Churches under fire for using gun classes as outreach

PRYOR CREEK, Okla. — Pryor Creek, Okla., is gun country. Located midway between Tulsa and Siloam Springs, Ark., the town … Continued

PRYOR CREEK, Okla. — Pryor Creek, Okla., is gun country.

Located midway between Tulsa and Siloam Springs, Ark., the town of approximately 8,500 sits in the heart of Oklahoma’s greenbelt. Hunting and fishing are simply part of everyday life in Pryor, as it is known to locals.

Derek Melton is the assistant chief of police in Pryor, as well as senior pastor at Pryor Creek Community Church, a congregation he describes as Baptist, but not Southern Baptist.

“We follow the 1833 Baptist Confession,” Melton said. “We are an historically evangelical church.”

The confession is better known as the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833, and there are very few churches around the country that subscribe to it. They answer to no denominational headquarters, no bishop, no overarching authority, except the Holy Spirit as mediated through the congregation.

Pryor Creek Community Church is also one of a few dozen churches around the country that are offering concealed carry certification classes as a way to reach out to non-Christians and attract new members. Melton sees no conflict between being a Christian and possessing weapons.

“The disciples carried weapons,” Melton said. “Peter cut a man’s ear off. I believe if more honest citizens were armed, the safer our communities would be.”

Melton’s position is shared by pastors in churches all over the country, including congregations in North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas.

But in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six adults, such sentiments are coming under sharp criticism from fellow Christians.

“I understand where the people who disagree with me are coming from,” said Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. “But what these churches are proposing compromises the essential message of the gospel, that Jesus was first of all a peacemaker.”

Ryan Bennett is the senior pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Lexington, N.C. His Southern Baptist congregation has offered concealed carry training classes in the past, and he said they will offer them again.

Bennett is frank in describing the classes as outreach. “Outreach is the only reason we do it,” he said. “We’ve had two classes of 80 people each, and we have a waiting list and calls coming in all the time.”

Both churches have been the subject of local criticism, but both pastors shrug it off.

“The church can’t really do anything without being criticized,” Bennett said. “Our local paper ran letters to the editor with negative reactions. Our people knew it wasn’t about bringing pistols to church, though; it was about outreach.”

Cizik, who was a top official at the National Association of Evangelicals before leaving it and helping form his new group, said he is concerned about churches using weapons training as a means to reach non-Christians.

“I grew up in gun country,” Cizik said. “I am not intrinsically anti-Second Amendment; however, this seems to be an ethically suspect message. The gospel should be’Put your faith in Christ.’ This seems to be’Put your faith in Glock.’”

Cizik said he believes it’s difficult to make a hard and fast judgment about the method, though. He believes gun ownership and even concealed carry permits are matters of personal judgment.

“The church has always used a variety of methods for drawing people in,” he said. “However, I do think that there are plenty of organizations more suitable that could be doing the training.”

Duane Shank, a senior policy adviser at the Washington-based group Sojourners, said he is more concerned about weapons actually being in the church.

“A church is a place where we gather for worship and prayer in the name of the Prince of Peace,” he said. “Carrying a weapon, openly or concealed, into a place of worship is counter to that spirit.”

Both Bennett and Melton allow concealed carry in their churches, but said they don’t actively encourage it.

“I don’t consider myself a right-wing extremist,” Melton said. “I’m also sure there are plenty of people who disagree with me, but we see this as a service to our community, not a way of encouraging concealed carry in churches.”

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Religion News Service LLC.

More on: ,
  • It wasn’t me

    Priests to kids “Praise the Lord …Now Jimmy you shoot Laura and you Ted shoot Timmy”

    Religion of peace bah

  • ruskiny

    Thou shalt not kill.

    Blessed are the peacemakers.

    Weapons are essentially the tools of cowards.

    Last comment Ghandi but in the spirit of Jesus.

    Jesus was OK but his disciples were thick and ordinary.(John Lennon)

    The people in this church seem to confirm Lennons comment.

Read More Articles

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.