“Meanwhile, other states are mulling whether to scale back restrictions on weapons,” noted Banks. “In Michigan, gun rights activists are pushing for a change in the law that would make it possible to carry guns in worship without prior permission from a presiding official.”

Why?  “Mike Thiede, spokesman for Michigan Gun Owners and a member of a Baptist church,” reported Banks, “said he spoke to legislators in favor of changing the law after a church secretary was assaulted and a pastor was tied up during a robbery.”

During 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot in the foyer of a Kansas Lutheran church, the Rev. Fred Winters was killed in his Illinois pulpit and the Rev. Carol Daniels was found dead in her Oklahoma church building.

“When you see things like that happening over and over again, churches are saying, ‘What are we supposed to do?’” Jeffrey Hawkins, executive director of the Virginia-based Christian Security Network told Banks.

Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney of the San Francisco-based Legal Community Against Violence, told Banks that many states remain silent on weapons and worship – but guns don’t “have a place in public, especially places like churches and bars and places where a lot of people are congregating. An unintentional shooting could end up injuring many people.”

“Laws about weapons in houses of worship vary widely,” wrote Banks. “Some states forbid firearms in religious buildings but others permit them unless a congregation has posted a sign disallowing them. Still others say they’re permitted if the pastor, priest or rabbi gives the OK.”

But, why would anyone feel the need to be armed at church? 

Because American politics have become so polarized, says the FRC’s Perkins. He said that “reckless rhetoric” aimed at groups like his had motivated the gunman’s attack at his group’s headquarters. “He singled out the Southern Poverty Law Center,” reported Theo Emery and Michael S. Schmidt for the New York Times,“which characterizes the Family Research Council as a hate group for its political positions on homosexuality.

No longer do Americans agree to disagree, it seems. Instead, some attempt to brand those who debate with them as “haters” – and attempt to ban them from further public discussion.

The gunman “was responsible for firing the shot yesterday that wounded one of our colleagues and our friend Leo Johnson,” Perkins said, but he “was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

The Family Research Council shooting scene

In a statement on the SPLC’s website, spokesman Mark Potok called Perkins’s accusation “outrageous.” His group recently branded a number of Christian groups which oppose same-sex marriage on moral grounds as “hate groups,” a label they say is a smear – and which they have indignantly demanded the group recant.

The FRC says the American family as an institution is under attack – and that same-gender matrimony weakens not only American families, but U.S. society as a whole.

So, how should people of faith respond? By arming themselves? By being prepared to shoot back – to defend their churches, synagogues and other places of worship with firearms?

The rash of U.S. shootings have “reignited a dialogue on gun rights,” reports Black Christian News – noting that “a new national survey finds that Americans overwhelmingly believe that the constitutional right to own and carry a gun is as important as their constitutional right to free speech.”

That Public Religion Research Institute survey finds 68 percent of U.S. residents rank the right to own guns right up there with “freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

But there’s a dramatic divide between Democrats and Republicans – with only 28 percent of Democrats supporting gun rights compared to 65 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of Tea Party supporters.

The survey also found that most Americans oppose guns in church – with another sharp divide: 55 percent of Tea Partiers support the right to carry concealed weapons to sites of worship, compared to 9 percent of Democrats.

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