(July 3, 2009) — If you don’t quite get that, for many in this country, the connection between guns and God is as American as burgers and fries, baseball and beer, and July 4th and fireworks, you should have been at the New Bethel Church in Louisville, Kentucky, on Saturday, June 27, where Pastor Ken Pagano welcomed more than 200 people – most of them packing guns (albeit unloaded) — to an event called the “Open Carry Celebration.”
According to the New Bethel Church website, the “Open Carry Celebration” was held on a Saturday instead of a Sunday, so that it was clear that it was “not a church worship service, where the focus is on Jesus and our responsibility to Him. Rather,” Pagano, a former Marine weapons instructor, pointed out, “this is merely a church-hosted event, similar to any other event that any other church may do to celebrate their heritage.”
The “Open Carry Celebration” was held several weeks after Pagano had encouraged his parishioners to bring the guns to a church-sponsored picnic. “Honestly, I would really like to see this mushroom into a Thunder over Louisville, where we are just inundated with civil-minded responsible gun owners,” Pagano said.
“As a Christian, I believe, and as an American this country was founded on the deep-seated belief in God and firearms — without which we wouldn’t be here today,” Pagano told FOX News during the run-up to the “Open Carry” event. “There is nothing illogical nor immoral about being a God-fearer and a decent community-minded individual who believes in rights to bear arms and use firearms for self-defense if necessary or just for sporting purposes.”
Ministry Today reported that “Pagano got the idea after hearing several of his congregants voice concern over the Obama administration’s views on gun control.” (During last year’s presidential campaign, Obama’s comment during a San Francisco fundraiser — just before the Pennsylvania primary – that it was “not surprising” that in tough economic times, people then “get bitter, [and] they cling to guns or religion …“ continues to feed the right wing rumor mill that the Obama administration has plans to fiddle around with the Second Amendment.)
Pagano had recently “preached a sermon called, ‘God, Guns, Gospel and Geometry,’ and during the [‘Open Carry Celebration’] … he met applause after declaring, ‘But for a deep-seated belief in God and firearms, this country would not be here today,’” Ministry Today reported.
Pagano’s “Open Carry Celebration,” which had been announced on the heels of the murder of Dr. George Tiller in a Wichita, Kansas church, was not without its critics. “I’m not opposed to people having guns. I have three,’ said Rev. Jerry Cappel, president of the Kentuckian Interfaith Community, a coalition of local religious leaders in the Louisville area, “You can be OK with the right to carry arms, but still find that joining the right to carry and Christ to be misguided,’ Cappel added.
Pam Gersh, a Louisville resident who helped organize a Million Mom March against gun violence in the area in 2000, told ABC News that “The serious issue of gun violence [wa]s not being addressed. I don’t really understand the purpose of what Pagano is doing here.’
“Where there are killings of people like Dr. Tiller in church and there is no discussion of gun violence and only of abortion, then it shows there’s no real open dialogue about how to solve this problem,’ said Gersh.
Lynn Joyce Hunter recently pointed out at politicsdaily.com that “Pagano’s plan may indicate the rise of a new phenomenon in American religion: the NRA Christian.” Hunter pointed out that “even putting aside the Sermon on the Mount and such biblical imagery as the beating of swords into plowshares, one must question whether an embrace of guns is the best way to claim a national identity and celebrate our patriotism — in or out of church.”
Hunter maintained that what particularly bothered her about “Pagano’s bring-your-gun-to-church-day, … [was] not the thought of Independence Day revelers enjoying a Second Amendment theme party, but the advent of NRA Christian evangelism. The murder of George Tiller was particularly eerie because he was shot and killed in his church. Christian churches have long been considered places of peace, and sanctuaries from societal violence. When this presumption of sanctuary becomes violated — from Archbishop Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral to the 1980 slaying of Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero — there is a sense that our worship has been desecrated.”
Earlier this year, the Arkansas House of Representatives created quite a stir when it was considering a bill that would have allowed concealed hand guns in churches across the state. In late February, the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted not to allow that bill out of committee.
Pagano, who appears to maintain that without the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – there would be no First Amendment – the right to free speech – and therefore no America as he knows it, has again placed the issue of carrying guns in the pews on the table. At the same time, his well-publicized event gave the pastor more than his fifteen minutes in the national spotlight.
As for the debate over guns, in a short post at Beliefnet, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, asked: “Whatever one thinks about guns, gun ownership, or gun laws, do we really need any more religious leaders officiating over a marriage between faith and firearms?”
One Hirschfield reader responded unambiguously: “The US Constitution is divinely inspired, and nowhere is the hand of the Almighty in the creation of our country more evident in the glorious right of all its citizens to defend themselves enshrined in the Sacred Second Amendment. To me, bringing firearms to church, synagogue, or mosque is a joyful act of worship and thanksgiving for this our most sacred right, to defend our very lives from royal oppression.”
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