Pistol-whipped preacher

December 8th, 2015

Speaking to his students at Liberty University in Lynchburg last week, President Jerry Falwell Jr. said that, “It just blows my mind that the president of the United States” wants “more gun control.” Liberty students applauded when Falwell said that the shooting at San Bernadino wouldn’t have happened if any of the victims had “what I have in my back pocket right now.” More applause. “Is it legal to pull it out? I don’t know.” (I think it is.) Huge ovation.

“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in” (more loud, student applause) “and killed them.” The President then pleaded with all the students to go get a gun. Liberty, he reminded the as yet inadequately armed students, has a free course in how to shoot. President Falwell now packs a .25 pistol. He’s looking for a holster so he can move his pistol from his back pocket and pull it out anytime he needs it in his work as President of Liberty.

Sure, there will be whining nannies who will scold Falwell for being a racist, xenophobic, fear monger. The Governor of Virginia, a gun toter himself, immediately expressed outrage, chiding Falwell for the harm that may result from his “reckless words.”

I write, not as a politician (unlike Falwell, I don’t know any) but as a preacher. Baptist Falwell’s remarks on guns are no more dumb than those of his buddy (allegedly Presbyterian) Trump. I admit that my negative reaction to Falwell’s remarks is due to my being a Methodist preacher. Because I preach the gospel with Jesus, I’ve got to stand up and make offensive comments to people on a regular basis. So I give thanks to my Lord and Savior that so few in my congregation pack heat. Occasionally, at the end of my sermons, they’ve tossed hymnals at me, hissed and booed. One smacked me with a Bible a couple of weeks ago after my sermon from Jeremiah. They don’t need any more weapons to attack me for my preaching.

As Bishop in Alabama, I was keenly aware that Alabama is notoriously lax on concealed weapons. Fear of concealed weapons is my excuse for my wishy-washy sermons while I was there. I carefully weighed my words in many a Sunday sermon knowing that the congregation had the capacity to take me out during the Benediction.

When I’m a visiting preacher I breathe a sigh of relief when I enter a church that has one of those “Gun Free Zone” signs out front. Jesus routinely hands me some tough texts to preach, so tough that I always ask my clergy host to have everyone check their guns at the door during the hymn before my sermon. I’ve refused to preach to some congregations in South Carolina without a churchwide pat-down. (Those of you who are not Christians may not know that First Church Nazareth, after Jesus’ very first sermon, responded to Jesus’ preaching by trying to toss him off a cliff! Luke 4, you can look it up. Imagine what they might have done to Jesus at fully-armed Liberty U.)

Speaking of Jesus, I noted that President Falwell never mentions Jesus in his plea for pistol-packing students; a rare moment of homiletical good judgment by Falwell. I know that some of you think it odd that a Baptist would fail to mention Jesus in a sermon. But trust me. I’ve worked with Jesus for five decades. Jesus just doesn’t do well in these settings. Jesus said few words that bolster Falwell’s advocacy of a gun-in-every-hip-pocket. Actually, Falwell knows that Jesus said nothing that gives license to his followers ever to, in the President’s pregnant phrase, “pull it out.”

Maybe President Falwell knows more than Jesus about these matters, and maybe Jesus was just plain wrong in what he said about enemies, turning cheeks, etc. I would be the last to say that to Our Lord.

And if President Falwell and his frosh-with-firearms take offense at this sermon, cocking their guns as they collectively mutter, “Go ahead unarmed Methodist preacher, make my day,” I’ve got nothing to pull out except a conviction that Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, really is the way, the truth, and the life. A pistol-packing college president pandering to the worst of student sentiments is not.

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