The Personalist Project

Guns and Church

I’ve been mostly quiet about a certain local story, because it’s already been blown out of proportion plenty, everywhere from the Detroit Free Press to the U.K.'s Daily Mail. It doesn’t deserve even more traction.

But this horse is already all the way out of the barn and halfway across town. And as long as I’m right here in the Ann Arbor parish in question, I can at least share some of my impressions about how deceptive limelight can be.

A few weeks ago, our pastor, Fr. Edward Fride, arranged for the parish to co-sponsor a series of firearm safety classes that enable the student to earn a concealed pistol license. If you think that sounds a little unusual, you’re not alone. The classroom portion, but not the shooting part, took place in the parish center, and the focus was firmly on self-defense and the protection of the helpless. Still, the Bishop wasn't buying it. As soon as he objected, Fr. Ed canceled the classes and made an unequivocal statement expressing his willingness to obey, which read, in part:

The Lord Jesus has blessed us greatly in calling Bishop Earl Boyea to serve us as the fifth Bishop of Lansing. I have been and continue to be very grateful for his ministry….he has decided and publically stated that CPL classes are not appropriate on Church property. That is his call to make and we will obviously follow his policy on this and on all decisions he makes as he shepherds this Diocese. No parish is an island unto itself and no priest operates on his own. I am his priest and I will continue to serve him to the best of my ability.

The furor died down dramatically after that: the  “priest sets self against bishop on hot-button topic” template had gotten obsolete in a hurry.

It’s not that discussions of appropriate use of guns or the theological evaluation of using lethal force are unimportant. It was just that those topics were not getting addressed in any serious way.

Having known him for ten years, I can say with all confidence that Fr. Ed’s motivation was his striking and constant concern for the safety of all of us, especially our children. Some parishioners thought it imprudent; others thought it unbiblical, but I don’t think anybody questioned his motives.

Journalists and the combox “community,” on the other hand, got a little carried away.

At the one extreme, proof-texters were out in force, brandishing “Thou shalt not kill” and “Turn the other cheek,” oblivious to any possible distinctions between self-defense and cold-blooded murder.

At the other, people applauded wholeheartedly, but for all the wrong reasons. One overwrought man complained that people kept on calling firearms “weapons,” arguing (if that’s the word) that they only became such once they’re used to shoot somebody.  No distinction between carrying a pistol and a cast-iron frying pan, since they could both, in theory, be lethal.

Gun control and gun rights are nowhere near the top of my list of things to worry about. It's not a question I'm well informed about, so I'm not about to pontificate on it.

What struck me was this: I didn't recognize the man people were describing as Fr. Ed. He didn't resemble him in the least. Here was a man’s whole life reduced to one incident which happened to whet the media's appetite. Here was a pastor who’d recently celebrated 25 years of priesthood. Whose parish has a 24-hour adoration chapel. With record numbers of seminarians and women in religious formation. Fr. Ed's a licensed pilot and a tae kwon do master of some kind. He's a scholar of Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. He's a Star Trek fan. You can hear his memorable conversion story here.

None of this means you have to agree with him about firearms classes. But if you're like me, it might make you wonder whether you really know anything at all about other public figures you've read about.

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