There’s been a certain amount of cyber-snarking at the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) since Friday, when Andrew Wolfson of the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that the organization has been using gun giveaways to evangelize. The idea is to bring men to Jesus by way of “Second Amendment Celebrations.”
“You have to know the hook that attracts the individuals,” said Chuck McAlister, the ex-pastor and former Outdoor Channel hunting show host who serves as team leader at the events. “The number of unchurched men that would show up at an event would be in direct proportion to the number of guns you give away. And I can almost tell you the number of men that will show up based on the make and model of the gun.”
But rather than ponder the spiritual attractions of the AK-47 versus the Glock 26 or speculate about how pornography will be next, let us instead contextualize.
It should be noted that the Southern Baptist Convention has been hurting in the numbers department over the past few years, with a fall-off in total membership as well as in baptisms. And that decline in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination has been felt in the Bluegrass State, where the KBC reports that 75 percent of its churches are either plateauing or shrinking. So this “outreach to rednecks,” as they call it, is part and parcel of the Southern Baptist effort to revive itself.
You might call it scraping the bottom of the gun barrel. Or you might recognize it as the latest chapter in Southern evangelicalism’s longstanding effort to domesticate a male culture devoted to fighting, hard-drinking, and screwing-around. “It was the tension between the extremes of masculine aggressiveness and home-centered evangelicalism that gave white Southern culture its emotionally charged nature,” writes University of Mississippi historian Ted Ownby in Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920. “Evangelicals constantly worried about the sinfulness of male culture.”
Here’s how a Methodist preacher put it in 1890:
It is wonderful to see a great burly man, mostly animal, who has lived under the dominion of his lower nature and given rein to his natural tendencies, when he is born of God and begins to grow in an upward and better direction. His affections begin to lap over his passion….The strong man becomes patient as a lamb, gentle as the mother, artless as the little child.
At the turn of the 20th century, hunting was, Ownby writes, “perhaps the last respectable male outlet from Southern evangelical culture.” Now, in the early 21st century, it’s become an avenue into that culture, at least to judge by the dozens who, according to McAlister, have made decisions to seek salvation.
From the Church of Christ pieties of Duck Dynasty to the KBC’s Second Amendment Celebrations, the tension is finally resolved. Maybe.