A survey of evangelical leaders now making the rounds in Christian media suggests that influential pastors could be a conduit to a broader gun-reform coalition. The crucial caveat: More of them would need to decide to speak up on the issue.
The poll found that among top evangelical officials, 55 percent support stricter gun laws, even as a solid majority say they live in gun-owning households. Only 5 percent support relaxing existing gun laws.
Those views put church leaders at odds with their congregations.
A January 2013 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that the white evangelicals who form the core of the religious movement (not to mention a powerful voting bloc) are more opposed to stricter firearms laws than any other religious demographic. Fifty-nine percent opposed more gun laws, even in the immediate aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The new survey of church leaders collected the views of the 109-member board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals, a group that represents 45,000 American churches.
It’s the second time that the NAE has asked its directors about gun laws. The earlier survey, conducted the month of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, found 73 percent in favor of tighter gun regulation.
Carl Nelson, president of the Transform Minnesota church network, said in a press release accompanying the new poll, “While I support the Second Amendment, we clearly have a growing citizenry that is incapable of the responsibility necessary to keep and bear arms.”
One evangelical figure attempting to bridge the divide between preachers and the faithful is the Reverend Rob Schenck. An ardent pro-life activist known for his sometimes confrontational tactics, Schenck became a convert to gun control after his Washington, D.C., apartment building was placed on lockdown during the Navy Yard mass shooting in 2013. His Christian-inspired anti-gun-violence activism was the subject of the 2015 documentary Armor of Light.
Schenck has been blunt about what he sees as the failure of his fellow clergy to tackle the issue.
“This topic is not even treated in the average church. It is ignored,” he said last year. “Most pastors have said to me, ‘I just don’t touch it. It’s too volatile. It ends up dividing the church.’ I think that does a disservice to the people of God, who need moral guidance on this question.”
Armor of Light shows Schenck going from church to church, trying to recruit more clergy members to the cause. His outreach continued after the film wrapped.
On October 15, Schenck will lead a national day of prayer for victims of gun violence called Survivor Sunday, with the aim of enlisting more faith leaders to directly address the crisis. The event, per the press release, will send “the critical message that Christians care about all the ways in which people suffer after a gun is used to harm someone.”