There is something so obviously amiss with the Kentucky Baptist Convention's gun-giveaway evangelism that it may not require commentary. But ecclesial silence might be confused with complicity. Someone needs to state the obvious.
What most offends some is the choice of guns — violent weapons, unless used only for target practice — as the decoy to entice men to listen to a spiel about the Prince of Peace.
What less appropriate bribe could a church organization use to gin up a crowd? If you're going to use guns, why not use whiskey ("This might be bad for you, we'll have to wait and see.")? Or a lottery ticket ("Bet a few minutes of your time for the chance to win a big payout.")? Or DVDs of porn ("Some people find this offensive, but hey, it's what men are attracted to")?
Singer Steve Earle calls a pistol "the devil's right hand."
Even more alarming is the broader insinuation about religious experience. In the aftermath of Ken Ham and the Science Guy's creation debate, this story adds to the argument that religion is downright ludicrous.
Surely there is more to a faith experience than wandering into a church service that is veiled as an outdoor store.
You show up like an unsuspecting deer at a feeder near a deer-blind, on the off-chance of winning a gun, but to your surprise — amidst the jokes and hunting tales — you hear an entirely new philosophy of life which awakens you from your nightmare of materialism and the love of violent weapons which drew you like a junkie to this event in the first place.
Raising this concern is not merely to poke fun at this program or the good people behind it. Rather, it is to advocate on behalf of all voices of faith for the validity of another kind of religious experience.
This kind takes longer to marinate. You can't just show up with a desire to own another gun, internalize its message while awaiting the big drawing, and suddenly be prepared to say "I'm in 100 percent."
Not so fast.
Legitimate religious experiences of all stripes take time for their breadth and depth to sink in deeply. Don't just take our word for it. Test it out for yourself. See if it shoots straight, so to speak.
Come with us. Watch how we do it. Ask hard questions before signing on to this way of life. Why would we reduce religious experience to a decision stumbled upon by being suckered in on the chance of winning a gun?
The Bible that we share with gun-giveaway evangelists tells of unscripted, out-of-the-blue conversions at the drop of a hat. But surely these stories are akin to highlights on SportsCenter — clipped to show the decisive moment. Shouldn't we infer that each of these moments was preceded by intentional searching, longing, weighing an experience and counting its costs?
This is why we should be as wary of quick conversions as we are of doctors credentialed by mail order, or couples contemplating marriage a week after meeting.
Perhaps gun-giveaway evangelism wouldn't feel like a caricature of genuine religious experience if it didn't claim to do more than it does, at best: plant a seed of spiritual curiosity in an unsuspecting someone.
Then, to use Jesus' analogy, we'll have to wait to see if this seed landed on hard soil, rocky soil, weedy soil or good soil.
Reach the Rev. Joe Phelps at www.HBCLouisville.org.