The recent church shooting in Texas, where 26 people were killed, has inspired a Florida pastor to show off his heavily armed church's signs. The resulting Instagram post went viral, prompting a lot of support and a lot of criticism.
Senior Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of the River at Tampa Bay Church posted a photo of the signs at his church that proudly declare "this is not a gun free zone" and "any attempt will be dealt with deadly force". (Any attempt at what?) Accompanying the photo was Howard-Browne's comment: "Welcome to the River at Tampa Bay Church – our sign at every door of our church #welcomesign #theriverattampabaychurch".
The 21-year-old church has apparently had these signs up for about a year, but it was when Howard-Browne shared them on Instagram that they suddenly gathered national attention. Given all the media coverage of the shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, TX, the signs have become a focal point for some heated conversation. Some are praising the church, while others are condemning the decision to post signs like these on a house of worship.
It is also worth noting that this attention comes mere days after an 81-year-old church-goer accidentally shot himself and his wife at a church in Tennessee while discussing church shootings and gun safety.
According to a report by the Associated Press, there have been more than a dozen shootings in churches and other houses of worship in the United States since 2012. Howard-Browne, his congregants, and their supporters all seem to think that it is in their best interest if the majority of their 1,200 to 1,300 church members are packing heat.
Associate Pastor Allen Hawes of the church told the Tampa Bay Times that they "want people to know that this is a safe zone." (Yes, because there is nothing like a thousand religiously deluded gun owners to make me feel safe.)
Hawes went on to say that the church follows local criminal activity closely, and that he believes the church's position on maintaining a heavily armed membership is a good deterrent.
In the wake of the Sutherland Springs shooting, the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, commented on Fox News and said, "We've had church shootings forever. It's going to happen again, so we need people in churches - either professional security or at least arming some of the parishioners, or the congregation, so they can respond..." (Church shootings forever? You mean, maybe God is not helping to solve a problem that has been occurring for a long, long time?)
Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic party, was very critical of Paxton's comments. He told the Dallas Morning News that, "Texans deserve more from their chief law enforcement official than inaction and willful ignorance. The answer to horrific gun violence is not more of the same. Lord knows we have already had plenty of that."
While I have made comments in some posts previously on the Christian Right's hypocrisy in the United States, it still catches me off guard sometimes. I mean, what do these people really believe? Do they believe that God protects them, or not? Do they believe God has a plan, or not? Do they believe that their God is a loving God, or not? Do they believe that Jesus was more of a peaceful hippie, or more like the Dirty Harry of 1st-century Jerusalem?
It really is a maddening bouquet of confirmation bias and an appeal to consequences fallacy. These people are basically trying to say "If our congregants are not armed, a mass shooting WILL happen here. Therefore, are congregants SHOULD all be armed." That is not a good argument.
Now, you may or may not be an advocate for some kind of gun reform in the United States. I, personally, would like to see some kind of reform that takes into account peer-reviewed studies to determine what is realistic and what is beneficial to society. And no, that does not mean I want to "take everybody's guns away." But with all the power we have to study societal behavior and manage public health, I do think that we should make some changes. But with all that baggage aside, I do think it is very strange that many of the most doggedly adamant gun owners are also such devout Christians who worship a God they describe as "loving and just".