Whenever I write a column about guns, I get at least a few responses from people who don't call me names, who use proper grammar, and present their arguments in a reasonable manner. So when I heard that a pastor in Louisville, Kentucky had a "Bring Your Gun To Church Day" last Saturday (June 27th) I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. It wasn't easy.
(Before you start firing your angry emails at me, let me make a few things clear: I'm not saying this was illegal, and I'm not calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. I'm trying to understand why a pastor would want guns in church, because well, it seems a tad inappropriate to me).
I spoke to Pastor Ken Pagano of the New Bethel Church, and he seemed like a nice, intelligent guy who just happens to think guns are a very important American tradition, an excellent means of self-defense, and are not out of place in a church.
He pointed out to me that you could see paintings of ancient, medieval, and Revolutionary times in which people who were at church had weapons with them. I reminded him that there were many things that were done hundreds of years ago that aren't done today – like sacrificing goats, having slaves, and avoiding baths.
I had read that people were supposed to bring unloaded guns to the church. He clarified this. If you didn't have a license to carry a concealed weapon, you could bring a "cold" (unloaded and holstered) gun. If you legally could carry a concealed weapon, of course, you could bring that gun.
Pastor Pagano said that since concealed weapons are concealed, he had no idea how many people in church were armed.
And all these guns make the pastor feel safer for his congregation. Obviously, it's an individual thing, but would you feel the calm and peace that you want in a house of worship, knowing that some of the people around you might be carrying hidden guns?
A house of worship is not just a building like any other, as Pagano implied before the gun gala. That's one of the reasons why when there is violence in a church, a synagogue, or a mosque that it may seem that much more disturbing to us than when it happens on the street or in a bar. A sanctuary is a special place. That's why they call it a sanctuary.
I'm no expert on Christianity, but I believe Jesus was known as the Prince of Peace, not the Prince of Carrying A Piece.
One of the purposes of the event was to celebrate the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. The pastor feels the church was an appropriate place to do that. I pointed out that since he loved the Constitution and American traditions so much, what about the "separation of church and state?" Is a church really an appropriate place for making a political statement about weapons?
Here's another thought: How would people have reacted if an Imam at an American mosque asked people to bring guns to a service? In fact, how would those same people who went to Pagano's church have reacted? Would they have said, "Good for those Second Amendment-loving Muslims. America needs more Muslims to be carrying guns?" Uh, probably not all of them would have said that. Some would have condemned the act: "You see what a violent people they are? Muslims even bring guns into their house of worship!"
But if it takes place in the New Bethel Church in Louisville, Kentucky, it's okay?
I had my Bar Mitzvah in a temple in Chicago which, coincidentally, was also called Beth El. Perhaps it's a geographic or a cultural thing, but I can't imagine anyone bringing guns to a service at the Beth El I went to. Maybe some people might sneak in half a sandwich, maybe someone would carry in a picture of that good-looking guy their daughter's engaged to, but a gun? No way.
So I guess for me it comes back to inappropriateness. In Hebrew, "Beth El" means, "House of God." It doesn't mean, "House of Guns" in any language.