Troy, N.Y. (CBS CONNECTICUT) — Grace Baptist Church is planning to give away a free AR-15 during a raffle event later this month as part of a bid to entice hunters and gun owners to attend worship at the upstate New York church.
The Troy church distributed a flyer with the headline, “Win a FREE AR-15” along with part of a New Testament verse from the Bible, “…my peace I give unto you…John 14:27.” The upstate New York church is giving away the semi-automatic rifle as part of an event honoring gun owners and hunters later this month, and Pastor John Koletas defends the event deemed controversial by some, saying the proof is in the passages.
“The Bible is replete with defending yourself and arming yourself, and being capable of defending yourself,” Pastor John Koletas told WRGB. “We’re honoring gun owners and hunters. And we’re being a blessing and a help to people who have been attacked, viciously attacked, by socialists and anti-Christian people — the politicians and the media.”
“Does the Bible defend my right to keep and bear arms?” asks the promotional flyer. “Qualified attendee will receive a NY legally-modified AR-15…All giveaways are absolutely free to enter (attendance required).”
“Our country was built with the King James Bible and the gun,” reads Pastor Koletas’ letter to his congregation.
The Smith & Wesson M&P semiautomatic rifle, the gun manufacturer’s version of the AR-15, is being donated by a local gun shop and meets gun control restrictions found in the legislation known as the SAFE Act.
Also in attendance will be Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, who represents the district and will be speaking at the Mar. 23 service in which the winner of the AR-15 will be announced.
“It’s a legal product. Churches raffle off items all the time,” Assemblyman McLaughlin (R-Melrose) told WNYT. “My church has a $10,000 raffle every single year. I mean, I don’t know how it’s a controversy, quite honestly, that law-abiding, church-going citizens of New York that are legal gun owners are taking part in a raffle to raise funds for a church. I don’t know why that’s controversial.”
“This is something Gov. Cuomo should applaud,” said McLaughlin. “These are law-abiding people, churchgoing people, and it complies with” the state’s gun legislation.
Grace Baptist reserves the right “to disqualify people of questionable character,” for the gun giveaway.
But despite the disclaimer, many in the area are weary of the event, especially given the church’s close proximity to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012 that left 20 first-graders and six school staff members dead before the gunman took his own life.
Willie Bacote, another Troy pastor from the Missing Link Ministry, criticized the event and told WNYT he has been actively trying to remove guns from the community.
“Even though they have the disclaimer there of questionable character and background checks, I don’t believe the church should serve in that capacity of arming people in any particular way, except through the word of God,” Bacote told WNYT.
“I think it’s sending the wrong message entirely,” he told WRGB. “We promulgate the gospel as peacemakers. We’re not people who give away guns. Even the Bible teaches us to turn the other cheek.”