Louisville nutjobs make the NY Times

JISHOU, HUNAN — I lived in Louisville a long time. I love the River City, but there are way too many religious crazies there tarnishing Louisville’s national image.

Take Ken Pagano, for example, whose invitation to his parishioners to bring their guns to a special event at church tomorrow has made national headlines. Pastor Pagano, shown in The New York Times with a handgun in a holster and a submachine gun in his left hand, wants his church to celebrate their right to carry firearms.

“God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” Mr. Pagano, 49, said Wednesday in the small brick Assembly of God church, where a large wooden cross hung over the altar and two American flags jutted from side walls. “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”

The Times article notes that, in the interests of safety, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies (who I am sure have better things to do) will check visible weapons to make sure they are unloaded. They will not ask the parishioners of New Bethel Church in Valley Station for any concealed weapons, however.

“That’s the whole point of concealed,” Mr. Pagano said, adding that he was not worried because such owners require training.

Not everyone agrees with Pagano’s gun-love. The church’s insurers, for one, have canceled the church’s liability insurance for the “Bring Your Gun to Church” event, and have advised him they will cancel the policy at the end of the year.

Maybe the insurance company has the same mental image I have. Instead of yelling, “Amen!” churchgoers will instead fire their weapons toward the ceiling and yell, “Yeehaw!”

Nothing like reinforcing the image that Kentucky is inhabited by a bunch of rednecks. Thanks, pastor!

Seriously, there is so much that is wrong with this event, and the motivation behind it, and it’s hard to know where to begin. [OK, I need to come clean. I’ve been a member of the Louisville Quakers since 1984, so I might be just a bit biased.]

Let’s start with Pagano’s statement, “God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” which sounds suspiciously like Christian Dominionist-speak. The Dominionists believe that God especially anointed the 13 Colonies, and the USA, as His special people, and that the country was founded specifically on Christian principles. They believe the USA is a “Christian nation.”

Pagano is only partly right. His own church, the Assembly of God, would probably have judged most of the Founding Fathers as apostates, or at least un-Christian, since a fair number of them rejected the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. The Declaration of Independence mentions God, but the Constitution does not. In fact, the Constitution and the Founders made a special point to separate religion and governance.

We did not seek independence from Great Britain for religious reasons, either. Revolutionary soldiers and sailors (I have a few in my family tree) may have been church- or meeting-goers, but the Revolutionary War was not a jihad.

Guns back in those days were single-load muskets, the kind that you had to pack with powder first down the barrel before loading the shot or musket ball. People kept them for hunting, not for target practice at the local gun range.

Shooting at the Redcoats may have helped win the war, but the Revolution was as much a war of words and politics as it was a war of military strategy and attrition. Furthermore, the Founding Fathers did not decide, “Hey! Let’s start a new country based on everyone packing heat! No one will mess with us then!”

Then there’s the religious question. I don’t find any references in the New Testament that would suggest Jesus would favor carrying a gun. He said, “blessed are the peacemakers,” and “blessed are the meek,” not “blessed are the sharpshooters” or “blessed are the warriors.”

We can argue the rights of citizens to carry weapons until the cows come home, but no one can deny that a gun is an instrument of violence. Should parishioners also be allowed to bring swords and nunchaku to services? Or should churches hold boxing matches just before the altar call?

I just can’t twist my mind around the inherent contradiction between packing a gun and going to church at the same time. Pagano, however, sees no problem in it. In fact, he apparently sees it as a battle against some formless conspiracy .. against what, I don’t know.

“When someone from within the church tells me that being a Christian and having firearms are contradictions, that they’re incompatible with the Gospel — baloney,” he said. “As soon as you start saying that it’s not something that Christians do, well, guns are just the foil. The issue now is the Gospel. So in a sense, it does become a crusade. Now the Gospel is at stake.”

Yeah, the Gospel of St. (Dirty) Harry.

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