Wednesday, February 06, 2013

TOP STORY >> Have gun, will pray in church

Leader staff writer

Several area churches plan to welcome with open arms a proposed state law that would lift the ban on concealed weapons in houses of worship.

On Monday, the House of Representatives approved by an 85-8 vote a bill called “The Church Protection Act of 2013.” The bill was passed by the state Senate with a 28-4 vote last week.

Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to sign it into law.

Although many local ministers are in favor of the bill becoming a law, they do plan on establishing guidelines concerning who can carry the weapons in their sanctuaries.

Rev. James Bolden III of Evangelistic Ministries Church in Jacksonville said, “I think it’s a good move because the flock should be protected. But I feel the churches should organize themselves to the point that people inside the church be assigned to carry (the guns). Pastors, don’t be afraid of the law. Use it to look over your flocks.”

Bolden was elected in November to serve on the Jacksonville City Council.
He added that pastors who don’t want guns in their sanctuaries should post a sign stating that policy.

Pastor Mark McDonald of First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville said he wants to do just that. McDonald plans to recommend the posting of signs at every entrance to his church. They would say concealed weapons are not allowed with the exception of those carried by certified law enforcement officers.

McDonald wrote in an e-mail, “Our church has not discussed this yet, but I personally am opposed to allowing concealed weapons in the church because the church — especially the sanctuary — is a place of protection and peace.”

He continued, “We are very intentional about providing a safe place for our children and youth, and I’m surprised that we are considering a bill that would allow concealed weapons in churches while it seems that we all agree that is a bad idea for our schools. The idea of a dozen people drawing their weapons during a perceived conflict does not bring me a sense of protection and peace.”

McDonald added, “If we feel there is a need for armed protection, I would support hiring certified officers to provide this in appropriate locations of the church.”

Some churches are waiting to see what happens while others don’t plan to make any changes.

The minister of a church in Ward did not want The Leader to identify him or his church.

He explained, “You’ve always got some for and some against. (As a pastor) you don’t want to invite any extra controversy to divide your congregation. We’re not acknowledging it. People who have (a license) can bring them. Our policy would be we’re not going to draw a lot of attention to it.”

Pastor Tim McMinn of Sylvan Hills Community Church said his church is fortunate enough to have several members who are police officers.

But, he said, “I’m for (the bill). I think churches need to protect themselves as much as possible.”

McMinn is also a Sherwood alderman.

He said his church would meet this month to discuss rules and regulations about who can have concealed weapons in the church and when they can have them.

McMinn added that his church was vandalized when a man broke the windows with a baseball bat last Wednesday. Repairs were made and the same man came to vandalize the church again on Saturday.

McMinn said, “There can be people who break into your church and cause bodily harm.”

Pastor Greg Hooper of The Venue at Chapel Hill in Jacksonville, a satellite of the First Baptist Church of Cabot, said the Ministry Support Council, which is elected and includes some of the pastors, will make a recommendation to the congregation about whether concealed guns will be allowed. Then the congregation will decide what to do.

He added, “I like the law in that it defers the decision (to the church).”

Pastor W.C. Willis of Apostolic Revival Church in Ward has a concealed carry permit. He said obtaining the permit requires an extensive background check.

Willis said, “It should be left up to individual churches. We’ll deal with it as it unfolds. We will designate people who can be armed. I’m not going to the pulpit armed. I feel like that would be inappropriate.”

The pastor is a Navy veteran. He added, “I don’t consider a police officer any more qualified than myself.”

Willis also said, “I think the media goes way overboard painting this picture (against gun rights).”

He noted, “There are probably a lot of churches where it (people bringing in guns) is already happening.”

Willis shared that the normal routine for military personnel in Israel, where he has traveled a few times, is to sit down to lunch with rifles at hand. “You feel totally safe. Give us the freedom to make our own choices,” he said.

Pastor Brian Baker of Victory Praise and Worship Church in Jacksonville said, “I agree it should be left up to the discretion of the churches. We already have policies and procedures in place that are adequate for our safety. At this time, we haven’t decided (whether to allow concealed handguns). Our board will meet and make a decision.”

Baker said his church would probably not allow them and, “I would feel better with an outside entity, like a police officer.”

Charles Gastineau, chairman of the church council at the Old Austin United Methodist Church in Ward, said, “We’re waiting to see. I think our church would be for allowing them. It’s a wait-and-see attitude right now.”

Gastineau is also a Ward alderman.

He continued, “I think it’s a good idea, I think in today’s troubled society you should allow people with concealed carry licenses to bring (guns) into houses of worship.”

Lyndon Whitledge, who retired in 2008 as pastor of the North Jacksonville Missionary Baptist Church, thinks allowing concealed weapons in churches will not just help keep people secure. He said the measure would make churches less of an easy target for thieves.

Whitledge said some churches collect up to $1,000 on a Sunday morning in the offering plate.

He explained, “They have a lot more cash at that time than anyone else would. It’s a prime duck for some sort of robbery. It’s high time churches have (guns). We’ve got a society with low morals. We’re just on the verge of people realizing church is where the money is at.”

Whitledge added that a church shouldn’t need a sign saying what its policy is because the congregation should know what the views of their church are.

He then noted, “The people that have got those permits are pretty safe with guns. The people who use them unlawfully aren’t church people anyways. A church is a very close-knit family of people. They’ll do anything to protect their church. Christianity teaches people to forgive and be gracious. That’s not the type of person who will be a loose end with a gun.”

Whitledge, who is in his 70s, also said it is a shame that churches have to be locked now for fear of robbery or vandalism. In his day, “Everybody thought it was a horrible thing to lock a church. That’s like locking the gates of heaven,” the retired pastor said.

The current state law reads that a license to carry a concealed handgun does not authorize anyone to carry a concealed handgun into a church or place of worship.

The Church Protection Act of 2013 would not remove churches and other places of worship from the list of places where concealed handguns are prohibited. But it would add that being on the list “does not preclude a church or other place of worship from determining who may carry a concealed handgun into a church or other place of worship.”

The bill has an emergency clause that states the act would be effective on the date of its approval by the governor, during the period of time when the governor may veto it if he doesn’t take any action or on the date the last house overrides a veto by the governor.

The emergency clause was added because “personal security is increasingly important” and “the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States ensures a person’s right to bear arms,” according to the bill.

The Arkansas Senate is also considering a bill that would make private the state’s list of people who have licenses to carry concealed handguns.

The Arkansas Press Association and the governor have expressed opposition to the measure as it infringes upon the state’s Freedom of Information Act.