Georgia gun bill functions as state regulation on churches, interferes with affairs of faith communities
Back in late February, EthicsDaily.com ran my column titled “Georgia Bill Would Allow Concealed Weapons in Churches.” That controversial bill – HB 875 – passed the Georgia House and headed to the Senate for a hearing earlier this week. I joined a group of about 25 Baptists from Georgia in endorsing a statement on this bill. I also drafted a statement of my own that was delivered to the Senate hearing on March 11. Read the text below of my letter and read the latest national news update on HB 875.
March 11, 2014
The Honorable Jesse Stone, Chairman
Judiciary Non-Civil Committee
Georgia State Senate
Atlanta, GA 30334
Re: HB 875 — Safe Carry Protection Act
Dear Senator Stone and Judiciary Non-Civil Committee:
My name is Aaron Weaver and I am a resident of Tucker, Ga. I grew up in southeast Georgia in the Vidalia City School system and graduated from the University of Georgia in 2004. After completing two graduate degrees in Religion and Political Science at the Baylor University in Waco, Texas, I returned to my home state to work for a Baptist missions organization headquartered in Decatur, Ga.
I write to you today as a Georgia resident and as a person of faith to express my opposition to HB 875. Following the mass shooting on July 20, 2012 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, James Martin, a widely respected Jesuit priest, wrote, “The question is not so much how lives are ended, but how to make it more difficult to end lives.”
I write to respectfully ask that you and the members of your committee consider this vital question. In doing so, I urge you to consider the perspectives of Georgia faith leaders like Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Decatur, who has described the removal of the prohibition on firearms in houses of worship as “an intrusion into the life of faith.”
As a Christian committed to living out my faith, I feel strongly that guns have no place in the house of the Prince of Peace. Please allow these places of worship to remain sacred spaces. This time-tested prohibition has served our state well for many years and has made ending lives more difficult. The system is not broken. Government should limit itself to fixing only that which is in need of repair. Nothing here needs fixing.
HB 875 would force congregations to decide whether to permit or prohibit guns on their campuses and in their facilities. This would be an unnecessary and unwelcome interference into the affairs of faith communities on the part of the state of Georgia. HB 875 would function as a new state regulation on churches. It is constitutionally not the business of the state to regulate the church. I am sure you agree.
I write also as a lifelong Baptist to offer a word of caution regarding Baptist leaders claiming to speak on behalf of other Baptists. Mike Griffin, the new public policy spokesman for the Georgia Baptist Convention, testified last month in support of HB 875. In his testimony, Mr. Griffin claimed to the committee to speak on behalf of 1.3 million Georgia Baptists.
With all due respect to Mr. Griffin, he does not speak for me nor can he. Baptists simply cannot speak for other Baptists as we are committed to both individual and congregational autonomy. That is our shared 400-year-old theological conviction. Mr. Griffin speaks only for himself and presumably his employer. There has been no movement of Baptist clergy across the state for guns in pulpits and pews. While some Baptists such as Rep. Jasperse support HB 875, many like myself certainly do not. Please hear our concerns.
Aaron Douglas Weaver, Ph.D.