As the pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic African American congregation in Baton Rouge, I am deeply concerned about a proposal in the Louisiana Legislature that would further expand Stand Your Ground laws in houses of worship. Far too many congregations in our country have felt the pain of gun violence — but expanding a law that has led to the disproportionate murder of black Americans is not the way to protect people of faith in Louisiana.
This bill would allow anyone in a house of worship to shoot to kill someone who enters unlawfully, even if that person poses no threat to them. My church welcomes people of all colors and creeds daily. That’s no place for a shoot first, ask questions later mentality. In fact, our state’s existing Stand Your Ground law already applies to houses of worship and would allow someone to shoot and kill a person they reasonably believe to be a threat. This bill is not an added layer of protection; it is a smokescreen that would only encourage fear and distrust.
As a student at Morehouse College, I was inspired by the work of Mahatma Ghandi, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, and Howard Thurman, and I have been charged to promote the ideals of nonviolence and love toward all people. This misguided bill would encourage people to shoot to kill one another if someone seems as though they don’t belong.
As a pastor, I still believe in God’s protection and provisions. Yet I am no stranger to the threat of violence. I am a native Floridian, where Stand Your Ground has lead to vast increases in firearm homicide rates. This law has caused too many young African American males to be killed without rhyme or reason. I also know what it means to fear for the safety of those we love. My son is a police officer, and I pray daily for his protection and that of other first responders. But this law would not make our congregation safer; it would only cause more violence to a community that has already faced enough.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” we read in Matthew 5:9. My faith guides me to be a peacemaker, but also to stand up to injustice. Stand Your Ground laws have historically increased rates of violence, particularly against the black community. I’d like to look at my future grandchildren and tell them I did everything I can to protect them from gun violence. To our elected officials, I send this charge: this your hour to stand up for what is right in the sight of God. Protect the people in your community and oppose House Bill 235.
The Rev. Herman Kelly
pastor, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church