June 27, 2009

Church has "Saturday night special" service for gun owners

It would be fair to call it unconventional. Not every pastor encourages his or her flock to show up to church packing heat. Or for that matter, participate in a raffle for a big gun giveaway during the service. But not every pastor is Ken Pagano of the New Bethel Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Pagano likes guns. He likes guns so much that he asked his parishioners to come to church this evening armed like Sylvester Stallone in Rambo (.50 caliber machine gun optional).

In all seriousness, Pagano did hold an "open carry celebration" tonight at his church. That meant if you owned a gun you could bring it to the service (provided it was unloaded) as part of an effort, he says, to promote responsible gun ownership and firearms safety.

About 200 people took him up on the invitation. It wasn't mandatory to have a gun to get in. In fact, according to the church website, you didn't even have to believe in God. The only requirement was to be a supporter of the First and Second Amendments.

"We are wanting to send a message that there are legal, civil, intelligent and law-abiding citizens who also own guns," Pagano said in welcoming the attendees.

"If it were not for a deep-seated belief in the right to bear arms, this country would not be here today," he said.

This was an oft-repeated message for Pagano. He's been fielding media requests from all over the world since word of the service became widespread earlier this month. All appearing to have the same question: What are you doing?

"As a Christian, I believe, and as an American this country was founded on the deep-seated belief in God and firearms -- without which we wouldn't be here today," Pagano told FOX News earlier this week. "There is nothing illogical nor immoral about being a God-fearer and a decent community-minded individual who believes in rights to bear arms and use firearms for self-defense if necessary or just for sporting purposes."

OK. But why hold the event at a church?

"This event is not taking place on the Lord’s Day," Pagano explained on his website. "This is not a Church worship service, where the focus is on Jesus and our responsibility to Him. Rather, this is merely a Church hosted event, similar to any other event that any other Church may do to celebrate their heritage. It would be our hope to see this event become a nationally celebrated, annual occurrence on the last weekend of June."

Pagano said he got the idea after some members at his Pentecostal church expressed concern about the Obama administration's views on gun control.

It's not the first time Pagano has discussed firearms at his church. According to the Kentucky Equality Federation, his sermon two weeks ago was titled, "God, Guns, Gospel and Geometry."

Whatever the outcome, Pagano's become a media sensation. The New York Times has been live-blogging the event. Yesterday, after seeing a sign on the front door of the library which said, "No concealed deadly weapons," a reporter wrote, "It was kind of startling for someone who lives in New York City, where the guns laws are much more restrictive and there is no need (or less of a perceived need) for such signs."

"But here in Kentucky, the gun laws are among the least restrictive in the country, which makes possible an event like the one tomorrow night at the New Bethel Church, where people will be wearing and carrying their firearms into the sanctuary for a celebration," the reporter wrote.