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Detroit minister shoots attacker. Should armed pastors be a new normal?

The pastor of Detroit's City of God church is in custody after shooting a brick-wielding man who allegedly threatened parishioners. 

A good minister is supposed to protect his or her flock: "pastor," after all, is Latin for "shepherd." But should ministers carry guns?

The debate over arming preachers, and their congregations, may be rekindled this week after a Detroit pastor shot and killed a man who had a history of making threats against the church, who had entered the church on Sunday wielding a brick. 

The 25-year-old suspect, whom officials say had sought help from the City of God minister in the past, was shot multiple times at the start of the 1:30 service, and pronounced dead at the hospital. 

Pistols, like the minister's Glock, are allowed in Michigan churches only if church authorities give permission. The Detroit Free Press reported a "packed hearing" just last week in Lansing, the state capital, as lawmakers debated expanding gun rights in spaces where they are currently limited, such as schools, bars, and houses of worship. Concealed carry in churches is legal in roughly half of US states today. 

On Monday, Detroit police corrected earlier reports that The City of God's pastor was in custody. "He was never in custody,” Officer Jennifer Moreno told the Detroit News. “He was just brought downtown (on Sunday) for questioning regarding the incident. He stayed a couple hours, cooperated fully and went home.”

Although the minister has not been identified by the press, the storefront church's Facebook page includes links to the YouTube-d sermons of Pastor Keon Allison. 

"Awesome Pastor who loves his members shows great concern and not ever to busy to come to your aid. ...Trully in the Soul saveing business [sic]," one woman commented on Facebook

The Detroit Free Press notes that the city's clergy have often denounced violence, but haven't said much on the idea of guns in church – although City Councilman and pastor Andre Spivey did tell the Detroit News that he hopes churches won't start to feel "like an airport."

But legal guns have a big fan in Detroit native and current Police Chief James Craig, who believes a rapid increase in legal permits has deterred would-be criminals

"It was a well-known fact here in Detroit," he told NPR in April. "People didn't have a lot of confidence that when they dialed 911, that the police were going to show up. In fact, we know they didn't." 

Detroit was highlighted as an example of dramatic changes in African Americans' views of guns: over the past two years, a Pew survey found, the percentage who believe guns are more likely to protect than harm is up from 29 percent to 54 percent. 

But what does self-defense look like in a sacred space?

The debate over guns in church has soared since the June massacre at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where a young man, reportedly with racist motives, killed nine worshippers during a prayer service. 

Pro-gun advocates worry that churches are open targets. Presidential contender Mike Huckabee was one prominent voice calling for churches' 'good guys' to arm up against the bad ones to avoid future tragedies. 

But the movement to train congregants, security guards, and pastors themselves in proper gun use has been growing for years in churches that say that the admonishment to "turn the other cheek" cannot always be taken literally.

"If you have somebody of great moral character, as a pastor is supposed to be, that person should be trusted to have a firearm,” Maryland's Rev. Kenneth Blanchard told Al Jazeera. “You have to have your ploughshare and your sword on the wall.”

One Catholic priest in Ann Arbor, just an hour's drive from Detroit, raised eyebrows (including his bishop's) by urging parishioners to take a gun course. "We're Not In Mayberry Anymore, Toto!" his letter to the parish began. 

In response, a spokesman for the Diocese pointed to Bishop Earl Boyea's own letter on the notion of guns in church:

"We are followers of Jesus Christ, who raised not a hand against those who mocked, tortured, and finally murdered him," Bishop Boyea said in 2012. "While we grasp both the Second Amendment and the legitimate right of some persons to defend themselves, our churches and our schools are dedicated to a far different approach to life's problems."

[Editor's Note: The original article has been edited to clarify Michigan gun laws. A previous version stated that concealed weapons were illegal in the state's churches; however, permit holders may carry guns if they have permission from the church.]

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