Among the bills passed by Wisconsin’s legislature and signed into law by Governor Walker, is one permitting “concealed carry” of handguns. It will go into effect in November and has caused consternation in many quarters. Churches and other property owners are permitted to put up signs that state weapons are forbidden to ensure that law-abiding citizens carrying guns will not bring them onto premises. Grace Church already has a published policy (in our employee handbook) that forbids weapons on church property.
There is considerable discussion about how churches should respond. The Wisconsin Council of Churches has produced material to help churches decide and the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee will debate a resolution that recommends forbidding weapons on all property owned by, or held in trust for, the Diocese (which would include all churches and rectories): concealedcarryresolution
There was lively debate about the resolution at yesterday’s clergy day. I am opposed to the law and to any law that increases the possibility of violence in our community. However, I am also mindful of my own experience. When we were living in Tennessee back in the 1990s, I remember the first time I noticed the sign forbidding weapons on the entry doors of the Chattanooga airport. I was relieved to know that weapons were prohibited in the airport (this was years before 9-11) but suddenly I realized the sign meant that people carrying concealed weapons were out on the streets, in stores and restaurants, and the like. Tennessee was then, and undoubtedly remains, a violent state. While we lived there, several local county courthouses were bombed with dynamite by disgruntled citizens.
Signs forbidding weapons in churches remind us that churches are sanctuaries, places of peace, and link us to the long history of churches providing safe havens for people threatened by violence. At the same time, such signs prominently displayed can arouse fear and suspicion.
As churches, we are to offer a message of love and hope, not fear and the question for me is whether chilling signs with handguns prominently displayed that inevitably remind us of the violence inherent in our society, proclaim the love of Christ.