Were an enterprising wag to devise a laboratory in which he might develop news items contrived to irritate the Left, he would likely be unable to beat Sunday’s news from Missouri. On that day, the Joplin Globe carried in its pages a nice little story about the many ways in which a vibrant civil society can manifest itself in a free country. The day before, the paper confirmed, Joplin’s Ignite Church had elected to “raffle off” two “semi-automatic rifles” in an attempt to appeal “to a specific demographic group: males age 18 to 35.” “Some churches give away televisions or vacations,” the story noted. Others sell homemade pies and quilts.” Not this one. This one hands out AR-15s.
Rather predictably, the account yielded yelps of horror from the usual suspects. Over at ThinkProgress, readers were wholly appalled. “These people are nuts” and “brainwashed,” one user wrote, lamenting hysterically that giving weapons to free people was “physically dangerous and psychologically dangerous.” “Apparently, there are no minimum standards of decency, intellect, and wisdom to become a pastor at that church,” suggested another. Others hoped uncharitably that the beneficiaries would use their tools to kill themselves — and others like them.
All told, this is a rather sad reaction, for far from being threatening of America’s societal fabric, we have here an example of precisely the sort of “diversity” in which the Left is supposed to be invested. This is a worthy and happy tale about local variation and individual idiosyncrasy that would be inconceivable in almost any other country. It is a story of religious tolerance and iridescence — not only is Ignite Church theologically heterodox and Protestant in the best sense of the word, but it is run by a self-described “dude” who sports tattoos and a Mohawk, who counsels his married laity to “have more sex,” and whose rock-music infused services start late to accommodate the lethargic. It is a story of creative and tailored proselytizing, aimed at a small and possibly eccentric portion of the polity in which an enterprising community leader has taken an interest — young men form the “biggest black hole in our society,” the church’s pastor suggests; “if we can get more people to follow Jesus, I’ll give away 1,000 guns.” It is a story of protected individual rights — rifles such as those that were given away are used so infrequently in crimes that the federal government doesn’t even keep statistics, but they are banned in almost every nation nevertheless. And, most deliciously, it is an anecdote about a rebel institution that is exhibiting a healthy indifference to the opinion of the nation’s cultural elite — indeed, not only did the move elicit tutting and rolling of eyes from the progressive clerisy, but some of America’s more orthodox religious types remained suitably unimpressed as well.
The notion that the stunt is “physically dangerous” — or even akin to murder — is, of course, preposterous on its face. Gun raffles are not only so commonplace across the country that the ATF has a specific set of regulations that govern the practice (to see how typical they are, try driving two hours outside of Manhattan and walking into a bar in New York State), but they are not unheard of at churches either. (Newsflash: People in rural areas like firearms.) “I wonder,” asked another tolerant ThinkProgress commenter, “how the church is going to feel if one of the yahoos that got the AR-15’s decide [sic] to shoot up the church.” “Now that,” she concluded, “would be poetic justice.” Not quite, no. Indeed, one wonders with whom the good denizens of the progressive blogosphere think they share a country. The one “yahoo” mentioned in the piece is a nice man called Dan McCain, who is such a wild-eyed and bloodthirsty neanderthal that he “owns a local guitar shop and plays lead guitar for the church’s band.” McCain, the Globe reports, already enjoys “hunting and target shooting,” a fact that both renders the likelihood of his being turned overnight into a madman by his rifle as being rather low, and suggests, too, that Ignite’s imaginative minister may be onto something with his targeted outreach.
Being a terrible heathen myself, I am loathe to wander into the theological implications of a church’s handing out firearms — and I shall certainly refrain from doing so with the abandon that critics of Christianity have since Ignite’s scheme made the news. Certainly, Jesus never told the centurion to put away his arms, nor did he extend his admonition against aggression to the realms of sport or defense. Likewise, I cannot lay my finger on that article in the Bible that readily conflates one’s being given a dangerous object with one’s using that object to violate the fifth commandment. Either way, though, these are questions of individual conscience, the answers to which should be respected and cherished. The great joy of a nation that is built upon a foundation of liberty and fleshed out by local variation is the combinations that it throws up. For some, home is the comments section of ThinkProgress; for others, the painfully hip parishes of Brooklyn and Georgetown; and for others still, the pews of the country’s unorthodox churches, in which anybody who so wishes might gather to hear the offbeat exhortations of a tattooed rocker who hands out AR-15s to his flock.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.