When I speak with Muslim friends in the UK, they will often express horror and disbelief at the terrible atrocities they see being done in the name of their faith by extreme Islamists.
Sometimes, I have a similar experience as a Christian too…
Yesterday a friend of mine, Mark Perrott, who now lives in the US, visited the First Pentecostal Church in Aberdeen, Mississippi. He had gone along as a visitor for the first time.
Early on in the service, with children of all ages present, the Assistant Pastor got up to announce a competition for the church members. They would be awarding a AR 15 rifle as a prize to whoever manages to invite the most new people to their church this month.
The Pastor happily described the AR15 as a “killing machine” and added that the prize winner would also get 100 rounds of ammunition thrown in too.
Apparently it was not the first time the church had run this kind of competition: the Pastor referred to the fact that there were people now part if the church who had come because of a previous similar promotion. Well, if it works…
As Mark wrote to me:
“Whatever people’s views of gun ownership for hunting, self defense or protection against government, I cannot believe that such weapons being used as a recruiting tool to grow the church. I am at a loss…”
I realise that the ‘right to bear arms’ is a huge political issue and gun ownership is deeply embedded in US culture. Barack Obama recently said his failure to successfully bring in tighter gun control was the biggest regret of his time in office. It is a situation that is completely different to the UK.
It reminded me of Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine about gun violence in the US, where the opening scene takes place in a Bank which is offering a rifle to anyone who opens a new account. As Moore points out, a bank giving away firearms is incongruous enough. But what are we to make of a church which gives away semi-automatic rifles?
Love and compassion?
Along with my friend Mark, I am at a complete loss to understand the thinking which sees no problem in giving vicious weapons as prizes for bringing people to church. After all, it was only a couple of months ago that a gunman killed nine people in a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. And just last week, there was the horrific shootings in Virginia of a reporter and camera man live on air.
Did not these recent events cause the leaders of First Pentecostal Church to reconsider its prize? Did it not strike anyone at this church as inappropriate?
It’s ironic this is a Church (as you can see above) which features a dove, the Christian symbol of peace, in its logo. On its website, it states:
We are endeavoring to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with love, mercy and compassion (Luke 24:47)
But how does an AR15 rifle represent love, mercy and compassion? How is this consistent with Jesus’ teaching that ‘blessed are the Peacemakers’?
Many people like me simply cannot understand the perspective that refuses to see the connection between such widespread gun ownership and such high rates of gun violence. We are even more baffled when the Church promotes and celebrates gun culture.
If you have 3 minutes, watch this powerful video about a group of activists who opened a gun shop in New York to challenge the idea that owing a gun made you safer:
There has been a positive development in this story because yesterday (Monday 31st August), Mark was in contact with the Pastor of the church, the Rev Ricky Bowen. He told Mark that the church has decided to withdraw the rifle as a prize and wrote:
‘My heart is hurting as I really did not think the promotion all the way through. Your post opened my eyes with an alarming, resounding jolt. I trust you will not judge us by a bad choice of gifting. We really did not even think of it in a negative way until now. I know that must sound foreign to you, however we have had weapons since we were children. That is the way all of us were raised. Thank you for your post. I love the service of Christ. It is my breath, life and hope. The weapon is no longer part of a promotion. May God richly bless you and your business. Your servant in Christ. Ricky Bowen’
In response, Mark (who runs a furniture business) offered to give the church a hand-made coffee table that they could give as an alternative gift. He said he was inspired by the verse in Isaiah 2 which says:
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
This is a good outcome. It is uplifting that Pastor Bowen and his church decided to take such swift action and act in such a gracious way. Perhaps, this episode is an opportunity for the US Church to reflect further on what it can do about gun culture.
This whole story may just be about one weapon amid countless others, but perhaps it can give us hope that change is possible…
15 thoughts on “The church that gives away assault rifles to whoever brings along the most new people”
Let alone the idea that somehow the disciples would get rewarded based on the number who responded to their message
Unfathomable! Powerful video, even though the customers had probably heard of the cases the reality of seeing the guns obviously hits hard.
Reblogged this on John Tasker's Blog and commented:
Inspiring story about the power of speaking from one culture to another, and the bigger picture of God that is opened-up.
First and foremost, I’m not replying to start any type of fire or argue with what has been previously stated, but I do need to point out a few facts about this situation since our church name is on the line now, to better understand our church and culture here in the southern USA. I apologize ahead of time if I make anyone upset or if you don’t believe the same as we do. I should start off by explaining our Bishop’s passion and radical purpose to win souls. He is the type of man of God that would give his own house and vehicles to see just one soul saved from the fires of Hell. The Bible explains the time and time again to do everything it takes to spread the Gospel to everyone that you can. This particular gun was bought from the Bishop a couple of years ago with his own money, from a person in desperate need of money. Was the gun the best giveaway? Probably, not, but as you’ve seen, he has since withdrawn it. I’m aware that our culture may be different here than what most of you know. Here in Aberdeen, we have to look over our shoulders everyday and watch to make sure the next person passing by doesn’t have a knife or gun pointed for money to buy drugs and alcohol with. A lot of my friends were victims of gun violence. If you want to protect yourself and your family in today’s time here in southern USA, you not only own one gun, but several guns. I have one on me at all times and have guns in my home and vehicles. Not only is guns used for protection here in the south, but we hunt for food. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe but we still take on the duty of hunting, and it’s not only a sport here to some, it’s a lifestyle. Matter of fact, when I introduced the promotion of giving away a AR15 to my co-workers and friends, they were attending and bringing their friends. Crazy, right? No, it’s our culture. 1 out of every 3 southern USA residents are gun owners and collectors. Before closing this reply, I want to explain 2 other points that were brought up in the thread and not explained properly. Kids are automatically exempt on these promotions. They have their own promotions they work for in our Children’s Ministry program and Sunday School. About the “killing machine” part, that was meant for a humorous partake, we don’t condone any type of violence in our church. After it was said, the preacher announcing the promotion explained that it was a “deer killing machine”. Again, I don’t mean any harm or foul on this reply, but I thought it was best to explain this from someone that knows more about the situation. Hope there isn’t anyone mad or upset at me. God bless you all or how we say it in the southern USA, God bless y’all!
Thanks so much for your gracious and considered response. I think this is exactly the kind of dialogue that can help people in the UK understand the very different culture there is in the US to guns. I am aware that it could be easy for us to sound like the Pharisees in this situation and I am sorry if it has come over like this. I was expecting a volley of anger back about what I wrote but the response from your church has been 100% the opposite. I think this is the gospel in action and it opens up a really interesting space to discuss the issue sensibly – to broaden understanding and not just have another Internet argument (which Christians can be very good at!)
The thing which I keep thinking about is if there is such a link between gun ownership and gun violence then why are Christians not more supportive of gun control? From the UK perspective it seems we need another MArtin Luther King type anti-gun movement – to bring about both the personal and social change needed to redeem your country of such massive levels of violent and fatal crime.
God bless and thanks for posting.
Thank you for your understandable reply. I’m not marking anyone as a Pharisee, I just believe that us, as Christians, from all over the world should consider the culture, before dragging ANY church name through the mud. We have enough violence and judging among everyone outside of the church, than to spiritually slaughter our own brethren. If we don’t pick each other up and help one another, who else will?
I’ve been seeing a lot of lashes towards our church for using “promotions to earn visitors”. Is this not an acceptable ministry tool? Luke 14:33 says to “Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled”. The Aberdeen First Pentecostal Church have around 25 or more families still attending at our church, in the result of using this method of winning souls. Some are teachers, ministers, and singers. Yes, I’m sure we could not give away stuff and receive visitors. We could sit here and do nothing, and possibly get a few. We have tried hundreds of methods to “compel” the lost to come in. We have failed in many and succeeded in few. It may be our culture or times, but this has worked for us. There will come a day where we will have to change and do something else. The Bible says that we have to fill His house, if the church of the living God doesn’t, there are places that will, I guarantee it.
These are the end-times. We haven’t seen the worst of what violence and fatal crimes are to come. I don’t know what tomorrow will hold for the church, but I do know we have to fight for the lost, harder than ever before. This is not the time to criticize and tear down what other churches are doing to win souls, just because we don’t understand them. This is the time to fight together, no matter what denomination, race, country, or politics. If it takes something radical as promoting a gun to win the lost souls of our dying world, then so be it!
Thank you, again, for your commendable reply and hope I didn’t hurt anybody. Let’s keep God first and love one another. God bless you all.
Jon says, “if there is such a link between gun ownership and gun violence then why are Christians not more supportive of gun control?”
I’m not involved with this church and can’t answer for them, but as a Christian who is supportive of Second Amendment rights, my observation is that we DO have gun control. I can’t carry in my State without government approval and that permission to carry does not extend to some hazardous locations I must visit in neighboring States…. I can’t even buy a gun without State and Federal approval. Also, where is the type of gun control that can prevent guns from being stolen and sold to criminals? I generally dislike “bumper sticker mentality” but there is great truth in the message “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”.
I believe “the personal and social change needed to redeem your country of such massive levels of violent and fatal crime” will come as we reach people one by one with the Gospel. No set of laws will ever be able to accomplish the redemption the USA needs so desperately.
Hi Ron – thanks for your comment and engagement with this thread. It is fascinating for us in the UK to engage properly with this debate because it is hard for us to understand. There is such a different culture over here – generally our police don’t carry guns and no one is advocating for ‘the right to defend their family’ with arms in the way people do in the States.
I would want to challenge your perspective that social change only comes through the Gospel reaching people one by one. I don’t think that social change does happen like that – sure it is one way that change happens but there needs to be action on multiple levels – the personal, social and political – for transformation to happen. Often, evangelical ethical thinking is individualistic and does not appreciate that social injustice needs to be tackled by changes in law. In times gone by activists like Lord Shaftesbury in the UK spent decades arguing for laws which prohibited child labour in mines and factories as Wilberforce had done earlier on the slave trade. And civil rights changes in the southern states of the US came about through protests which led to political change. Similarly in South Africa, the system of apartheid could not dismantled by a purely personal approach to Christian ethics. In all these cases, you could say that it was individualistic Christianity that was part of the problem rather than the solution.
I have written at greater length on this issue here in a provocative piece called ‘What Evangelicals have done to Sin’. It essentially argues that sin is manifested in social and corporate ways and so the gospel is also relevant in these corporate dimensions as well as on the personal level. See here:http://resistanceandrenewal.net/ethics/what-evangelicals-have-done-to-sin/
Could we dream about what would happen if US Christians agreed to make the first step and as part of a mass movement decided to lay down their guns, hand them in somewhere to the authorities for a year and see what happens? It could be a ‘Gun Jubilee’ like in Deuteronomy 15 on debts. It would be incredibly brave and prophetic and sure it could be risky. There would undoubtedly be victims – but there are already thousands of those and as the stats show, carrying a gun increases your risk. I think its this kind of coordinated, faith-inspired, mass movement which addresses the issue on both a personal and social way which could make the difference. It may seem crazy – but just as prophets don’t have honour in their home towns, maybe the US church needs to listen to ideas like these coming from outside your nation?
this is truly a sign of American exceptionalism. This and the 2lb cheeseburger served at the waiting room of the cardiac wing of your local hospital
I apologize for not understanding, but Mr Hoffman’s remark does not seem to continue the thoughtful conversation about this subject. What have I missed? thanks