Pistol packin’ padres

Simon Barrow
By Simon Barrow
6 Jul 2009

The recent news about a ‘gun-loving church’ in the United States illustrates once more the capacity of reality to mimic satire.

In case you’d missed it, reports on the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8122767.stm), in The Christian Century and elsewhere tell of a Kentucky pastor who encouraged his members to wear firearms to church to ‘celebrate’ the Second Amendment to the US Constitution and Independence Day on 4 July.

“We’re not afraid of a strong belief in God and firearms,” said Ken Pagano. John Phillips, an Arkansas minister who was shot twice while leading a service in 1986, had a rather different view – and one which it is to be hoped the vast majority of Christians would endorse, ‘just warriors’ and pacifists alike.

“It is unconscionable to me to think that a church would be a place that you would ever want to bring a weapons to,” Philips declared succinctly.

In Britain some 15 years ago the Swiftian satirical writer, producer and performer Chris Morris (not to be confused with the current BBC journalist of the same name) did a fabulous mockumentary piece about the contradictory notion of armed priests and ministers in the US – as part of the ground-breaking spoof news show, The Day Today.

The six-part series is still classic viewing, and for a number of years was used in newsroom training to warn presenters and reporters of the multiple dangers arising from modern ‘news packaging’ and hype. The gaudily exaggerated graphic sequences were even prepared by people with involvement in the previous generation (real) ITV News at Ten.

Chris Morris, who started in radio, went on to produce the famous (and still potent) Brass Eye spoof documentary series – which fooled a number of MPs and public figures into carelessly endorsing bizarre causes or campaigns. He is also responsible for two others: the dark, unsettling psychological sketch series Blue Jam and the po-mo Hoxton ‘meeja’ way-beyond-sitcom Nathan Barley.

Jesuit-educated Morris is supposed to be working on a new project with mundanely apocalyptic TV critic, presenter and writer Charlie Brooker. But apart from appearances in The IT Crowd (a popular but rather weak office computer geek comedy) has been relatively quiet of late.

Not one for interviews, Morris once remarked that satire was more difficult now because reality had become so bizarre it virtually satirized itself.

The unintended prefigurative reference to former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s husband’s ‘porn on expenses’ debacle, in Morris collaborator Armando Iannuci’s marvellous ‘spin doctor’ film In The Loop (see Bishop Alan Wilson’s review here http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/9356 on Ekklesia), illustrates the point rather well.

But not nearly as sharply as the pistol-packin’ pews in the US do.

“In God we trust” – but just in case, we’ll arm ourselves to the teethe and mortgage everything on the Federal Reserve. This kind of thing isn’t a paradox. It’s a blatant theological and practical contradiction – at least, if it’s the God of Jesus Christ the suffering servant we are talking about, not some Janus-faced idol.

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(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. www.simonbarrow.net

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