My “piece I give you: Guns and God

Cylon George, Guest Contributor

On Ash Wednesday, I learned in the Troy Record that Grace Baptist Church was planning to raffle a modified AR-15 rifle to a church goer. After the news broke it eventually made national headlines. The raffle went ahead as planned on Sunday, Mar. 23.

Rev. John Koletas explained his church’s highly unusual actions by stating that their goal was to “be a blessing and an encouragement to gun owners and hunters who have been under assault by socialist politicians.” One can assume Rev. Koletas is referring to recent gun laws passed, including the New York SAFE Act, in response to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.

While, as reporting indicates, Rev. Koletas took every possible precaution to ensure that this event was legal and safe, the church has drawn a lot of negative attention. Some Christian church leaders have spoken up against the event and have questioned Rev. Koletas’ use of scripture to justify giving out a gun at a Sunday service. Others have accused him of being political and provocative in order the increase the visibility of his church and to fill the pews.

At the heart of this issue is the tension between the need to protect individual rights and the need to recognize community responsibilities. It is also a subplot for the larger debate of the size and the role of government. The debate endures because it is hard to find a balance between these two needs that is appropriate and satisfactory. We need both individual rights and community responsibilities for a healthy and thriving society. We are often tempted to avoid the tension inherent in most controversial topics by holding to one side of the debate without examining the other point of view. However, it is the tension that holds us together and forces us to keep talking about these important issues.

Some argue that the church is not the place to have a debate about gun rights. Grace Baptist Church has entered this debate in a very public way. While supporters of gun owners make some valid arguments about the ways in which responsible gun owners are unfairly attacked, the mass shootings of recent years have traumatized the nation. Many of these shootings were carried out by legally obtained guns. In this debate, the voices of those most affected by gun violence must be heard. The voices of those silenced by gun violence must be honored.

One of the central tenets of Christianity is that life is sacred because human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. It is the principle that supports the values of peaceful coexistence, compassion, and nonviolence. What message is being sent to the world when a Christian church decides to promote gun rights seemingly at the expense of sensitivity and respect toward the families of victims of gun violence? What unintended consequences might giving out semi-automatic rifles have on the safety of the community? When Grace Baptist Church uses John 14:27 (…my peace I give unto you…) to promote giving away firearms, is it truly living up to the gospel message?

The actions of Grace Baptist Church has forced our local communities to grapple with the difficult issues surrounding second amendment rights and gun control. May we resist the urge to run from the unavoidable tension caused by this debate. The stakes are too high.

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