Bang! Bang! Hey, eat some cotton candy!

A front-page headline on the print edition of USA Today that landed in my driveway earlier this week grabbed my attention:

Guns are a ‘way of life’ in Texas


Can’t dispute that.

As a native Texan whose brother carries his concealed handgun into his Fort Worth-area church building each Sunday morning, I understand just how much many Lone Star State residents value their firearms.

After reading the lede of the USA Today cover story, I thought that maybe — just maybe — the Nation’s Newspaper might tackle a religion angle. After all, the issue of packing heat in the pews has made headlines recently.

The story’s provocative opening:

BEAUMONT, TEXAS — Pastor James McAbee believes the Scriptures can tame temptation and wash away sins.

But he’ll tell you that nothing repels true evil like a well-placed, loaded Glock .40-caliber pistol.

Now, at this point in the story, I’m ready for a direct quote. I want the pastor to tell me, in his own words, what he believes about guns and evils. Instead, the piece relies on paraphrasing until finally providing a short direct quote five paragraphs in:

McAbee, known around town as the “Pistol-Packing Preacher,” keeps his loaded Glock in a holster tucked in his pants at all times, whether making a bank deposit or preaching from the pulpit of the Lighthouse Worship Center, an Assembly of God church where he pastors.

When not preaching, McAbee offers a $50 one-day concealed weapons course to gun enthusiasts. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, when a 20-year-old man shot and killed 20 students and six staffers before shooting himself, he’s offered the classes for free to teachers.

It’s the Texas way, McAbee, 36, says. “We believe an armed society is a peaceful society. This is Texas, and everybody has a gun.”

Then the relatively in-depth story quickly veers off in a different direction — a whole lot of different directions, actually. McAbee isn’t seen or heard from again until the very end:

In Beaumont, Pastor McAbee, who has been giving concealed weapons classes for more than a year, says he’s reaching out to area teachers so they’ll be ready if the local districts allow firearms on campus.

After Sandy Hook, he posted a note on Facebook offering the free classes. On a recent Saturday, he trained 150 teachers; an additional 200 have signed up for his next class in March.

The firearm training doesn’t conflict with the church doctrine he lives by, he says.

“I preach peace,” McAbee says. “Having a firearm keeps the peace.”

There you have it. Not a lot of meat in USA Today’s coverage of McAbee or actual insight into his religious beliefs or church doctrine. Just a not-so-filling glob of cotton-candy journalism.

Image via Shutterstock

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Jerry

    Why so I think that the rationale for this piece was: “Hey, a pistol packing preacher. That will draw eyeballs to our ads. Let’s run the story.”

    • Darren Blair


      As an aside, a few years back the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints issued a statement requesting that members of the church leave their firearms at home unless they’re in the protective services or otherwise obligated by their job to be armed at all times

      So far as I know, though, said request does *not* extend to knives or other implements.