By Brian Anse Patrick, Ph.D., Professor, University of Toledo, Department of Communication
Beware the priest who posts theses on cathedral doors. Authorities should probably have learned this lesson long ago, but apparently Authority is a slow learner. And by far the biggest cathedral doors these days are located in virtual space.
The priest in this instance is the Reverend Edward Fride, aka “Father Ed” to his parish, the Roman Catholic Church of Christ the King in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who received international media coverage after experiencing a recent Martin Luther moment. The Authority figure is the Bishop Earl Boyea of nearby Lansing, Michigan, into whose bishopric the parish falls, and whose duties include, presumably, riding herd on potentially heretical utterances from priests.
The heresy? Fride posted a 4,000 word missive to his congregation—Luther only a posted a meager 2,500 or so words—titled “We’re Not in Mayberry Anymore, Toto,” in which he justified the idea that his parishioners “arm themselves,” as the Detroit Free Press phrased it, in accordance with the law of the State of Michigan, and attend the 8-hour long firearms safety and training classes required to legally obtain a concealed pistol license (CPL). Classes would be offered at parish facilities. It’s not as if he said anything outrageous like obtaining a CPL should be regarded as a new sacrament or any such thing. The crux of the heresy seemed to consist in Father Ed casting doubts on the ability of lawfully constituted Authority to protect good citizens from rape, murder and mayhem.
The Bishop took what might called an ecclesiastical, top down view of the matter, namely that the police and authority figures will protect from on high, and that Father Ed must cease and desist. No CPL classes at the church! Apparently, officially, as far as the Bishop is concerned, Mayberry endures, now and forever, Amen.
Neither Luther nor Father Ed could be accused of mincing words, which is probably why Father Ed’s earthy justifications for lawful CPL and firearm safety training presumably scared the complacency right out of some of his parishioners. His vision was maybe too disturbing for Ann Arbor, that Midwestern epicenter of heavenly dreaming, wherein the per capita consumption of Diet Coke and Zoloft appears to be about three standard deviations above the national mean.
But in this matter of firearms safety training, Second Amendment rights, lawful carry, and the right of self-defense, the Bishop may be a bit too lofty to perceive what’s happening on the ground. A quote from Luther seems to apply: Referring to an ecclesiastical authority of his time, Luther said, “He has learned his A-B-C all the way down to B.” A similar situation may exist here.
State law in Michigan and elsewhere (roughly 40 states) generally prohibits carry by CPL holders in places of worship unless the pastor or rabbi has given permission. This is reasonable. No one doubts that congregations should worship and conduct their communitarian business as they please. If they want to ban guns, fine. But if they should want training and licensed carry, that’s fine too. The bishop is an authority in a hierarchal ecclesiastical bureaucracy that oversees the church and the priest. But who has the moral right to limit an individual’s self-defense options and tell her or him, in effect, that you must be a passive victim? Or to attempt to remove from a community an important means of procuring personal security and safety? If anything is sacred it is Life, which should not be subject to CYA style, risk-averse bureaucratic decisions by administrative functionaries. Americans in great numbers have labored in this direction many years, rescuing the Second Amendment from bureaucratic interpretations that attempted to neutralize it. Nowadays approximately 12 to 15 million Americans are licensed to carry under the new CPL laws, a number that grows so quickly it is difficult to track. Michigan alone has 600,000 CPL holders. The laws have been tested and proven safe.
Relatively few people know that police have no legal obligation to save or protect anyone, as has been decided in the courts (Warren v District of Columbia). Nor can they, excepting by mere chance, or when warned by some unusual set of circumstances. Police tend to arrive and report after the fact. Even in the recent Garland, Texas case an exceptionally brave police officer was fortunately already on the scene before the terrorists arrived. Americans may not always be so lucky in the future. Evil is afoot.
Part of the problem is administrative in nature. Historical and sociological evidence strongly suggests that vested Authority tends over time to wind up in the business of Truth and Beauty, dealing more in propagandistic self-justifications than substance. Heresy equates with nonconformity with administratively preferred interpretations of reality. Back in Luther’s day the big rub of the Reformation was that the Church was making false assurances of safety. Via what were knows as “indulgences” one could literally, it was claimed, buy one’s way out of hell. The Bishop’s assurance that modern parishioners can rely on authority for safety is much the same kind of bunko. They will be safe only until something goes wrong.
St. Augustine of Hippo, a Church father, noted that it is terrible to take a life even in self-defense, but it is still more terrible that evil men should take the lives of good men. Self-defense is both justified and necessary.
I know of several churches in Michigan and elsewhere that offer CPL classes on their premises. Some have been doing it for years. Classes teach safety and responsibility and function as wholesome family events. Other churches have designated trained congregation members whose responsibility is to be armed at services and functions in case Evil decides to visit. The topic of licensed concealed carry is under discussion in many other churches, even in Ann Arbor. Many persons may remember heroic Jeanne Assam, who in 2007 used her licensed concealed pistol to stop a would-be mass killer at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The killer committed suicide after Assam shot him. Earlier that day he had killed unarmed persons at a nearby Christian youth center, and had already murdered two others in the New Life parking lot before Assam stood before him in the Church. What would have happened without Assam? Similar events where shooters were unchecked suggest that these types of murderers kill three to five persons per minute for as long as they are able. With Christianity itself and free speech being taken as affronts by some militant extremists, who can say what will happen in the future? Pious handwringing, before or after the fact, is no substitute for a trained and resolute person on the scene with a defensive handgun.
Dr. Brian Anse Patrick is a professor of communication at the University of Toledo and holds a Ph.D. in Communication Research from The University of Michigan. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in research methods, group communication, propaganda and persuasion. His honors seminars on “Propaganda and Social Science” and “American Gun Policy” have ranked as the most popular courses in the University’s Honors Program. He is a nationally recognized expert on American Gun Culture, frequently speaking at events and symposia.