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Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 11:06am

Faith and Firearms: Georgia Churches, Parishioners Weigh Options Ahead of New Gun Law

Berean Baptist Church is an unassuming white building just off Interstate 20 in Social Circle. The church is fairly young, having taken over the property from another congregation a few years ago. But the decision to allow guns onto their grounds come July 1, could put Berean Baptist on the map.

"The way the law is written, whatever the governing body of a church is has to make that decision and so our governing body has made the decision, but we still feel like that the process needs to include the congregation,” explained Pastor Tom Rush. “We need to get feedback from them and so that's what we're in the process of doing right now. I anticipate that on July 1st, our church will be one that will opt in, but we're not at that point yet."

Rush is a military veteran and a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. Under current Georgia law, the only people allowed to carry firearms onto church property are law enforcement officers. Rush says one of the members of his church is in law enforcement and people feel safer when that officer is in church.

"I think sometimes people get the idea that if we allow guns in church, it's gonna be like some scene from the old west and everybody's gonna be sitting here with a shotgun across their lap and that's not gonna be the case,” Rush said. “But we have people who are more than capable of providing the same kind of security that our off-duty law enforcement personnel can, but under current law they're not allowed to.”

Losing My Religion

The new law is spurring conversations in congregations across Georgia. And in some cases, people are choosing to leave their longtime churches based on whether guns are allowed or not.

Daniel and his wife Valerie stopped attending church last month after the Bishop Robert Wright of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta announced the churches he oversees in north and middle Georgia would not be opening their doors to firearms. Wright wrote a letter to his parishioners in April.

"Let me put it to you this way, that 'no guns' sign never stopped anybody,” said Daniel, who asked we not use his family’s last name.

The couple and their two children had been attending Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church in Atlanta for the last year, but they are now looking for a new spiritual home.
“It is kind of a hole; it's a hole in our Sundays now,” Valerie explained. “I'm feeling a little lost. Like, 'what should I do?' There's all this extra time [that] doesn't feel right! But I'm sure we will find a place that's just right for us. I'm sure it's out there."

Both Daniel and Valerie are licensed gun owners. Daniel said he carries his weapon every day. Valerie, a teacher, said while she cannot bring her gun to work, so regularly carries it any time she goes somewhere out of her normal daily routine.

The couple wrote their own letter to Bishop Wright, saying the diocese’s decision to not allow firearms in churches “infringes” on their personal freedoms.

“I guess God put this in our path for a reason and for us to figure out where our priorities are,” reasoned Daniel. “Our priority includes church, so that's not in question. What it also includes is you know, is having certain freedoms not curtailed and not decided for us.”

What Would Jesus Do?

Bishop Wright said the decision not to allow guns was an easy one.

"The gospel of Jesus is very clear that we are to love neighbor, pray for enemy, turn the other cheek, the meek shall inherit the earth, to not live by sword,” Wright recited. “All this is very clear from Jesus and so, while it's difficult and even controversial, I think this is the right conversation to be having."

The Bishop explained that while he may disagree with lawmakers and some church-goers, he has been encourage by the support he has received.

"Young people, especially, have been contacting me over social media who are not a part of our congregations, saying 'thank you.’ And so, while I regret personally and it's hard for me to say goodbye to people, it has been exciting to say some of the 'hellos' that we've been saying,” said Bishop Wright.

Pastor Rush, however, has a different view.

“I hope we can still be friends, but we're [going to] disagree. I believe that Jesus walked around with a group of disciples who carried,” Rush emphasized.

Rush said he has been ironing out some of the legal and insurance issues associated with allowing “church carry” and encourages any congregation or church leader looking to open their doors to firearms to do the same.

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