(I got side-tracked and finished only 8 of 10 promised reflections on my first experience attending the NRA annual meeting last May. Here is the second to the last entry.)
Although there is a Prayer Breakfast at the NRA annual meeting – held on Sunday morning and headlined this year by Dr. Bob Record, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Missions Board – the most clear manifestation of religion in my experience at the meetings was at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum on Friday afternoon (May 3rd) and the Stand and Fight Rally on Saturday night (May 4th).
I came away from these experiences with the understanding that the National Rifle Association is a Christian organization.
NRA CEO and Executive Vice President – and the public face of the NRA – Wayne LaPierre opened the Leadership Forum by declaring the NRA meeting to be a “celebration of our American values.” Chief among these values is freedom/liberty. From his perspective – and that of the thousands assembled, it seemed from their response: “Liberty is a blessing not bestowed by government but by our Creator.”
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum also connected the issue of guns in America directly to God. He argued that the gun control debate is a debate about who we are as Americans. What makes us Americans, he continued, is our values. In particular, the values expressed in our country’s founding documents. Among the most important of these values are those expressed in the Bill of Rights. And in America these rights come from God, because we are created by God.
Speaking more practically, Texas Governor Rick Perry declared, “In Texas people still believe in the God given right to have peace of mind to defend themselves and their family.”
Although the political theme of the NRA meetings was “Stand and Fight,” the most common refrains were “God bless us” and “God bless America.” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said it best when he concluded his comments: “God bless you, God bless the NRA, and God bless America.” The way these words are spoken, they appear to be more a declaration than a request, suggesting the certainty with which the speakers (seem to) know the mind of God. (Note: This style of invoking God’s blessings cuts across political lines.)
It does not take long at the NRA annual meeting to realize that the “God” to which speakers are referring is the God of Christianity. Anglican/Catholic Oliver North gave his “Invocation” at the Stand and Fight Rally in explicitly Christian terms, and the keynote speaker, Glenn Beck, took the Christocentrism to the next level. He declared: “Christian is a badge to wear proudly – the only thing that will save us.” For this comment he received a standing ovation – though probably not from any Jews or Muslims or Buddhists who might have been in the audience. I wondered what Alan Gottlieb was feeling at the time, knowing only Christianity would save him.
Clearly, the core values of the National Rifle Association are cast in religious terms. At the Leadership Forum I kept thinking that any atheists in attendance must be squirming in their seats. Beyond that, I found the NRA is actually – in practice if not in by-laws – a Christian organization. In its efforts to diversify its membership – to include racial and sexual minorities (see Colion Noir, Chris Cheng), women (see Natalie Foster), and younger shooters (see Billy Johnson)– the religious diversity that increasingly characterizes American society (and may characterize Gun Culture 2.0 more than 1.0) seems to be lost.