Lutheran pastors reject idea of guns in church
April 01, 2013 3:38 pm • By KAREN HERZOG | Bismarck Tribune
Some area pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are speaking out strongly against HB 1283, passed March 28 by the North Dakota Senate, which would allow concealed weapons in churches if church leadership agrees.
In oil patch country, Williston city commissioners recently voted 4-1 to deny a petition from 10 pastors who wanted their churches to have the power to allow concealed guns.
Speaking for himself as an individual pastor, the Rev. Mark Narum, bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod of the ELCA, sent a message to Gov. Jack Dalrymple explaining his opposition to the legislation.
Church/state separation as a rationale for the bill “is an argument that holds no water,” Narum said. “I wrote to several senators on Maundy Thursday asking them to vote no,” he said.
“To me, this is a safety issue,” Narum said.
Narum’s letter reflects the feelings of Lutheran pastors such as the Rev. Paul Schauer, pastor of Sunne Lutheran Church, rural Wilton, and the Rev. Wes Aardahl, pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Bismarck.
This legislation raises theological problems as well as public safety problems and church/state separation problems, Schauer and Aardahl said.
Schauer points to Jesus as “the Prince of Peace, who tells us in the face of violence to turn the other cheek.”
The theological irony for Schauer is that the bill was approved on Maundy Thursday of the Easter weekend.
In the New Testament account of Jesus’ arrest on Maundy Thursday, the night before his crucifixion, “when (the disciple) Peter cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave (to defend Jesus against arrest), Jesus heals the slave and says, ‘no more of this,’” Schauer said.
“The notion that we could even consider guns in the church is beyond comprehension to me,” Schauer said. “It just floors me.”
Jesus’ teachings on violence is well-recorded in the gospels, said Aardahl. “He was very inclined to not return violence for violence.”
“The New Testament is very clear,” Schauer said.
Maundy Thursday also is the day, Narum said, “that Jesus grabbed a basin and a towel and washed the feet of his disciples, including the one who would betray him.”
Later that evening, “a sword was pulled out and Jesus stopped the violence,” he said. “That Jesus who told us … to love our enemies, (and) we would want to carry weapons?”
Schauer strongly emphasized that he has nothing against guns and has been a hunter himself.
“I don’t have a problem with guns; that’s not my issue,” he said; “but for the sake of Jesus who says, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Public safety is another very real concern, he said.
“It would be different if there was actually a threat out there,” he said. “When we have concerns in our congregation — and we have had concerns — we notify law enforcement,” he said.
“I’m thinking if we have several people in the congregation with concealed weapons, and some incident does happen, what kind of crossfire do we have? How do you know you’re shooting at the right person?” Who “the right person” is is not always clear in the confusion of the moment, he said.
Also, he said, “we have a lot of little kids in our church. Will they be getting into somebody’s purse who’s going up for communion?
“In church there are so many things going on to distract you from keeping track of your weapon. It’s a legitimate fear of an unintended event happening, an accidental discharge, little kids getting their hands on a weapon.”
Some proponents of this legislation are couching it as an issue of separation of church and state, Schauer said.
That is a false argument, he said — “there are all kinds of regulations on churches.”
“So is the Legislature now going to repeal all (other) rules and regulations that apply to churches?” he asked, “how much property churches can own before they are taxed, their kitchen health and safety rules, their fire suppression systems? Why not (exempt them from) parking regulations or zoning laws, too?” he said.
Aardahl also said that to suggest this is a “separation of church and state issue, I find that preposterous. I was flabbergasted to hear that,” Aardahl said.
That separation was meant to ensure free expression of beliefs, to keep one religion from dominating or being suppressed, he said.
He’s read the Century Code mandating that only law enforcement officials are allowed to carry weapons at certain public gatherings.
Those restrictions are designed to safeguard citizens, he said. Withdrawing that safeguard for those who gather in churches, and putting it on churches to come up with a policy, opens up a risk factor, Aardahl said.
Fear drives this kind of legislation, Schauer said.
Two Williston pastors spoke to their city commission in favor of giving churches the choice. The Rev. Will Page, associate pastor of Cornerstone First Baptist church said that “… somewhere in this country there is some evil man that is plotting another mass murder.”
And the Rev. Mark Britton, pastor Faith United Methodist Church, cited a Sunday morning experience with a man who smelled of alcohol moved to the front of the church, alarming congregants. He only knelt at the altar and prayed, but people were unsure of his intentions, Britton said.
“We don’t want to take away from people’s legitimate concerns,” Schauer said. “But (we should have) a realistic look at fear. We do not have an outbreak of shootings in churches.”
Schauer said that he is starting this conversation with his church council, and Sunne will have to come up with some policy if Gov. Dalrymple signs the legislation.
“It angers me that the state has put us in this position,” he said. At Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, so as Schauer wryly puts it, “if Jesus were still in his grave, he would be rolling over.”
The bill is “atrocious,” he said.
“It’s not like we live in a part of the world where churches are going to be stormed by rebels. I’ve been to the Central African Republic, where there actually is rebel activity.
“Their people aren’t carrying weapons. Their churches don’t have armed guards.”