Church members are praising God, packing heat

Posted Friday, May. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Along with their Bibles, some church members are carrying concealed handguns to church to defend against possible attacks against houses of worship.

Worth Baptist Church in Fort Worth, for example, is one of a small group of congregations that has been hosting concealed handgun classes.

“Our motivation is to have our people prepared not only to defend our family and our church, but also to protect our society,” said Francisco Guerrero, a Worth Baptist member and part-time missionary who organizes the classes for his church. “We need to be prepared for trouble. There are wackos everywhere.”

Churches in Dumas, San Angelo and Wylie; Pryor Creek, Okla.; Lexington, N.C.; Marengo, Ohio; and Yakima, Wash., are among congregations that have held concealed handgun classes in the last 12 months.

The classes have received praise and criticism.

Richard Cizik, a former top executive of the National Association of Evangelicals, told Religious News Service last year that he understands concerns about church security.

But he said holding handgun classes in churches “compromises the essential message of the gospel, that Jesus was first of all a peacemaker.”

Nineteen men and women attended a handgun class at Worth Baptist in April. It was one of nine such classes at the Fort Worth church in the last two years, Guerrero said. Under a state law passed in 1997, people can carry handguns into churches if there is no sign or cards handed out prohibiting them.

“The fact is, that if I was a crook and I knew that at a school or a church 10 people were packing, I’d be a fool if I showed up there,” Guerrero said.

The Rev. Willie Weaver, pastor of Worth Baptist, and his wife, Carolyn, are among those who have taken the gun training. He has a license to carry but he’s never brought guns into the pulpit. He doesn’t keep a gun in church office, either, but he is thinking about it, he said.

“We are not looking at this as if we are trying to build bunkers around the church,” Weaver said. “I just think it’s a good common sense thing in these days when there is so much crime and unusual things going on.”

Weaver’s church has been using armed security ever since the Sept. 15, 1999, shootings at Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church.

“We also have some men, a firemen and two policemen, who are church members and I’m aware that they are carrying,” Weaver said.

The Rev. Al Meredith, pastor of Wedgwood, said he understands why churches are concerned about safety.

“The last year has been the deadliest year for violence in houses of faith,” he said. “Seventy-five people were murdered in 2012 in churches and synagogues in our country.”

However, Meredith said he is wary of handguns.

“I’m in the extreme minority here. As a Christian by conviction, I’m a pacifist. I understand that a vast majority of my congregation don’t agree with me,” Meredith said.

Meredith says his church has taken steps to toughen security since the 1999 shootings that took seven lives and wounded seven others. The church has armed security, including police officers who are church members.

On Monday and Tuesday, his church will be the site for a two-day conference on church security.

“I know people are going to carry handguns because they want to protect themselves,” Meredith said. “I get very, very nervous, though, knowing people out there (in the congregation) are packing. It makes me think we are returning to the days of the shootout at the OK Corral. That’s a part of the wild West we don’t want to resurrect.”

He believes leaders of churches should know who is carrying weapons and insist that they be thoroughly trained.

“I don’t want some trigger-happy person to start firing at every skinhead who might walk into the church acting a little weird,” Meredith said.

Hurst police officer Jimmy Meeks, who has been speaking at church security conferences since 2009, praised church members who have been taking the handgun classes. He agrees with Meredith that those carrying handguns should receive intense training on when — and when not to — draw their weapons.

“I plead with anybody who’s going to carry a gun to church to make sure they know what they are doing,” Meeks said. “People say, ‘God will help me,’ and I hope he does. If 20 people stand up and start shooting, you endanger other people and the shooter may get away.”

Guerrero said the gun classes at Worth Baptist include teaching when it’s appropriate and not appropriate to use weapons. During the 10 hours of training, students learn gun safety and spend time on a target range. They must achieve 70 percent accuracy to qualify for a license.

Russell Patterson of Joshua, a computer executive, is among those who took the recent gun class at Worth Baptist, where he is a member.

Patterson said his motive for obtaining a concealed handgun permit was to be better able to protect his family.

“I just hope I never have to do it,” he said.

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