New Orleans pastors inclined not to let parishioners bring guns to church

| June 21, 2010

The Louisiana Legislature last week may have cleared parishioners to carry guns to church, but the idea seems to sit pretty uncomfortably with clergy, whom legislators thought they were helping by providing homegrown security.

“Unequivocally, no,” said Elder John Pierre, asked whether some members of his Living Witness Church of God in Christ should arm themselves to protect the congregation.

Pierre’s church operates in a gritty Central City neighborhood, ministering to addicts as well as families. Occasionally, disruptive people have wandered in off the street, he said.

“But we’ve been here 29 years, and there’s never been a time that a gun would have solved anything,” Pierre said.

But responding to a plea from a Shreveport church that asked to let it provide more security for its members, both houses of the Legislature easily passed a measure that takes churches, synagogues and mosques off the list of places where concealed weapons are forbidden.

If Gov. Bobby Jindal signs it, ushers, deacons or others may discreetly arm themselves, so long as the worship center is not on school property, the congregation’s leadership authorizes it, the congregation is notified, and the newly armed get eight hours of tactical training.

Dissenters in the legislature protested that carrying concealed weapons seemed antithetical to the spirit of worship in any faith. But support was so self-evident the measure needed hardly any oratory to pass both houses comfortably.

But soon after, lots of New Orleans clergy recoiled at the notion, including those whose churches try to act as stabilizing influences in high-crime neighborhoods.

The Rev. John Raphael, a cop-turned-pastor who shepherds New Hope Baptist church in Central City, knows too well how dangerous his neighborhood can be. Filing out of a service one Sunday, some of his congregation had to duck for cover when gunfire suddenly broke out nearby.

Raphael said he understands measures like parking lot security outdoors. But he said an armed presence in the sanctuary is incompatible with what a church is supposed to be.

He called it a “gut check” for faith.

“Great tragedy would follow if someone (inside) ever felt the need to use a gun,” Raphael said. “That would do more to harm the mission of the church, than to help. It’s a matter of faith that we trust God to protect us more than we trust our own ability.

“We should project the image that we trust in God.”

The Rev. Dan Krutz an Episcopal priest who runs the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, said the guns-in-church bill attracted little attention among his members, probably because they learned that nobody would be armed without pastors’ permission.

Nonetheless, “I personally felt it’s regressive. It’s going back to another era. At a time we’re trying to preach non-violence, here we are resorting to weapons.”

Catholic Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who supervises 104 parishes, and Episcopal Bishop Morris Thompson, whose diocese includes 55 congregations, both said they wanted to consult internally before announcing any decision.

Still, both said they were distinctly put off at of the idea of armed worship.

“The need to carry weapons into worship seems inappropriate,” Morris said.

Added Aymond: “Church is supposed to be a place of sanctuary. The idea of guns there — I’m pretty skeptical.”

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Category: Church Security

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