A new policy in Illinois has left individual churches to make a decision on whether or not to allow concealed carry permit holders their right to self-defense in church establishments.
“The first thing you have to do, whether you’re pro-gun or anti-gun, is wake up to the reality that people are being killed at houses of worship and on the property where houses of worship are located,” said Jimmy D. Meeks, a 41-year Southern Baptist minister from Texas and traveling minister giving seminars to help churches and faith-based organizations become aware of the violence occurring on such properties, and how they can create a safer atmosphere.
Illinois is the last state to grant its residents the right to carry in public, after an appellate court struck down the state’s ban in December 2012, forcing lawmakers to establish specific concealed carry legislation.
The concealed carry legislation resulted in a 168-page bill that passed the General Assembly in July, but the first concealed carry weapon permits were not given out until February.
The 10 largest churches in Illinois, reported by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, range from average weekly attendances from 5,300 to more than 25,000 church-goers. Of these churches, five of them prohibit firearms, four allow them and one church refused to reply to repeated inquiries on their policy.
Willow Creek Community Church, the largest church in Illinois with an average congregation size of over 25,000 people, allows the public to carry concealed firearms for self-defense. They also cited they don’t want to post large “No Firearms” signs, which must be displayed on entrances of churches and businesses that create a no firearms policy.
Calvary Church in Naperville, Illinois, a mega church with an average weekly attendance more than 7,000 people refused to comment on their “no firearms” policy. They immediately took action to prohibit firearms by posting the 4×6-inch “No Firearms” sign at every entrance, declaring their building a gun free zone.
The decision of the churches to prohibit firearms in their building has not gone over well with many in the church community for safety, personal liberty and biblical reasons.
“Since 1999, the year of Columbine, churches and faith-based property have seen over 480 violent deaths, people who have been violently murdered while at church or faith-based property,” said Meeks. “And the scary thing about that statistic is that people are more likely to die at a church or faith-based property than at a school.”
As of May, there have been about 25 people shot this year at churches, he said. “We’ve had children shot on church playgrounds, and a priest beaten to death by a wooden stake.”
Georgia overturned their state’s ban on guns in churches in late April, leaving individual houses of worship the choice to allow firearms in their establishment.
“The Second Amendment should never be an afterthought. It should be at the forefront of our minds,” said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal at the signing of the bill. “This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules — and who can protect themselves and others from those who don’t play by the rules.”
Some pastors in Illinois believe the idea of weapons in a house of worship sends the wrong message.
“We just don’t want people coming in packing,” said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church. “It’s antithetical to what we stand for. We want the sanctuary to be a sanctuary. Our neighborhood has had violence issues, so we want to be an oasis from that.”
Meeks said a church has the same divine protection as another place.
“I am not one who believes in the sacredness of a church building, putting a steeple on top of a building, saying, ‘that’s where we worship God.’ The church is no more divinely protected than a local nightclub,” he said.
“It’s not what we call scripturally sound. It’s superstition, it’s not spirituality. A criminal couldn’t care less where you are,” he said.
“People who think: ‘We are safe here, we’ll be protected by God, this is his house,’ they simply have not studied his scripture. Even Jesus said: ‘Beware of men who will harm you in the house of worship,’ Matthew 10:17.”
The National Association for Gun Rights, the fastest-growing and second largest gun group in the land, also weighed in on the decision of churches to prohibit firearms.
“Progressives believe that rights come from a piece of paper that can be easily changed,” said Dudley W. Brown, executive vice president of the NAGR. “The rights protected by the Second Amendment are God-given.”
“These individual rights are littered through scripture. The founding fathers saw fit to guard our means of protecting those rights when they enshrined the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights,” he said.
“Gun free zones are criminal safe zones,” he said. “James Holmes, the infamous Aurora theater shooter, intentionally chose a theater that was a gun free zone. There were seven other movie theaters closer to his home, but he chose that theater and purchased his tickets two weeks in advance.”
Meeks said establishments should take pause before prohibiting law-abiding gun owners from carrying the tools of self-defense.
“One thing the anti-gun people never understood is where murder comes from,” he said. “Murder comes from the heart, Jesus said that. It doesn’t come from the handgun. There were murders for thousands of years before guns were made.”
[Pastor Jimmy Meeks will be hosting a large seminar in Wichita, Kansas, Sept. 12-13 to help churches and faith-based organizations become aware of the violence occurring on church properties, and how they can create a safer atmosphere. Click here for more information.]