On Jan. 1, 2014, the "Concealed Carry" bill became the law in the state of Illinois. This law allows a private citizen to carry a gun in public.
It has been estimated that as many as 400,000 people may apply for a permit to carry a concealed weapon under the provisions of this law. The law does not allow guns to be carried in certain locations, including government buildings, schools, parks, bars, and several other public places. But it does not expressly prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons in churches or other places of worship.
In order to prohibit carrying a gun in church, under the law, the church is required to post a sign saying that no guns are allowed, at every entrance to the building. If no such sign were posted, the carrying of a concealed weapon would be allowed in the church.
How are we, as religious communities to respond to this question of whether to allow guns in our churches?
The person who carries a concealed weapon has already made the decision that, under certain circumstances, they are prepared to take the life of another human being. While such action may well be acceptable if it is the unavoidable final resort to an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm, will carrying a weapon in church imply that we have decided violence is a solution supported by our faith beliefs?
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in their testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on the topic of "Proposals to Reduce Gun Violence; Protecting our Communities while Respecting our Second Amendment," reminded us that we should live out what Pope Benedict called "our innate vocation to peace."
In their pastoral message, "Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action," the pastoral message of the U.S. Catholic Bishops reads:
"We must join with Pope John Paul II to 'proclaim, with all the conviction of my faith in Christ and with an awareness of my mission, that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy. ... Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity.'"
Each place of worship must make its own decision. However, this decision must be guided by considerations different from those that guide our secular decisions as citizens. The Catholic liturgy is "the outstanding means by which the faithful … manifest … the mystery of Christ" (SC 2), who refused violence in the face of violence (cf. Matthew 26:52).
In weighing their decision, each Catholic congregation should seriously consider whether allowing weapons into church properly safeguards the liturgical task to be the body of the crucified Prince of Peace.
If I recall correctly, it was the peacemakers who were to be called the children of God.
Additional information on obtaining signs is available at the Illinois State Police site:
John Barrett is a parishioner of St. Edmund Church, which has signs at all public entrances. He is also a member of the Gun Responsibility Advocates.