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Impact of guns in church real 

Impact of guns in church real

The Arkansas legislature is supposedly giving pastors means to protect their parishioners by allowing congregations to decide for themselves about whether guns are allowed in their churches. What could be wrong with that? To be honest, even though I believe our culture has a troubling trust in the power of firearms, I tend to resist giving churches special treatment legislatively. Taken in the abstract, I could almost be convinced that if it's legal to carry guns elsewhere it should be legal to carry them into church. Life, however, is not an abstraction.

I happen to be the pastor of a church in downtown Little Rock, a city that I love, but the stats suggest that it is also one of the most violent cities in America. At Christ Church we're used to opening our doors to the homeless and indigent on our streets. Most of these people are gentle and kind, just looking for a place to say their prayers. Some of them show up high, many suffer from mental illness. We give them a seat. We invite them fully into our worship. We have also grown wise as serpents and gentle as doves, knowing when it might be time to draw a boundary or even call the police if need be. In nearly 8 years here I've seen plenty, but I've never wished I had a gun.

Last Sunday, an usher saw what looked like a pistol butt poking from the bulging pocket of a visitor's pants — a clean, respectable looking visitor, mind you. Now, is there a sane person among you who thinks that the usher's first thought was, "Praise be! We're all a little safer here today because this pleasant fellow whom I've never seen before is packing heat"? Of course not. The armed hero of our dreams tends to be someone we know and trust. The usher rushed anxiously to another priest and reported her very understandable concern.

We did not confront the visitor. I'd met him before some months ago on one of his very infrequent visits. I doubt that he was actually carrying a firearm. But the response of that usher was rational and responsible, because our state legislators had recently put the idea of carrying a gun into churches on the front page of nearly every newspaper in the state. Thanks for that, honorable sirs and madams.

Now, of course we have the "freedom" to post "No Firearms" or "Gun Free Zone" signs around the church. This strikes me a lot like putting up bars on windows and barbed wire on fences, which then become de facto announcements and self fulfilling prophecies that this is the kind of place where bad things happen. Fear begets fear begets fear. My faith tradition teaches that perfect love is what casts out fear.

Our legislature has spent time and effort on a symbolic bill repealing a ban that I'd wager has rarely if ever been enforced in Arkansas. Although I can imagine the original ban being useful to some frightened pastor who could tell an unstable parishioner that it wasn't the pastor's idea, but the law says you've just got to leave your gun at home. Confrontation mercifully averted.

The legislature's action has already impacted our ministry at Christ Church. It's given us one more hurdle, one more fear to deal with as we try to do our Christian duty and welcome a stranger into our midst as if he or she were Christ himself. Its impact is not hypothetical. It is real. Loving our neighbor just got a little harder.

Scott Walters

Little Rock

Promote policies that make life richer

We recently celebrated or mourned the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The annual protest vigil in our nation's capital has taken place. And, not surprisingly, Arkansas's new Republican majority in our state's Senate has wasted no time trying to limit women's rights with an ALEC-inspired anti-abortion bill. Sadly, those who are obsessed over embryos and fetuses before birth seem ambivalent and often hostile toward the quality of life after birth. Rather than take away a woman's right to control her own body, why not promote policies that would provide incentives for her to bring new life into this world?

Rather than decreasing cost-of- living increases to those on Social Security, as has foolishly been suggested, either leave them as they are now or raise them to something closer to reality. Set the early retirement age to 60 instead of 62. Set full retirement at 62 instead of 66. Most will have worked 40 to 44 years by age 62. Many have worked at subsistence or poverty wages for much of that time. The sooner seniors leave the workforce the more full-time jobs will be available to younger workers.

Instead of irresponsibly increasing the age of eligibility for Medicare, lower it to 62. Allow Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs. The Veterans Administration can do it; why not Medicare? This country is not broke, and it's shameful for the richest nation in the world to claim it can't afford to do this.

If Medicare for everyone is not acceptable, then at least quit fighting the Affordable Care Act. We should have been doing something like that ever since WWII. Being the only developed nation in the world that hasn't done it before now has been embarrassing!

Quit pretending that climate change is not caused from our proliferation of greenhouse gases and do something about it. Stop opposing regulations that will improve air and water quality and thereby improve our own health and keep down health costs. Those born today will soon be asking why we waited so long when we knew the overwhelming evidence existed.

Support increasing the minimum wage to a living wage. No one receiving the minimum wage or less can get out of poverty or provide for his or her family without assistance, like food stamps.

What if your child turns out to be gay or lesbian? Oppose state and federal laws and constitutional amendments that discriminate against your son or daughter. Fight for equal rights under the law for everyone.

Demand government action today to promote full employment and get to work on current essential needs: roads, bridges, dams, Interstate 69, public schools, national parks, energy grids, et al., need to be built or upgraded. This will get the economy moving now and keep it growing into the foreseeable future. With full employment we can eventually deal with the long-term national debt but not before. Our children need to be confident about their employability and their nation's infrastructure.

If I were cynical, I would suspect that the primary reason for opposing Roe v. Wade is to promote overpopulation and high unemployment to keep wages at the lowest possible levels. I would also suppose that another reason was to prevent white, Protestant women from having abortions to slow down the changes in ethnic demographics. However, I would prefer to think that most anti-choice advocates sincerely care for the unborn. But wouldn't they have a much better case against abortions if they also cared for babies, children, young adults, middle-agers, seniors, and the environment as well? The future of the planet and the future of those yet born depend on it.

David Offutt

El Dorado

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