Lawmakers calling for more guns in church have a theology problem

"Jesus carried a cross not a gun."

Law enforcement officials stand outside the scene of a mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Law enforcement officials stand outside the scene of a mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland, Texas. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay)

In the wake of a horrific mass shooting over the weekend at a small-town church in Sutherland, Texas that left at least 26 people dead, lawmakers and even some pastors are calling for more churchgoers to arm themselves while attending worship.

But the proposal is unlikely to play well with most Americans and American Christians who have long opposed brandishing firearms in sanctuaries, citing scripture such as Jesus Christ’s instruction to put away weapons, saying “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

The controversy sprung to life just hours after news of the shooting broke. A local resident reportedly exchanged fire with the alleged assailant as he left the church in Sutherland. But that was only after he had already allegedly murdered at least 26 people and injured dozens more, as churchgoers reportedly did not bring their firearms into church.

In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton suggested to Fox News that more churchgoers should arm themselves.

“All I can say is, you know, in Texas at least we have the opportunity to have concealed-carry,” he said. “So if it’s a place where somebody has the ability to carry, there’s always the opportunity that gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people.”

“If somebody tries [to shoot someone] in our church, they may get one shot off, or two shots off, but that’s it–and that’s the last thing they’ll ever do in this life.”

During an appearance on Fox News Monday morning, Dallas pastor and Trump faith adviser Rev. Robert Jeffress also appeared to advocate for arming church members.

“I’d say a quarter to a half of our members are concealed carry,” he said. “They have guns, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. They bring them into the church with them.”

He later added: “If somebody tries [to shoot someone] in our church, they may get one shot off, or two shots off, but that’s it–and that’s the last thing they’ll ever do in this life.”

“I think the religion of Robert Jeffress is not the religion of Jesus. I think it is becoming increasingly apparent that we have a practice of blasphemous Christianity by many so-called Christians. Jesus is the Prince of Peace in a world of war.”

But faith leaders such as Rev. Michael McBride, the director of Urban Strategies for PICO National Network’s faith-based LIVE FREE campaign against gun violence, sharply disagree.

“I think the religion of Robert Jeffress is not the religion of Jesus,” McBride told ThinkProgress in an interview. “I think it is becoming increasingly apparent that we have a practice of blasphemous Christianity by many so-called Christians. Jesus is the Prince of Peace in a world of war. Rather than continue to push for more instruments of death, which are unable to keep us safe, we must rather start to call for a more peaceful existence that limits the proliferations of instruments of death.”

He added: “Any faith leader that calls for an opposite of that…has a deep moral hole in their soul, and they should be ignored.”

Legally speaking, Texas churches already have a somewhat laissez-faire relationship to guns. Whereas states like South Carolina ban guns in church in most instances, Texas allows firearms in sanctuary halls unless a church explicitly says otherwise. And a new Texas law signed in September allows houses of worship in the state to arm their congregations as a security measure.

However, while it’s certainly not unusual for churches to have security precautions or personnel, many faith leaders rebuke Paxton and Jeffress’ ideas that guns should be allowed in Sunday morning services. A 2012 PRRI poll found that 76 percent of Americans oppose allowing concealed weapons in church; This includes pastors in Texas, where many churches opted to ban guns on their premises after open-carry became the law of the land there in 2016. The Catholic Bishop of Dallas, for instance, banned guns in all his diocese’s parishes that year, following the lead of Catholic leaders who took similar steps in Georgia. Other Catholics also spoke out against open carry.

“This policy [of banning guns in church] is rooted in the belief that our churches, schools and other places of worship are intended to be sanctuaries – holy sites where people come to pray and participate in the ministry of the Church,” Dallas Bishop Kevin Farrell wrote at the time.

Religious leaders have long been one of the loudest, most consistent voices calling for legislation that would restrict gun sales and use–not increase them. In 2013, for instance, Episcopal bishops and other clergy marched on Washington, D.C. to demand federal legislation that would help end gun violence, with then-Dean of the National Cathedral Gay Hall demanding the “cross lobby” defeat the gun lobby. Meanwhile, groups such as Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence–a religious coalition that includes more than 50 supporters and several entire denominations–have spent years calling for more expansive background checks, harsher penalties for gun trafficking, and a ban on military-style assault weapons.

“Jesus carried a cross not a gun. He said greater love has no one that this–to lay down their life for another.”

Other critics of gun violence include Shane Claiborne, a prolific Christian speaker and writer who works with an initiative that literally melts down AR-15s–weapons similar to the one reportedly used by Sutherland shooter–and turns them into plowshares, in keeping with a biblical reference.

When asked about Paxton and Jeffress’ comments, Claiborne responded by citing various Christian scriptures decrying violence and weaponry.

“Jesus carried a cross not a gun,” Claiborne told ThinkProgress. “He said greater love has no one that this–to lay down their life for another. The early Christians said ‘for Christ we can die but we cannot kill.’ When Peter picked up a sword to protect Jesus and cut off a guys ear, Jesus scolded him and put the ear back on. The early Christians said ‘when Jesus disarmed peter he disarmed every Christian.’ Evil is real but Jesus teaches us to fight evil without becoming evil. One the cross we see what love looks like when it stares evil in the face. Love is willing to die but not to kill.”

Oddly, even those who support more guns in churches do not appear to be against the regulation of weapons (or potential weapons) in general. In his same Fox News interview, Jeffress acknowledged while he does not ban guns in his church, he does ban backpacks as a security precaution.

ThinkProgress requested comment from Jeffress regarding his position on guns in churches, but did not receive a reply by press time.