The Pistol-Packing Pastor

pistol-packing-pastor2

The LA Times had a story recently about a pastor who carries heat: “He shows others how to put their trust in God and take their security into their own hands.”

From the story:

BEAUMONT, Texas — Two years ago on Super Bowl Sunday, Pentecostal preacher James McAbee was getting into his car after services when he heard a commotion. He saw two men break a window and enter a church hall that was being renovated.

McAbee called 911. The dispatcher said it would take officers at least 11 minutes to respond.

He lingered outside for a moment, frustrated.

“I could hear them snapping the lumber and carrying the sheet rock,” McAbee said.

The pastor drew a .380 pistol he wore in an ankle holster and burst into the hall — only to find two adolescents.

McAbee, who’d had a troubled youth, saw himself in the pair. He lowered his gun to offer some fatherly advice, but the older one, a 17-year-old with two outstanding drug warrants, rushed the pastor with the pointy end of a broken 2-by-4.

“I got my gun back out in time,” McAbee said. “He froze in his tracks. I said, ‘Son, you better not move or I’ll put one right in your watermelon!'”

The pastor held them until police arrived.

Some laud this pastor as exemplary, and he’s become known as Triple-P: “Pistol-Packing Pastor.” He began teaching gun classes shortly after he earned his nickname, and cites Scripture that he says justifies the classes: Psalm 144:1, “The Lord has trained me for battle”; and Luke 22:36, in which Jesus instructs the disciples to arm themselves.

I actually posted Luke 22:38 earlier today on Facebook:

So they said, “Lord, look! Here are two swords.”
He answered them, “Enough of that!”

Typical translations will have Jesus reply: “That is enough,” but I like this version. It’s as if Jesus is dismissing such talk. Yet in either case, Jesus is noting that his disciples are not to be about aggression and violence. Two swords would be laughed at in the face of even the smallest contingent of Roman or Herodian soldiers. He would face their worst, and was not about to respond in kind.

RELATED: Christianity, Gun Violence, and the Nihilism of Mike Huckabee

But back to our pistol-packing pastor:
He was expecting more than 100 people to attend his latest class, mandated by the state for concealed handgun licenses. The class costs $50, and in recent months, McAbee’s business has tripled and he’s trained more than 1,000 people.

What do you think? Is he doing a good thing? Is it possible to teach someone to trust in God and take security matters into their own hands? My own sense is that the need to carry the gun points to the opposite of trust in God. “Sure, I’ll trust you, God, up until the point I actually need to trust you. At that point, I’ll take care of things myself, thank you.”

There’s more to the story:

Guns were a normal part of McAbee’s life. He was raised in the small town of Clover, S.C., where his grandfather took him hunting. His mother worked in law enforcement and carried a gun.

One day at the range, his mother accidentally shot and partially paralyzed herself. McAbee was 9.

He grew up caring for his mother, and the stress took a toll. As a teenager he started using drugs and stealing to feed his habit.

When he was 18, McAbee was caught breaking into an elderly neighbor’s house. He was convicted of burglary, aggravated assault and battery, and served 2 1/2 years in a maximum-security prison.

There, McAbee felt called to preach.

This is a fascinating story. This guy spends time in prison because his mother shot herself with her own gun, yet he’s still enamored with them. Amazing. In prison he finds God. You’d think perhaps he would turn over a new leaf in regard to guns. The story continues (you’re not even going to believe this part):

In 2008, his mother again wounded herself with her own gun. Weakened by the shooting, she died later that year.

Seriously? She does this twice?! And she worked in law enforcement. You’d think this would be it for McAbee and guns. There’s no way he can look at one and say, “Hey, this is a good thing, more people ought to have these…” Except he does.

McAbee’s attitude about guns was unchanged: “Don’t blame the tool.”

Don’t blame the tool. Indeed.

MacAbee was hired three years ago at his present church, which is in a low-income neighborhood where gun crimes and celebratory gunfire is not uncommon. The day after Obama was re-elected, he bought an AR-15 assault rifle for nearly $1,000. He noted: “If the thugs are going to have one, I’m going to have one too.” If he insists on referring to people in his neighborhood as thugs, people who need the kind of help and life his church can offer, he might as well be armed. And apparently he is.

On occasion, the article notes, McAbee wears two guns to church — the .40 on his hip and the .380 in the ankle holster. His wife also carries a concealed gun. Neither has a safety on the guns they carry, and they like to keep a bullet chambered.

“People think I’m a gun nut and gun crazy, but I’m not. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I believe the Bible teaches peace. But that doesn’t mean I should let them hurt me,” he said.

That’s like saying: “I believe the Bible teaches peace. But I don’t actually believe in trying it for myself.”

Imagine if Jesus had said, “My way is peace, and how dare you lay a finger on me, Pilate! I’m locked and loaded, baby!”

I invite you to read the rest of the story and draw your own conclusions.There’s been obviously tons of talk about guns of late, beginning with the Newtown tragedy and recent attempts at gun legislation. There are differing perspectives as to what the second amendment should mean today (or even meant originally).

Personally, I am amazed that someone who spent part of his adult life in prison and lost his own mother due to guns would have such a perspective. My own sense is that a ‘pistol-packing pastor’ is an oxymoron, and such an example doesn’t teach people anything about trusting in God, or about the way of Christ.

But I could be wrong about that.

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16 thoughts on “The Pistol-Packing Pastor

  1. I’m confused by your remarks, either there is a misunderstanding, or there is a typo. Your story reflects: “When he was 18, McAbee was caught breaking into an elderly neighbor’s house. He was convicted of burglary, aggravated assault and battery, and served 21/2 years in a maximum-security prison”.. Then you go on in the next statement to push into the reader’s mind, “This is a fascinating story. This guy spends over twenty years in prison because his mother shot herself with her own gun, yet he’s still enamored with them.”

    I’m reading that he spent 2 and 1/2 years in prison. Where are you getting 20 years from?

    As far as your thoughts on the 2nd Amendment, the Supreme court has already ruled on that in the Heller decision, Since your 1st Amendment has changed to include electronic media, understand that the 2nd has also evolved from the time of our founding fathers, but evil has not.

    And with the Bible versions, it appears that you prefer to pick and choose the translation that best fits your personal ideas.

    Good luck sir, that’s a very small bubble that you have limited yourself to.

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    1. Hi Dave-
      Thanks for stopping by. I think there was a typo above – it should have said 20 1/2 years.

      I wouldn’t say that I prefer to pick and choose translations—I mentioned one particular translation that I had recently come across, but I also mentioned how the verse is usually translated, which I wouldn’t have done if I were afraid of varying translations or, as you accused, ‘picking and choosing’. The point stands regardless of which translation you use, one merely makes it even more clear.

      As for the Supreme Court and the 2nd Amendment, I wouldn’t say any decision clarifies for all time what in fact was meant when those founding documents were written so long ago. Interpretation is of necessity an ongoing reality.

      I would think a small bubble would be one in which interpretation is deemed unnecessary because one presumes to have arrived at “the” interpretation, translation, or perspective— whether of the Constitution or the Bible.

      My main concern is when Christians endorse weapons and/or violence as the means to a better world. I think we need a better theological imagination than that.

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      1. I had done a google search on McAbee after reading your blog, The story from the LA Times also says 2.5 years as well.. 20 years is an awfully long time in Texas prison, most prisoners don’t see 20 years unless they are on a life term or hit their “habitual” (3 strikes and you are out sentence) and I don’t believe that any of his listed crimes would carry that penalty, especially at 18..

        I grew up in a Baptist home, my mother taught Sunday School and my father was a deacon in the church. I was taught the compassion, yet we were also taught that we, as church members may be called upon for defense of ourselves, our neighbors, our church and our community.

        I’m currently a Texas CHL carrier, I guess it’s more of a regional thing, my last 4 handgun classes were taught by Pastors.. I don’t carry a gun to be on the hunt, or looking for trouble, but I know from my background and my learning, that the police are not there to protect you from anything, they are there to keep the peace, So I carry.. My wife has recently completed her concealed handgun training and she carries, She works in health care and unfortunately, has some undesirable folks seeking additional pain medication or other drugs to make their life go by.. She’s been accosted in the past as she was leaving work, Nothing physical as of yet, but enough to raise concern and ask herself, what if?

        I believe as Christians we can balance this between our mortal lives, and our religious beliefs.

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      2. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Dave. And you’re right – it was 2.5 years. Guess I had quoted the story right initially, but then somehow drawn the wrong conclusion. I think what I meant was that his life changed when he was only 9 after his mother’s injury, and he began doing drugs and stealing and so on – and so the effects of the gun injury lasted quite some time, and eventually (indirectly) helped land him in prison.

        In any case, you make some great points, and I do think there is something of a regional thing at work. I’m from Michigan originally, where owning weapons and hunting is a pretty regular thing.

        I guess I wrestle with the idea that responding to violence with violence, or the threat of violence, to me, goes against the model I see in Jesus and the earliest Christians. It seems to me that our world needs more hope and love, not more ammunition. I suppose a counterargument would be that it’s hard to offer hope and love if you’re dead. 😉

        Thanks again for the thoughtful comments.

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  2. Interesting article and discussion. However, it seems to me everyone seems to be taking the easy tack on this one. “Protecting myself”, “trusting God for me”. What about others? What about protecting one’s family, or for that matter, a stranger? If one witnesses a person being beaten, or raped, or robbed, is it God’s will that you step back, watch, call 911, and wait for the police while the crime continues? Or would you be doing the Christian thing by approaching as an armed person to intervene?

    Of course that’s not even addressing the idea that when the police arrive they are going to come _with_a_gun_- which, when you call 911 you fully know they will.

    It’s not just about us ourselves. Sometimes it’s about our duty to society.

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    1. Clay – I don’t think there’s anything easy for theists about the question I raised, namely, what it means to trust God to do something. That’s the very difficult and historically controversial question about our relation to divine agency.

      As you surely know, no one here questions whether we have a duty to others. The question is by what means that duty should be fulfilled.

      -Chris

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      1. I thought that is what we were discussing- but maybe not. I would say it *is* easier to simply trust God to do something when one only thinks about one’s self and trusting God. If it were only me I was concerned with I’d have no problem giving up my life- I know I’m saved. The problem is that it’s rarely just about me. As a teacher this is something- given recent events- teachers think about. It’s much easier to say “the gunman can shoot me” than it is to say “the gunman can shoot me then my classroom full of students”. There can be a way to stop some of these things, and I’m pretty sure that once in awhile God answers our questions by giving us the tools to deal with them; is some cases, a gun.

        It reminds me of the old joke: A guy is on his house as floodwaters rise- guys on a boat come by and ask him to get in- he says “no, my God will save me!” Next a helicopter comes and the pilots call down to him to get in the basket- he yells up “My God will save me!” After awhile he drowns and goes to heaven- he then asks God “Why didn’t you save me?” God replies, “I sent you a boat and a helicopter- what more did you want?”

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      2. Clay – Again, I was asking what it means to trust God to do something. I was not making any claims about whether violence is morally justified in the protection of oneself (or others). I intentionally set that issue aside by using the phrase “in a moral way,” rather than specifying what that way would be. I find it helpful to focus on one issue at a time. If you want to engage with Bryan on the issue of the morality of using violent means, feel free, but that’s not what “we” were all talking about.

        -Chris

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  3. Thanks, Bryan,

    I’d like to “go deeper.” 🙂

    It’s one thing to be opposed to the use or threat of violence–to “trust God” in the sense of trusting that God’s way of nonviolence is right. (Set aside all the Biblical evidence against a nonviolent God.) But isn’t it another thing to imply that taking care of things oneself is opposed to trusting God?

    You suggest that someone who teaches both trust in God and taking security matters into ones own hands is being hypocritical or disingenuous: “Sure, I’ll trust you, God, up until the point I actually need to trust you. At that point, I’ll take care of things myself, thank you.”

    But my sense is that’s what virtually all theists do in every aspect of their lives over which they can exercise some control–and they don’t see it as a failing. So, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to mean to “trust God” in this context, or why trusting God would be opposed to “taking care of things oneself.”

    Consider the following apparent dichotomies:
    “Do you trust God, or do you store your money in a safe place?”
    “Do you trust God, or do you live in a house/apartment/trailer?”
    “Do you trust God, or do you go to a doctor when you’re sick?”
    “Do you trust God, or do you try to maintain some income?”
    “Do you trust God, or do you provide your children with an education?”
    “Do you trust God, or do you keep your eyes open while driving?”
    “Do you trust God, or do you go out and buy food and eat it?”

    My questions: What does it mean to “trust God”? In what sense of “trust God” is trusting God opposed to trying to provide for your own needs? If they are opposed, is trusting God even the morally responsible thing to do?

    -Chris

    -Chris

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    1. Great points. Someone else mentioned something similar on Twitter. It is a good criticism. I suppose the difference for me is the presumption that as a follower of Jesus I feel called (as far as possible) to be nonviolent – thereby setting up a possible situation in which this won’t just be theory, but I’ll have to really trust.

      An important distinction, to me, is that killing someone seems to be opposed to following Jesus, and so if I have to take an action that is the opposite of what God wants me to do, then I’m not trusting him.

      All your other examples are good examples, and I suppose some of them might well also reflect a lack of trust in God. (“Take no concern for the morrow,” for example). Yet God would be somewhat odd to expect us to sit around and not do anything in all the scenarios you suggest. God wants me to live, so I eat. To provide for my family, so we have a home. Etc… God does not expect us to sit around and twiddle our thumbs while he does everything – we live out our lives with an undercurrent of trust, and in certain moments – someone is threatening my life – that trust comes to the fore. But I suppose I could just trust God that the bills will magically get paid, and not take any action… Oh me of little faith.

      In the area of violence and self-defense, it seems to me that faith gets tested when we encounter scenarios in which the options are: act in a way that reflects who Jesus is and leads toward peace, or, act in a way that continues the violence and hatred. But it’s not simple, and even Ghandi noted there are times where violence might be necessary, so I’m certainly willing to be wrong on this.

      I suppose the difference between simply “taking care of myself” and my points in the article is that I’m not killing anyone to take care of myself. (Though I suppose through all the systems I rely upon to have my needs met, people are getting hurt somewhere!)

      It is easier, I’ll grant, to point out the direct violence I might cause by carrying a gun, rather than make changes that help reduce the indirect violence I exert upon the world.

      I’m going to go sit in my room and trust God now. I mean, on the street, and trust that God gives me a room.

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      1. If I’m reading you correctly, it sounds as if “trust God,” in situations where I can act, just means “do only what is right”–or, in Christianese, “do God’s will.”

        But, then, isn’t using the “trust God” language misleading?

        Trusting my brother to drive me to Pub Theology doesn’t mean that *I* have to drive myself to Pub Theology but do so in a moral way. Trusting my mechanic to fix my car doesn’t mean *I* have to fix my car but do so in a moral way. Trusting my surgeon to remove my cancer doesn’t mean *I* have to remove my cancer but do so in a moral way. So, why does trusting God to protect me mean that *I* have to protect myself but do so in a moral way?

        (Of course, I have a theory about that…)
        -Chris

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      2. I’m not necessarily trusting that God will protect me, only that I trust I’m acting in a way that embodies his will for me. It’s actually quite a risk, and as Jesus exemplified, may result in death. The trust is that by acting in this way, more of “God’s purposes” for the world will come to pass, even if it costs me everything.

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  4. I am surprised that a convicted felon (of a violent crime at that) can get a license to buy a gun and a permit to carry one.

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