THE LATEST CHALLENGE FACING SOME CONGREGATIONS IS DECIDING WHETHER OPEN CARRY GUN LAWS SHOULD EXTEND TO CHURCH PROPERTY — INCLUDING THE SANCTUARY.
Jim Coston, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, is still planning to use his guns.
He lives outside the city and wants to protect his goats and chickens, and firearms greatly diminish a wild predator’s return on investment when it comes to killing livestock and poultry.
The place that Coston isn’t taking his firearms is church.
Church leaders around Texas are — no surprise — under the impression that an openly displayed handgun doesn’t promote a worshipful environment.
Texas became an open carry state in January, when a law that passed last year by the state legislature went into effect. That means people who have had a license to carry certain concealed weapons, which has been allowed since the 1990s, can carry their guns out in the open.
Private property owners, however, have a say in whether or not they will allow those openly carried weapons in their establishments.
Now churches in the state are deciding among their options for how they want to adjust to the new rule.
“Our deacons and church council … discussed the situation in great detail and decided we would not allow any open carry in the sanctuary,” says Scott Chapman, chair of deacons at First Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.
They can’t do anything about sidewalks in and around the building, Chapman says. The law allows prohibition only inside the main building.
Chapman says he attended a seminar with almost 80 people representing 20 different churches to discuss the implications of the new law. They considered a variety of solutions. They could hand people small cards stating that the church doesn’t allow open carry or they could approach people and tell them verbally.
What First Baptist Church in Austin is opting to do is to put up a sign.
The sign must be “be displayed in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public,” according to resources from the Texas Department of Public Safety. They have to “appear in contrasting colors with block letters at least one inch in height; and be displayed in a conspicuous manner clearly visible to the public at each entrance to the property.”
Chapman says he was not happy about having a large sign mar the entryway to the church, but that it was preferable to putting an elderly church staff woman into situations that could potentially “get ugly.”
As for the why they wanted the ban?
“Many people thought it would be hard to be worshipful if they’re sitting in a pew next to someone with a gun exposed,” Chapman says. “It’s just not conducive to a worshipful experience.”
Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston was still in the process of making a decision in mid-January, said Larry Heslip, pastor of administration at the church. It’s taken a position against it but is still waiting for a congregational vote.
“We’re a very democratic bunch,” Heslip says.
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