There are perhaps no two themes that signal the political division among Americans more saliently than guns and religion. Those themes have resonated deeply in the recent elections of both Pres. Obama and Pres. Trump.
Obama’s carefully crafted folksy image was tarnished by an out-of-touch moment on the campaign trail in 2008, in which he managed to link guns, religion, free trade and anti-immigration sentiment in one fell swoop, stating about working-class white Americans, “They get bitter; they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations.” Pres. Trump, perhaps sensing that Obama was on to something, constantly harps on the themes of guns, religious freedom, strong immigration laws and trade wars.
In response to leading evangelical magazine Christianity Today’s editorial arguing that Trump should be removed from office because of his failure of moral leadership, the president lashed out on Twitter, calling the publication a “far left” or “very ‘progressive’” magazine that would prefer “a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your president.” In this tweet, Trump laid down the gauntlet, reviving his base’s deathly loathing of presidents past, or rather, Barack Obama. But to call the leading evangelical magazine “far left” and one that wants to take away guns and religion seems a bit of a stretch—but perhaps not so for those of us whose primary news source is a social media feed.
Whichever side of the divide Americans fall on, most do believe in the sanctity of life and believe that people should be safe in their places of worship. Churches, synagogues and mosques—like schools and playgrounds—are considered sacrosanct, places where we should be able to seek respite from violence and politics. But places of worship have become another battleground in the culture wars. After the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, in which 26 worshipers were killed by an enraged gunman with an assault rifle, the Texas legislature passed a law that explicitly permitted licensed concealed-carry owners to bring their guns into places of worship.
The wisdom of the law seemed to be borne out when on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 church security volunteers shot and killed a gunman who entered West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, a suburb of Fort Worth, and opened fire on parishioners, killing two of them. Politicians far and wide, including Pres. Trump, lauded the Texas law that permitted concealed firearms in places of worship and credited the “good guys with a gun” factor as the pivotal reason why more than 200 West Freeway Church members escaped the incident unscathed.
That is one side of the divide—the side in which a “good guy with a gun” in a church wins the day for Christians. But there is another side. It’s the side in which a gunman in Pittsburgh, who had espoused violent anti-Semitism and racism on the social media website Gab, entered a synagogue in Oct. 2018 and killed 11 worshippers, many of them elderly.