Guns in Church?

(Spectrumbot) #1

In the latest version of the Spectrum journal, linguistics professor Terese Thonus writes a personal article called "Guns in Church: No Sanctuary" about her fear of guns in churches, and her campaign to convince her local Adventist church to adopt a policy about firearms.

In this interview she talks about the background of her fear and why she decided to move her family from Kansas to Maryland.

If you haven't yet read the article, maybe this Q&A will encourage you to pick it up. If you aren't a Spectrum subscriber, you are missing out, not only on the thought-provoking piece from Terese Thonus, but 80 pages of reporting and essays, art and poetry, on topics from hermeneutics to young millenial Adventist beliefs to women's ordination. Click on the "Journal" tab above, and "Subscribe here."

Question: You have been concerned about our church's policy, or lack thereof, about guns in church. What can you tell us about your situation in Kansas, where you lived until recently?

My situation in Kansas became untenable both at work and at church. At the University of Kansas, we were told that as of July 1, 2017, our concealed carry exemption would expire. All campus facilities, therefore, would be accessible to those carrying firearms, unless such facility could provide armed security and metal detectors. (Practically, only Athletics has enough money to monitor access to the campus stadium and basketball hall.)

As state employees, we would be submitted to a gag rule: I could be arrested, for example, for inquiring whether someone was carrying before gaining access to my office since that would be a violation of his/her Second Amendment rights. I realized that it would be difficult for me to protect my students and employees, and to protect myself, if someone wanted to discharge a weapon. This caused me a great deal of anxiety, especially after I engaged in two active shooter trainings conducted by our campus police department.

Out in public, I gradually became aware of how many people around me were carrying firearms. For example, one day in June 2017, I visited a Social Security office and was asked by uniformed security whether I was carrying a weapon, and my purse was searched. During my 45-minute wait for an appointment, the same officer asked four individuals who answered "yes" to his question to return to their vehicles and stow their guns. Two of these individuals engaged in arguments with the officer about their Second Amendment rights and had to be informed that they were now on federal, not state property.

I am naive enough to expect that the churches I attend, especially Adventist churches, are places of refuge and safety, and I very much believe that the church sanctuary should be "a house of prayer for all people." I am smart enough to know that my beliefs about guns are not shared by all Adventists and that some members of my congregation no doubt own firearms. When I realized that those same people might think it okay to bring those firearms into a sanctuary, I was shocked. Perhaps I shouldn't have been, but I was. I no longer felt safe.

Your article talks about your son, who is now 20 and diagnosed with autism, and the fascination he has with guns, even going so far as stealing your credit card to buy a gun on Amazon. What can you do as a mother to protect your son and yourself?

I believe that the best protection I can give my son is to urge him not to carry a weapon. As an adult living in Kansas, David may or may not be able to own a weapon in future depending on enforcement of statutes regarding mental health status and background checks. He has received basic training in personal protection as a student of taekwondo. His limitations make it difficult for him to understand nuances, such as the difference between a police officer carrying a firearm on the job vs. carrying a firearm in church.

Last summer you moved to Baltimore from Kansas, partly as a consequence of the law permitting the carrying of concealed weapons almost anywhere in Kansas. How have you found Baltimore to be different from Kansas, and your local church in Baltimore vs. in Kansas?

The local church in Kansas decided that sticking our heads in the sand was the solution. In Baltimore in particular, gun violence is wrapped around narratives of police brutality and race. At the University of Baltimore, where I work, more than half of the students are underrepresented minorities, and we often discuss issues of gun safety and control.

Black Seventh-day Adventist pastors I have talked to are very much against firearms in their churches, and the pastor of the multiracial church where I currently attend is very much against them. I don't know whether the congregation would back a gun-free policy, and thus far I'm keeping my opinions to myself, perhaps out of a false sense of security.

And it is certainly false. Last week in Harford County, north of Baltimore, several pastors approached their representatives in the Maryland House of Delegates to push through legislation permitting church members to carry weapons — this on the heels of the Texas church shooting.

You strongly encouraged your local pastor in Kansas to develop a policy on guns in the church, and a plan in case of an active shooter. What response did you get? What response did you want?

My Spectrum article “No Sanctuary" includes emails I exchanged with two local pastors. Neither of the pastors was willing to bring up the issue of guns in church board meetings or to engage their congregation in discussion and training around possible active shooter events. When the Kansas-Nebraska Conference informed pastors that they should neither encourage nor discourage guns in churches, my pastor asked that I drop the issue. He found it difficult to separate my position on noncombatancy from my position on carry of firearms in churches. These positions are related, but separate, and my focus was on safety. I could not (and cannot) understand.

Do you feel that a church should be treated differently than other public places when it comes to carrying guns?

While a church may be open to the public, a church is not a public space. It is privately owned and managed. Any private space can be declared by its owners and managers a gun-free zone. In some states, including Kansas, any public or private space is considered open to gun carry unless designated otherwise.

It is my opinion that some public spaces, including schools and hospitals, should also be designated gun-free. The irony is that the lawmakers who proposed and passed permitless firearms carry in Kansas — including in public schools and mental health centers — did so ensconced in a gun-free zone: the State Capitol.

You probably found yourself in disagreement with many of your neighbors in Kansas, with your strong antipathy to guns. Why do you not own a gun? What is your philosophy on gun ownership? How is that philosophy informed by your religious beliefs?

Jan Paulsen [former General Conference president] stated it best in a March 2008 Adventist World article: "When you carry arms you imply that you are prepared to use them to take another's life, and taking the life of one of God's children, even that of our 'enemy,' is inconsistent with what we know to be sacred and right" ("Clear Thinking About Military Service," p. 8).

As an Adventist Christian, I believe that I should not carry a firearm, either for personal protection or as a member of the military. The release of Hacksaw Ridge was an excellent opportunity for the Adventist Church to address pacifism, noncombatancy, and gun violence. Instead, we focused on Desmond Doss's courage under fire and contribution to his country, all of which are noteworthy, but we completely missed the point.

You describe yourself as becoming more fearful in recent years. Why is this? Have you been in a situation personally where you were afraid for your own safety?

The poem in "No Sanctuary" refers to three experiences of violence in my life: personal assault (physical and sexual), consequences of war I've seen in refugees, and the shock of seeing firearms, both open and concealed, in churches.

Do you feel that this issue is one that should be looked at higher up in church administration, at the union or division level, or is this an issue for the local church, dependent on local needs and culture?

I think that local churches should be allowed to decide whether and how to create their sanctuaries as weapons-free zones. Absolutely this is an issue that must be discussed "higher up" as well because of safety and liability issues. Adventist Risk Management insurance policies, for example, have a firearms use exclusion, which means that an employee or volunteer "protecting" a congregation is personally liable in legal actions.

How long have you been an Adventist?

I have been a Christian since 16 and an Adventist since 18. I was baptized at the Beltsville Maryland Seventh-day Adventist Church. Having been raised Catholic, I was (and am) particularly interested in the church's teachings on health, the priesthood of all believers, and a historically broad interpretation of "Thou shalt not kill." Some of the strongest and gentlest Adventists I know are pacifists and noncombatants, including three Whitecoats. As possession and use of firearms is now being cast as a public health issue, I think the church in North America has the opportunity to combine teaching about our "health message" with teaching about "bearing arms."

Where have you lived?

As a child, I lived in Latin America (Colombia, Aruba), Europe (Britain, the Netherlands), and Asia (Japan, Singapore). As an adult, I have lived throughout the United States (Alabama, California, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, and North Carolina) in addition to Brazil and Thailand.

What advice do you have for parents of teens who may be interested in guns?

As an Adventist parent, I've tried to avoid "strain[ing] out gnats but swallow[ing] a camel" (Matthew 23:23). If our children have made a decision to follow Christ, I think it is important to share with them the multiplicity of views about the sixth commandment that exist in Christian and Adventist circles. Let them know that they can make the decision not to own guns or to use them for "self-protection." I use the negative here on purpose, since the norm in the United States is to own and use guns. According to BBC News, as of November 2017, Americans own 270 million guns — not including military and police weapons — that is, on average nine guns for every 10 residents. Information like this that is publicly available can become part of our conversations with teens about "camels" — frankly, how Jesus asks that we treat people, including our enemies or potential enemies.

Terese Thonus is an applied linguist who serves as professor and director of the University Writing Program at the University of Baltimore. Previously, she directed the Writing Center at the University of Kansas and taught at California State University-Fresno, Southwestern Adventist College and East Carolina University.

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum Magazine.

Image credit: Pexels.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Allen Shepherd) #2

Why is it that you no longer feel safe? Certainly you are not thinking the members will shoot you. So it is that the guns are dangerous and should not be anywhere as someone can be hurt?

If there had been a gun carrying member of the church where the shooting occurred, would not that have lead to less deaths?

I am not in favor of guns, and do not own one, but know several members that do. I think it is their right to do so, and the laws have been changed so that concealing guns is no longer required in many areas.

Do you really think it is the police that are the problem with black shootings? Are you aware that almost all of blacks shot are by other blacks? Now maybe the guns in the hands of blacks should be addressed, but to think it is a police problem is to not see the real issue.

I don’t think this would be a bad idea. Or some method of helping others to do it.

I think it would be best to disallow guns in church, but there are some who would not agree. I am impressed that you would move to another state to live as you would like, but the liberal coasts are not the places were gun violence is less. And Baltimore??

You have jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

Here are stats from Baltimore in 2015 in an article published in 2016:

Blood was shed in Baltimore at an unprecedented pace in 2015, with mostly young, black men shot to death in a near-daily crush of violence.

On a per-capita basis, the year was the deadliest ever in the city. The year’s tally of 344 homicides was second only to the record 353 in 1993, when Baltimore had about 100,000 more residents.

More than 90 percent of the homicide victims this year were boys or men, more than 90 percent were black, and more than half were between the ages of 18 and 30 — reflecting an urban reality that residents and civil rights activists say is devoid of legitimate job opportunities and caught up in the often-violent drug trade.

Do you really think you are safer there? Really??

Here are the stats for Kansas City, a place that had a big up tick in homocide:

The killers, where known, were usually young — two out of three were between ages 17 and 34. Nine out of 10 were males. Three-fourths of them were black. The victims, too, were mostly young black men.

1 I am no supporter of guns. Never owned one, never will Note my statement:

  1. To Prof Kent:

He quotes me here:

Then says;

You seem to be arguing that since terrorists kill few people, and yet we worry much about that, that though white police kill few blacks, we should worry about that as well, though the number is small.

I would argue that it might be better to address the two issues where the greatest number of deaths are caused: black on black violence, at least being the one.

To James Londis:

Well, no James. See statement from my post above.


he quotes me:

Then claims i am a white supremacist:

Come on Harry. I think that whites killing whites is a problem and not police killing whites, as well as I think blacks killing blacks is a much bigger problem than police killing blacks. Thinking that black on black crime is a problem is not the stance of a white supremacist:

From the Christian Science Monitor, Sept, 2016:

But the term is not a description used only by whites. Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said in a Facebook video in April that “everyday we have black-on-black crime killing each other,” criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement for ignoring the problem.

The NAACP also talked about black-on-black crime and how it must be addressed.

“How do we give life to the narrative that Black Lives Matter when we are doing the killing?” said chairman Roslyn Brocks in the 2015 annual convention. “Let me be crystal clear black-on-black crime must end in our community as we imbue new life and meaning into the often quoted hashtag #Black Lives Matter!”

The problem is that white police killing black men is a minuscule statistic. Address it, but if you don’t do the other, you are missing the vast majority of the problem.

Baltimore and Kansas City, Ks are two of the 10 most dangerous cities in America, each having a per capita violent crime rate of about 1.7/100,000 population. Rural Kansas is much safer than Baltimore.

(Jeffrey Kent) #3

It’s amazing how often we see these arguments. Their soundness can be illustrated by parallel reasoning. Here’s an example:

Almost all Americans are shot by other Americans. Now maybe the guns in the hands of terrorists should be addressed, but to think there is a terrorist problem is not to see the real issue.

And here are two more gun arguments:

We don’t need gun regulations because: (1) Guns are not a problem. The people who use them are the problem. And (2) if you are going to impose gun regulations on us, the next step you want is to take away our second amendment right to own them.

With parallel reasoning:

(1) We don’t need drug regulations because drugs are not a problem. The people who use them are the problem.

(2) We don’t need automobile regulations because if you are going to impose speed regulations on us, or seatbelt regulations, the next step you want is to take our vehicles away from us.

Certain media sources, politicians, and gun advocates have lots of “talking points.” If only they exercised critical thinking to the same extent.

FYI, annual deaths in the U.S. by the (approximate) numbers: 90,000 via alcohol; 60,000 via drugs; 40,000 via automobile accidents; 20,000 via gun suicide; 10,000 via gun homicide by other Americans; 10,000 via air pollution; 10-20 via terrorists; 10-20 via the Illuminati (okay, just kidding with the last one).

Professor (my occupation, not my ranking) Kent

(James J Londis) #4

I may have missed it. Is the article saying that members can bring concealed weapons to church? And was Shep saying that would be a good thing if someone bent on murder brought his concealed weapon in and started shooting? Or are the weapons out where everyone can see them? It appears that members who feel unsafe at church without concealed weapons being around them are having their feelings respected far more than the members who do not want concealed weapons around them because they feel unsafe, or they feel it violates the spirit and teachings of Jesus. I for one would not even attend an SDA church that voted for concealed weapons.

(Steve Mga) #5

I have heard several church pastors here in Macon state that they KNOW there are a
few of their members who have Carry Permits, and DO CARRY 7 days a week.
HOWEVER, these Carry Permit recipients DO NOT talk about it. NOR do they
carry their weapon in such a way that is is obvious to anyone.

So if I was a pastor, I would ASK – 1. Do NOT talk about your Carry Permit.
2. Your weapon MUST be carried in such a way that it is NOT noticeable in church.
3. Otherwise – No ASK, No TELL.


It is funny if this is about safety, first she should have her son go through an NRA gun safety program if he is that interested in guns. Second is the simple logic that if someone decides to bring a gun to kill people they will likely choose a so called gun free zone. It is not like they think that they will get into more trouble if they kill people in a gun free zone, they already know they are going to break the law, but they will likely not be shot by a citizen with a gun in a gun free zone. Someone moving from Kansas to the per capita murder capital of America, Baltimore, must not be thinking too clearly if safety is a concern!

(Harry Allen) #7

These questions, and this statement, are based on such woefully white supremacist conceptions that one is dumbfounded on how to address conclusions so misinformed and inartfully stated.

Are you aware that, in America, almost all of white people are shot by other white people? Now maybe the guns in the hands of white people in America should be addressed, but to think it is a police problem is to not see the real issue.


(jeremy) #8

i totally share terese’s feelings on this subject…if i knew my home church allowed people to carry concealed weapons, i’d change churches, or stay home…the thought that someone sitting next to me in a church pew could be carrying a firearm, and could decide to use it, is terrifying…


Contrary to the quote used in the authors article, I do not carry a weapon in preparation to take another’s life’s. I do it to be prepared to protect my life, my family’s and others around me from someone seeking to take another life.

(Mark Cady, MD) #12

“Guns in Church”, a matter of taste or a matter of security. One is subjective (taste), while the other is not. Or is it?

Consider how safe you feel once you settle into the seat on your next airline flight. TSA has finally released you from it’s clutches and you breath a sigh of relief knowing that your seat mate is unlikely to instigate an unsurrection under threat of handgun or boxcutter. After all, 7.2 billion $US Was spent this year on your air passenger safety.

Truth is, reports reveal that TSA somehow manages to intercept about 5% of routine contraband. So 95% of the guns, knives, pepper spray, explosive devices, hairspray and water bottles seem to be a part of the air passenger’s flying experience as well.

I feel safe. And for the most part I am. I feel safe when I fly.

But what about church? Shall we arm or shall we disarm? To truly disarm, we may need scanners, body searches and k-9 helpers to ferret out the most resistant patriot church members. Sounds redicullus, no? But so does 7.2 billion at only just 5%.

In truth, I was surprised to hear some time ago that my pastor carried a concealed weapon. He carried it every day, everywhere. Even though two close friends in my Sabbath School had carried to church for years, the pastor was somehow another story.

What was my SDA home church coming to? Did I feel safe with my children roaming the halls on their own? Was it more likely I would one day be struck down by “friendly fire” rather than a fiendish sharpshooter?

What would Jesus do?

First He would point us to the Father. The Father who showed us best how to love most. To love not just the lovely occupants of our houses of prayer but the unlovely as well. If guns make one unlovely, than carriers qualify. As do all other real or perceived threats to our Sabbath morning comfort, safety and good taste. These may well include latecomers, lazy Sabbath School attendees, child abusers, fornicators, adulterers, thieves, murderers, homosexuals, carnivores, gluttons, smokers, alcoholics, the uneducated, the homeless and the unclean.

Next Jesus would seek balance. Like God did. Recall, Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah and the flood, Israel and the wilderness, Jonah and the whale, sin and salvation? He asks how we would balance the threat of death over life where random violence in society is emerging as the tragic norm.

TSA can isolate about 5% of the threat of violence in air travel. Likely guns in church can do little better. In the end, as long as we have bad people using manmade tools to orchestrate chaos, mayhem and death we will continue to have just that. Take away all the people or take away all the guns and then we can talk.

Guns in church are simply guns in church. To deny their presence is to deny who and what we are. We are simply flawed. Take away the guns, and we still have flawed people. Bring in the guns and we are still just as flawed. Flawed with the blemish Christ came to eradicate.

Guns in church are simply a symptom of our true selves. As such, this particular symptom leads us to the cause of our spiritual illness. Carry or not.

His Gospel is the only cure for what ails us. Carry or not. But strangely I think, He is calling. For each of us to pickup and to carry, His Word to each who carry or not.

(Johnny Carson) #13

My, how times have changed. I recall a time when no Adventist would even own a gun unless their family depended upon venison to supplement their food supply, much less carry one for self defense. Now, it seems, we have self proclaimed “mainstream” Adventists promoting the carrying weapons, even to church. Low, how the mighty hath fallen!

(John Witcombe) #14

Jan Paulsen states: “When you carry arms you imply that you are prepared to use them to take another’s life, and taking the life of one of God’s children, even that of our ‘enemy,’ is inconsistent with what we know to be sacred and right”

It just feels wrong to be preparing oneself to take another’s life. But we must not form our theology on feelings but on God’s Word. So, what does the Word of God teach on this volatile topic? As a pacifist pastor, I decided to find out and the linked document is what I discovered:

(Pagophilus) #15

Guns…American problems… The rest of the world doesn’t have these issues. From an outsider (Australian) looking in, you guys (Americans in general) are nuts when it comes to guns, concealed carry permits etc.

(Gerhard Dr Svrcek Seiler) #16

Vienna is getting he more insecure - immigrants import an atmosphere of violence.

But, believe me, I am glad NOT and never owning thsi fascnating gun of Glock. I am not trained, I am not taught to evaluate : shoot for killing immediately or shoot just stopping further violence or dont shoot, jsut giving the messsage " "I have the power to - - ".

Sorry to mention it : What were we accused of infidelity because our SDA, in Wehrmacht did nor theatrically reject the acception of infantry rifles ! - , while millions of bullets were spread over Europe never aimead at a human target ! (every realized that ?) - Other the artillery : Just two or three grenates at a little fortification, and those there wre DEAD!- Nearly the same wth the macine gun the machine guns.

But we were / are conscious objectors.

Now you do not care for security by having two uniformed cops or securities in your church, bearing automatic guns for a security severely endangered ?- But evereybody shoud be his own policeman, jury and judge !

Noo, I stay at home here !.

(reliquum) #17

Between Luke 22:36 and Simon Peter nicking Malchus ear, the responses of Jesus to people being armed seems completely at odds with this article. Seems keeping your guns holstered as biblical principle has more support in writ than eschewing any/all possession.

Now, I do understand how and why people have what sometimes appears as irrational fear of arms (even in the hands of trained, God fearing honest citizenry) but in reality the fearsome thing is the evil person (often with multiple weapons) who is hell bent and intent on inflicting harm in any way possible. I’d wager that protecting the helpless from the mad acts of such madmen rates high on Jesus spectrum of permitted vs prohibited behaviors. Sadly this article plies on emotional fear of guns in order to shame the legal and rational carry option.

I’d suggest that “carry” should be in the same category as sexual choice-keep quiet about it, it’s nobody elses business. Sadly, we can’t seem to help ourselves, and make it everybody elses business-and then try foreclose anothers legal choice.

(James Klein) #18

I have a dilemma: I have never owned or carried a gun, and was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. BUT: I personally am not opposed to policeman or the military carrying arms to keep the peace. This seems rather hypocritical of me. How do I logically / philosophically hold such a view of arms?


Good guys with guns only shoot bad guys with guns shooting the unarmed innocent. Not only does our church have qualified volunteer security my pastor let’s it be known that his church has the highest % conceal carry congregation in the county. Greater chances are bad guys will go somewhere else to attempt to kill the innocent.

Further discussion/replies in Lounge.

(Bruce Clements) #20

This article, and the fact that The Editors of Spectrum find its logic compelling enough to print, demonstrate another reason why I have no confidence in people who claim to have faith in God. So what if the person next to you in church has an Uzi in his arm pit? And if another “evil” man is in The White House, rather than a not quite as evil woman, how is that a problem, rather than being absolutely laughable? In fact, isn’t the worst case scenario of utter annihilation of the human race good news for Adventsts because it would mean that they were reunited, en masse, with their beloved creator? What happened to fearing no evil, even if it is sitting right beside you in church? Or is the election of Trump so vile that God can’t possibly use it to His advantage or make it work out for good?
Someone said, (and I don’t care if it was Jesus, Paul, EGW or the man in the moon) that in the end there would be those who claim to love God but deny the power thereof. To my mind this is the most apt description of almost every theist and/or religious person I’ve ever met.
And BTW, I spent years living and working in The Greater Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area and if you feel safer in downtown B’more than out on the wide expanses of Kansas due to the gun laws in these respective locations, I’d submit that all of your education and educating has done little to improve your survival skills or sense of self preservation.