host, who is openly exploiting gun fever to draw in the crowds. “We have found that the number of unchurched [sic] men who will show up will be in direct proportion to the number of guns you give away,” McAlister is quoted as saying. He claims that thousands of men have made so-called professions of faith as a result of this initiative. McAlistair also contends that his scheme is entirely religious in nature, dubbing it “affinity evangelism” by which he can pull in crowds of men so they can “get in there and burp and scratch and talk about the right to bear arms and that stuff.”
It sounds so Godly, doesn’t it? Curiously though, there are a number of churches who are fiercely critical of McAlister’s tactics.
Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of New Union Church in Versailles, has decried the drive, saying, “Churches should not be encouraging people in their communities to arm themselves against their neighbors, but to love their neighbors, as instructed by Jesus. How terrible it would be if one of those guns given away at a church were to cause the death of an innocent victim.”
McCalister says that in no way does his gun drive promote violence, adding that the firearms are strictly for hunting and “protection” purposes only. He likens the drive to other church initiatives like quilting groups which aim to draw in women. However, critics say there is clearly a difference: namely that few people die from quilting related injuries.
This isn’t actually a new drive and similar giveaways have happened throughout the United States. There also appears to be a variety of different approaches, some more responsible than others. It should be noted that many churches tend to find a business willing to donate guns or money for guns and then raffle off the guns with only a replica present to demonstrate what people will be winning. The winner must then go to the gun store and then go through background and registration checks. However, not all churches are following that kind of (at least more) responsible protocol, potentially putting firearms in the hands of people that wouldn’t normally be allowed them.
Unsurprisingly, the “guns for God” strategy has already seen a slide toward the outrageous. In 2008 a church in Oklahoma was forced to abandon plans of awarding a semi-automatic gun to one “lucky” teenager as a way to pull in young people to the church. Other cases have provoked outrage for their alleged failures to promote safe gun ownership.
Regardless of where you might stand on the question of the right to own a gun and how far that should extend into public life, it’s clear to see that McCalister’s drive is a manipulative and patronizing attempt to court a young male demographic.
It also throws up a number of questions, including whether a church that is dolling out guns should be getting tax exemptions when clearly it is engaging in a form of political discourse by creating gun appreciation days.
There is of course the matter of religion, too, and the fact that McCalister and his supporters seem to be entirely shameless about their “guns for God” approach. I’m not religious but even I feel how tawdry it is for someone to be luring people into a religion via their love of guns and how debasing that is to the entire notion of Christianity as a force of peace and love.
I’d also question whether we are dangerously close to seeing religious conservatives bend their “religious rights” to yet another purpose: gun ownership. We’ve already seen smatterings of this. Guns, the chatter goes, help to protect the liberty to believe. They uphold the Christian principle of love by helping people “safe-guard” their families. Will we soon see a bill to ward off gun control on the basis of religious rights, then? Despite past rulings against such attempts, we probably shouldn’t be shocked if legislation does emerge.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.