Last week,the issue of gun control came to the fore here in southeastern Michigan. That’s because a local Ann Arbor pastor, Fr. Ed Fride, announced to his congregation that there would be a four-hour Concealed Pistol License (CPL) class at the parish.
In a letter to parishioners at Christ the King Catholic Church, Father Fride explained that the class would be offered on two or more Saturdays, and he encouraged people to take advantage of it. “We’re not in Mayberry any more,” Father Fride wrote. Explaining his departure from the pacifism of his youth, he continued:
“I began to consider a set of moral scenarios, ‘what would I do if’ scenarios. I eventually concluded that I was certainly no longer a pacifist absolutist; there were situations in which I would actively intervene, even to a lethal level if necessary.
“…The ‘what would Jesus do’ is often used as a defense for pacifism, but when you read what Jesus actually does, as Revelation describes as He leads His army to destroy those attacking Israel, to say it does not go well for the bad guys would be something of an understatement.”
The plan was to offer the classroom portion of the class, not the firing range practice, on parish property.
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But then the bishop in the Lansing Diocese, Bishop Earl Boyea, released a statement opposing the gun class on church property. “Guns and gun lessons,” said Bishop Boyea, “do not belong in a Catholic Church.”
Fr. Fride, obedient to his bishop, cancelled the class. On the parish website, he offered an explanation:
I would like to make the following statement in relationship to the CPL controversy currently in the media:The Lord Jesus has blessed us greatly in calling Bishop Earl Boyea to serve us as the fifth Bishop of Lansing. I have been and continue to be very grateful for his ministry, especially his great work in leading the Diocese in the fulfillment of the Holy Fathers’ call to the New Evangelization that all people would hear the message of the saving love of the Lord Jesus Christ.As our Bishop, he is responsible for setting policy for our parishes and he has decided and publicly stated that CPL classes are not appropriate on Church property. That is his call to make and we will obviously follow his policy on this and on all decisions he makes as he shepherds this Diocese. No parish is an island unto itself and no priest operates on his own. I am his priest and I will continue to serve him to the best of my ability.
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With Fr. Fride’s quick (and admirable) acquiescence to the wishes of his bishop, a crisis has been averted. There is no ongoing dispute in the Diocese of Lansing.
Presumably, some members of the congregation–noting the concern for family safety expressed in Father Fride’s first letter to the parish–will take Concealed Pistol License classes offsite at another Ann Arbor location. At least a few heads of Catholic families will prepare to defend themselves and their families in the event of a personal assault or home invasion.
But still on the table–in Ann Arbor, and in cities all across America–is the issue of whether owning guns is a good thing (for self-defense) or a bad thing (because guns are bad).
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So who’s right?
First, I want to say that I know both Fr. Ed Fride and Bishop Boyea, and I have great respect for both of them. I also have great respect for the way in which the conversation was conducted.
But the two viewpoints (“…I would actively intervene, even to a lethal level…” and “guns do not belong in a Catholic Church”) are, on the face, incompatible. As much as I love Bishop Boyea, I think he’s wrong on this one.
I believe that guns–like books, and pencils, and power tools–have moral neutrality. Guns can be used for good (protecting one’s home, fending off an attacker, preventing a rape) or for evil (demanding a man’s wallet on the street). Similarly, pencils enable communication, or they poke out the eye of that kid you don’t like in math class. Power tools help in construction of a new shed, or–if you’re Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre–you use power tools to murder and maim others.
To bring it out of the realm of fantasy, consider some recent church shootings which have made news headlines:
- In February 2014, two priests at a Catholic parish in Phoenix were shot by an intruder. One, Fr. Kenneth Walker, died; the other, Fr. Joseph Terra, was critically wounded.
- In January 2015, one person was killed and another injured in a shooting in a United Methodist Church parking lot in Sepulveda, in the North Hills area near Los Angeles.
- In 2003, a man was shot to death just before the distribution of Holy Communion at St. Paul’s Albanian Catholic Church in Rochester, Michigan, while his children watched. Seven others were wounded in that attack.
In those and other cases, the presence of a single law-abiding citizen with a concealed carry permit might have saved lives.
But the issue, frankly, isn’t just about safety. Words have meaning–and it seems that to Bishop Boyea, and to those who would seek greater restrictions on handguns, “guns” are bad.
The Obama Administration thinks so, too. Ignoring the Second Amendment, President Obama has initiated 23 executive actions and three presidential memoranda limiting handguns–purportedly to curb gun violence.
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Personally, I dislike guns. I dislike the fact that they may sometimes be necessary. I have never fired one.
But I regard them as morally neutral and potentially helpful tools.
And if guns are not intrinsically bad, their presence in the pocket of a law-abiding citizen in a Catholic church should be no more concerning than, say, Girl Scout cookies, or old 78rpm records at the parish rummage sale, or the dunk tank at the parish festival. Like guns, all of these things are non-religious, but not irreligious; and excluding handguns, all of the other things have been welcomed without concern at Catholic churches, as fast as you can say “Bingo.”
Catholic parishes have offered dance classes, exercise classes, pottery classes, parenting classes, and every imaginable sort of self-help class. While not religious in nature (like a bible study), the classes bring together parishioners with common interests, and they provide an important service. Likewise, gun classes which equip the faithful to protect themselves are, in my estimation, No Big Deal.