No guns at Episcopal churches in Georgia, bishops say

[Episcopal News Services] Firearms will not be permitted in buildings or on property of any Episcopal church anywhere in the state of Georgia, bishops of the two Georgia dioceses have said.

Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Rob Wright and Diocese of Georgia Bishop Scott Benhase were responding to Gov. Nathan Deal’s April 24 signing of what is called the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014. Each sent letters to clergy and lay leaders last week.

The law, which expands broadly where guns may be carried, takes effect July 1. Places of worship may allow the carrying of weapons, but that permission must be granted by the ecclesiastical authority which, in the case of the Episcopal Church, is the diocesan bishop. Illegally bringing a gun into a house of worship will be considered a misdemeanor with a $100 fine. On-duty law enforcement officers will be exempt from the restriction.

Wright said his “judgment and this policy are based on the normative understanding of the teachings of Jesus as The Episcopal Church has received them,” in his letter. “This matter and I hope this policy afford us yet another opportunity to live the words we pray each week.”

Benhase wrote that in his judgment “firearms of any kind have no place in any of our church buildings.”

“If I am requested by a congregation to grant them permission, as the laws provides but does not require, I will not grant such permission,” he wrote. “In my judgment, the only people who are appropriately allowed to carry firearms in any of our church buildings are law enforcement officers who are on duty at the time.”

Benhase and Wright had previously issued a joint statement while the Georgia legislature was in session in March considering the bill decrying the measure and questioning the logic behind expanding gun-carry locations.

More than 200 Georgia faith leaders spoke against having guns in houses of worship during the March session.

– Diocese of Atlanta Director of Communication Nan Ross contributed to this article.

Comments

  1. Douglas M. Carpenter says:

    Thank God for our Georgia bishops taking a strong stand against this insane desire of many to introduce more guns into our society. – the Rev. Doug Carpenter, Birmingham

  2. John Andrews says:

    I am personally most disappointed not in the actions of our governor, but also the legislature for letting the bill even be introduced….and for those who chose to vote in favor as did my own representative……..I hope that this will open the eyes of the good people of the State of Georgia and asked that this be repealed……It is a very harmful law and has nothing to do with the right to bear arms as guaranteed by our constitution. Thank God for people like the Episcopal Bishops of Georgia………….

  3. Talmage G. Bandy says:

    Thanks be to God for bold bishops. Scott came from my diocese (NC) and I am proud of him. He also changed my thinking on same-sex blessings when he stood up in our diocese and said he had done a “same-sec blessing” for a couple who had been together for 36 years. How many weddings have we done that haven’t lasted a year? We (Episcopalians) bless boats, animals, homes, hunting hounds ~ you name it. Why not a committed couple? Thank you Scott for setting this old timer straight! You won’t remember me, but I sure as heck remember you. Deacon Tally Bandy, Diocese of North Carolina.

  4. Bruce Garner says:

    Our legislature can’t seem to pass anything beneficial to all Georgians, such as expanding Medicaid to cover those without insurance. But they can approve having guns carried anywhere one chooses, including bars and churches. Just what we need, a more lethal mixture of guns and alcohol. Yet, what should we expect from those who mandate drug testing for those getting food stamps and public assistance….forcing the least able to pay for establishing their own eligibility. It escapes me how people can claim to follow Jesus and do such un-Jesus-like things as these folks are doing. I suppose they forgot that Jesus told us that whatever we do or fail to do for these least of these His brothers and sisters, we do or fail to do for Him. I’m grateful the Episcopal Bishops in Georgia DO remember what Jesus said and taught!

  5. Chris Walchesky says:
  6. Fr. Will McQueen says:

    Would this apply to church owned rectories? The letter says all church property.

  7. Dear folks,
    I am not Episcopalian, but I’m alarmed by several things in your article and the comments.
    Are you aware that since 1950 ALL mass murders committed with firearms have been committed in “Gun Free Zones”? have you considered that your announce automatically paints a target on every church house? Please look at Carl Chinn’s site for an annual breakdown of violence committed in all houses of worship in the US. Then please read his book, “Evil Invades Sanctuary.”
    as for your traditions of pacifism laid down by your church, they are founded, I contend, in Biblical error. Neither Jesus nor the Bible forbids the legal use of force in appropriate situations. In fact God commands that we help the innocent, with deadly force if necessary. Pacifism was not even taught in the Church until 130-150 years after Jesus ascended. For the basis of my contention, please see my book, “A Time To Kill: The Myth of Christian Pacifism.” I think you should study the facts before pronouncements that could endanger your congregations. I have a lawyer for 24 years, have taught the Bible to adults for 40 years, am a nationally certified use-of-force trainer for civilians and police(formerly taught use-of-force law to the Huntsville, AL, police) and a court-certified expert witness in use-of-force and firearms. I also train armed church security teams here in AL.
    Wishing you safety,
    Greg Hopkins Rom.15:13

  8. Sorry, all mass murders EXCEPT two.

  9. While I can not speak to the Diocese of Atlanta, the statement of the Diocese of Georgia makes it clear that this applies to churches only and so would not extend to guns locked away in a car in the parking lot, or in the rectory, or elsewhere on church property. This is intentional. Bishop Benhase’ statement is clearly written to apply solely to our worship spaces and in those areas to limit firearms to only on duty law enforcement. As he is quoted in the article above, this applies to church buildings and is, in fact, merely keeping the previous status quo as permitted under the new law.

    The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary
    Episcopal Diocese of Georgia

  10. Mike Morrissey says:

    Notes re. authority and normative

    The ENS uses the term “ecclesiastical ” for authority to ban guns. The law does not say that. Read it and we find that the authority to allow weapons rests with the congregation. In TEC Canons concerning parishes that means the rector and or vestry…..worship or grounds ….take your pick.

    The law specifies “weapons or long guns.” However the law’s definition includes anything that can propel a missile and blades 2.5 inches or longer etc. . in another part, hand held ropes are also listed. These are all prohibited on church grounds unless permission is specifically granted. I’m gla, as a noose and guns won’t be in the pews during a sermon on sin and adultery. (See all the other things that are prohibited.

    Oh yes, offense excludes arrest. It defines a violation on church grounds as max $100 fine and a misdemeanor.

    The is another nuance here. The bishop quote includes a “normative” statement re. Jesus’s teachings. I’m sorry but Jesus was “silent” on weapons in church (synagogue—Temple). Interesting how His silence is construed to allow or prohibit (establish normative) practices or prohibitions. Ah yes, norms flow with society.

    I know of one priest who was very glad that he had a pistol in his office. A very distraught husband broke into his office to kill him as the husband’s wife had come to the priest re. Spousal violence and had been referred to a shelter.

  11. Yes, thanks be to God for our bishops! Faith in God is not passive, it is fully active and courageous, are these statements by the Georgia bishops.

  12. I support your post, Mike Morrissey, but if may correct you, Jesus DID have something to say on weapons in church. He made one (a whip of cords) IN church, and then USED it on sinning congregants with great zeal! John 2:13-16 Our Lord made and used a weapon that was appropriate for the audience, the criminals and their acts. His actions speak louder than words that violence sometimes IS the answer, at least in the right moral and legal circumstances.

  13. Mike Morrissey says:

    Greg…point made.

    But wait a minute….wasn’t that in what is reported to be a marketplace (the porches and colonnades) aka Court of the Gentiles…a place where Gentiles were warned not to approach further? Well picking nits here right? I’d say that Jesus was in the rough equivalent welcome approach area of a parish. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard fellow Episcopalians complain that if a person can’t learn to use the Prayer Book (as opposed to a full worship bulletin) then maybe they shouldn’t be there—implication—approach the altar. I keep getting caught by surprise and don’t have my cat-o-nine-tails verbal response at the fore.

    Which is worse a licensed carrier or a self righteous BCP thumper in the pew. Remember the tax collector and the Pharisee? Luke 18.

  14. Mike,
    I believe the Court of the Gentiles was still part of the Temple proper, but I may be wrong on that. In any event, you’re correct that Jesus would be more offended by the self-righteous than the legally armed. After all, of the Roman centurion, He said He had not found any Jew with so great a faith as he.
    Gods Blessings,
    Greg

  15. My feeling is that if you feel the need to take a gun to church, you’re going to the wrong church. The Bishop is entirely within his rights to ban guns on church property within his diocese. We are a church governed by bishops, and he is the man. As a member of my parish vestry, I am under the direction of my bishop. The churches and other properties of the Episcopal Church belong to the diocese, not the individual parish. Read the canons. And since the members of the vestry are to serve as the spiritual leaders of the church, I can’t see any vestry choosing to approve a motion that would put any parishioner in danger.
    As far as this insane obsession with carrying firearms into public places, how exactly are we going to tell the difference between the armed “good guy” and the armed “bad guy”. Is everyone going to pull their gun out for a showdown in which I might be fought in the crossfire? This law is a threat to my safety, and my family and I will leave any public place when guns are carried by anyone!
    As for Jesus, guns were not around during his time on earth, so the argument about his tendency toward permission to carry in a house of worship is not appropriate. However, his instruction to love our neighbors as we love ourselves is. I’m pretty sure The Lord we serve would prefer we not shoot those we are instructed to love and serve. He might have cleared the money changers from the courtyard of the synagogue, but he did not act to save himself from one of the most violent deaths imaginable. And he did not choose to use violence against a regime that practiced daily violence and degedation against his own people. Both were within his power.
    In our service we greet each other by saying “Peace be with you. And also with you”. The same greeting Jesus used with his disciples . Every Sunday we are sent into to the world with the instruction to “Go forth to love and serve The Lord”. Jesus preached love, not violence. Thanks be to God.

  16. E.A. Garrett says:

    Of course since the pistols are concealed, this entirely depends upon shall we say the integrity of those attending services, unless that is the Dioceses of Georgia and Atlanta intend to start “wanding” people as they come through the church doors.

  17. James Leagan says:

    It appears that some members of the Episcopal Church in Georgia have questions about the legitimacy of our Bishops’ decisions. I do not have the knowledge to speak to that, but I do have the knowledge to address the fact that when a bad or sick person with a gun decides to attack defenseless individuals, he (usually) chooses a target that is labeled “This is a gun free zone”. I believe that if Bishop Wright and Bishop Benhase choose to put up “This is a gun free zone” on their office doors or even on their Diocesan offices and personal residences, it is not a problem. But, they have chosen to put up these signs on every Episcopal church in Georgia.

    Every church member that goes onto our church property is wearing a sign, NO GUNS HERE! Does that make me feel better? No. And I suggest that this creates a tremendous moral and legal liability for our larger Church. The first time some crazy person enters an Episcopal Church and shoots somebody, the entire congregation will have the right to sue the persons responsible for creating the target on the property. The Bishops will be first in line and I will support the suit.

    Remember, when we repeat the Ten Commandments in church, we say, “You shall not murder.” The State of Georgia made guns at churches illegal to prevent black churches from mounting the credible defense of their churches and their members as they became politically active after the Civil War of the United States. Under The Bishops’ pronouncement, the Rector and Vestry cannot call upon their church members to protect their church with guns or knives or weapons, even if a credible threat becomes known to them. Only “On-duty law enforcement officers will be exempt from the restriction.” and can come upon church property with a weapon.

    The law going into effect on July 1 allows Licensed individuals to carry a weapon onto church grounds with the church’s permission. A Licensed individual has to submit to a fingerprint check as the state and national level, must have never been convicted of a felony and must be over the age of 21 or be a member of the armed forces of our country. This is a very small percentage of those in Georgia who own guns. This change removes a Jim Crow era restriction on gun control and allows law abiding individuals to protect themselves and their loved ones from danger. I support the intent and letter of the law. I reject the ignorance of our two Bishops.

  18. Catherine Meeks says:

    Thanks be to God for our bishops. We who believe in God
    have to stand against this fear based obssession with guns.

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