The Kentucky pastor who drew notice earlier this year for hosting a God-and-guns event at his church is giving up his flock for his Glock.
Pastor Ken Pagano resigned his post last month at the New Bethel Church in Louisville, Ky., after nearly 30 years in the ministry, saying he wants to focus on Second Amendment and church-security issues.
“Thirty years was a good, long run, but it’s time for a change,” Mr. Pagano said in an interview with The Washington Times. “If I can write my own ticket, I want to get involved more in Second Amendment issues as they affect the church, and I can do more from outside the pulpit than from behind it.”
Mr. Pagano gained national attention when his congregation hosted an Open Carry Celebration a week before Independence Day to commemorate the roles of religion and gun ownership in the nation’s founding. About 200 people attended the event, which featured a handgun raffle and firearm-safety information.
Some of them wore their own guns in holsters. Kentucky law allows residents to carry guns openly in public with some restrictions, although gun owners who carry concealed weapons must have permits. The event wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, Mr. Pagano said, but “it really struck a nerve.”
“I would say 90 to 95 percent of all the correspondence we received was positive, saying, ‘We’re glad somebody’s standing up for this,’ ” Mr. Pagano said. “There were some who said, ‘Oh, it’s a bunch of rednecks.’ ”
Mr. Pagano said he was considering a career change even before the event, but the ripple effect led him to Rabbi Gary Moskowitz of New York, who has long worked with synagogues on protection from terrorist threats.
Mr. Pagano and Mr. Moskowitz have since teamed up to form the International Security Coalition of Clergy, an organization dedicated to “making the vulnerable less vulnerable,” according to their mission statement.
“Churches are very soft targets and very vulnerable to attack from terrorists and other homegrown, disgruntled individuals,” Mr. Pagano said. “Unfortunately, most religious leaders are living in denial.”
The number of high-profile attacks on churches has spiraled in the past decade. This year’s church violence includes the deadly shooting of a late-term abortion provider in Wichita, Kan., a fatal attack on a pastor shot midsermon in Maryville, Ill., and the killing of a female parishioner by her estranged husband in a church parking lot in Silver Spring, Md.
A handful of companies specializing in church security have sprung up in response. Glen Evans, who runs the Church Security Alliance in Dayton, Ohio, said many churches are eager to improve on basic security, such as locking doors and checking perimeters regularly, but wrestle with the idea of having an armed guard or parishioner within the church during services.
“When you have a church, you have people with the belief that you shouldn’t have a gun in church,” said Mr. Evans, a police officer with a SWAT background. “But sometimes a firearm is the only thing that’s going to stop someone from shooting people.”
Mr. Pagano advocates a security team of five church members who have at least 40 hours of training in firearms and other tactics. The advantage of using church members instead of a hired guard is that they’re better able to separate the regular attendees from the first-time visitors.
The idea is self-defense, not aggression, Mr. Moskowitz said.
“I’m not taking the position that everyone should have a gun. I’m taking the position that every house of worship or any other high-visibility target should have a person or persons trained in the use of firearms,” the rabbi said.
Such talk exasperates gun-control advocates, who say that firearms in a crowded environment such as a house of worship has the potential for disaster.
“I’ve got no problems with any institution, whether it’s a business or a church, hiring professional, trained security people who know the risks,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “What I do have serious concerns about is the idea that a private individual, just because they’re a gun owner, can be a security guard just by carrying a gun to church.”
As for Mr. Pagano, Mr. Helmke said, “Maybe he should be more concerned about the Fifth Commandment than the Second Amendment.”
What some people don’t realize is that a pastor isn’t a “sanctified sheep,” Mr. Pagano said, but a shepherd, the protector of the flock. That includes the physical safety of the parishioners within the church building.
“People have this idea that Christians have to turn the other cheek,” Mr. Pagano said. “That’s true, but I don’t think there’s anything in the Old or New Testament that requires them to roll over and die if someone attacks them or their family.”