US church has change of heart over offering assault rifle as prize for bringing in new members

First Pentecostal Church in Aberdeen, Mississippi, offered an assault rifle as a competition prize.FPC/Facebook

A church in the US sparked incredulity by offering an assault rifle as a prize to whoever invited the most new people to its services this month.

Following representations by a visitor to First Pentecostal Church, Aberdeen, Mississippi, the church withdrew the offer.

According to blogger Jon Kuhrt, his friend Mark Perrott, who lives in the US, attended the church as a visitor. Perrott reported that the assistant pastor announced a competition for church members early on in the service, with all ages present. The pastor described the AR15 as a "killing machine" and added that the winner would get 100 rounds of ammunition thrown in as well.

The competition was confirmed on the church's Facebook page in a post that was later removed.

Perrott wrote to Kuhrt: "Whatever people's views of gun ownership for hunting, self defense or protection against government, I cannot believe that such weapons [are] being used as a recruiting tool to grow the church. I am at a loss..."

Kuhrt writes in his blog: "Along with my friend Mark, I am at a complete loss to understand the thinking which sees no problem in giving vicious weapons as prizes for bringing people to church. After all, it was only a couple of months ago that a gunman killed nine people in a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. And just last week, there was the horrific shootings in Virginia of a reporter and camera man live on air.

"Did not these recent events cause the leaders of First Pentecostal Church to reconsider its prize? Did it not strike anyone at this church as inappropriate?"

The church did not immediately respond to Christian Today's request for comment, but Kuhrt later wrote that the pastor of the church, Rev Ricky Bowen, had been in contact with Perrott. Bowen told him: "My heart is hurting as I really did not think the promotion all the way through. Your post opened my eyes with an alarming, resounding jolt. I trust you will not judge us by a bad choice of gifting. We really did not even think of it in a negative way until now. I know that must sound foreign to you, however we have had weapons since we were children. That is the way all of us were raised. Thank you for your post. I love the service of Christ. It is my breath, life and hope. The weapon is no longer part of a promotion. May God richly bless you and your business. Your servant in Christ. Ricky Bowen."

In response, Perrott, who runs a furniture business, offered to give the church a hand-made coffee table that they could give as an alternative gift.

Kuhrt reflected: "This is a good outcome. It is uplifting that Pastor Bowen and his church decided to take such swift action and act in such a gracious way. Perhaps, this episode is an opportunity for this church to reflect further on what it can do about gun culture. This whole story may just be about one weapon amid countless others, but perhaps it can give us hope that change is possible."