A crowd of 1,300 people showed up at Lone Oak First Baptist Church in Paducah, Kentucky March 6 to celebrate Jesus and firearms with a steak dinner and a gun giveaway. Attendees who passed a background check were eligible to win a free gun, but the Bibles were for sale, complete with waterproof pages and camouflage covers for the faithful outdoorsman. According to Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC), the guns were not purchased through the church; they were all donated.
Some churches hold bake sales. Some “call in the flock” with family-friendly events for the community, but in Kentucky the Baptists use a different technique attract new members. The “Second Amendment Celebration” was equally a political rally in support of the right to bear arms as an attempt to convert a few Christians from the gun-loving Paducah community. Called “affinity evangelism” by KBC Evangelical Director Chuck McAlister, he believes these rifle raffles make a great bridge to share the Gospel by appealing to a common interest.
Less of a worship service and more of a friendly introduction to the church, the dinner included up-beat pop music and stories about family traditions. The stage was set with stuffed bears and animal-head trophies, displaying the proud achievements of a hunter and responsible gun owner. Speaking that evening was McAlister, who is the former host of an outdoor TV show and who was recently hired by Southern Baptists in Kentucky after membership began to decline.
For the goal of gaining members, it appears KBC is right on track, by the numbers. The organization has hosted 50 similar events in other Baptist churches in just the last year, and claims these events have led 1,678 men to publicly declare their faith. However, not all Christians agree with their methods. Pastor of New Union Church Nancy Jo Kemper strongly disagrees with the Kentucky church gun giveaway. “How terrible would it be if one of those guns given away at church were to cause the death of an innocent victim?” she asked.
Kemper argues that churches should not encourage people to arm themselves against their neighbors. McAlister argues that the guns are “for hunting and protection only,” while outsiders feel this argument does not belong in the church at all. Due to their tax-free status, many believe churches are supposed to remain separate from political agendas, including second amendment rights.
According to the IRS however, the Lone Oak First Baptist Church and its pastor were perfectly within tax regulations to support second amendment rights, use church facilities to promote gun ownership, preach sermons on this and other political issues, and even encourage its members to vote for or against political issues; as long as all this support does not comprise a substantial part of the overall operation of the church.
In the case of Lone Oak First Baptist in Paducah, Kentucky, the church is definitely up to much more than gun giveaways. Their Sunday service, though reasonably small, is a popular family affair, and the church supports many sports for kids including basketball, soccer, flag football and cheerleading.
By Mimi Mudd