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Some Southern Baptist churches have found what they think is a surefire way to pack their pews - gun raffles. The Kentucky Baptist Convention has dubbed it, quote, "outreach to rednecks."
Blake Farmer of member station WPLN brings us this report from a steak dinner and Second Amendment celebration in Western Kentucky.
BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: An hour before suppertime, the line outside Lone Oak First Baptist in Paducah, Kentucky, wraps around the building.
WANDA GLISSON: I'm Wanda Glisson.
FARMER: You appear to be the first in line.
GLISSON: I don't know. There's a whole line on the other side. So I don't know.
FARMER: What brought you out?
GLISSON: We're for guns.
FARMER: And 25 were up for grabs tonight. There's nothing new about gun raffles in Kentucky, even at a church. There were 50 events like this one last year. The debate between Joe and Becky Bowers and Justin Guilman was whether to bring a firearm along.
JOE BOWERS: Are you packing?
BECKY BOWERS: No, I'm not packing today.
JUSTIN GUILMAIN: We're all packing, man.
FARMER: Sunday school teacher David Keele says everybody he knows has a gun. He sees them as a rallying point.
DAVID KEELE: We're doing two things here. One, we're going to talk about the Second Amendment - to bear arms. But that isn't the primary thing. The primary thing is who Jesus is.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) All you want to do is ride around Sally. Y'all sing. Ride Sally ride. Pretty good.
FARMER: The church band ditched the hymnal for the evening. These events are meant to be unintimidating to non-believers, although it turns out most of the people here already go to church, just not this one. Tom Jackson says he's not a regular.
TOM JACKSON: Do I go every Sunday like I need to? No, I don't. But, you know, I do believe in God and I do believe in living the way that he wants you to live, let's put it like that.
FARMER: Jackson says his belief in gun rights comes a close second.
JACKSON: I should have the right to defend myself and my family any way I see fit.
FARMER: Let me ask you this, Jesus said turn the other cheek.
JACKSON: Well, yeah. You know what, I agree with that. But, you know, somebody kicks your door down, means to hurt your wife, your kids, you - how do you turn the other cheek to that?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Do you w ant a steak dinner?
JACKSON: Oh, yeah. Please.
FARMER: Thirteen hundred people are packed shoulder-to-shoulder, chowing down on steak and potatoes. On a stage full of elk heads and stuffed bears, Chuck McAlister gets everyone's attention.
CHUCK MCALISTER: Well I brought a gun with me tonight. I know that's very controversial.
FARMER: McAlister is a self-described master storyteller and former host of an outdoor TV show. Southern Baptists in Kentucky recently hired him to be a full-time evangelist as denomination membership has declined. And don't be fooled - he welcomes the controversy. The best seats in the house are reserved for reporters. On stage, he cocks what he calls his most valuable gun.
MCALISTER: It's a Browning, sweet 16. It's my granddaddy's bird gun.
FARMER: The family heirloom acts an object lesson in becoming a man and taking responsibility, with a few political jabs along the way.
MCALISTER: Do you understand why there's no government on the face of this earth that has the right to take this gun from me?
FARMER: In an interview, McAlister says he's just meeting people where they are.
MCALISTER: If simply offering them an opportunity to win a gun allows them to come into the doors of the church and to hear that the church has a message that's relevant to their lives, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
FARMER: Baptist thought leaders have steered clear of giving their seal of approval. But you don't have to go too far outside the church walls to find questions.
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FARMER: All five members of the Machaen family are lobbing snowballs at each other. They live across the street from Lone Oak Baptist. Cesar Machaen hadn't read the signs promoting a gun raffle.
CESAR MACHAEN: Real guns? I don't know what to say.
FARMER: Machaen was raised Catholic.
MACHAEN: You go to church for peace, and not to kill or fight, you know?
PAUL CHITWOOD: We're going to make several people the proud new owner of a fine hunting rifle or a fine hunting shotgun tonight.
FARMER: The actual drawing comes after the altar call. Paul Chitwood, head of the Kentucky Baptists, explains that these firearms were donated and not purchased with church money. He reminds winners that they have to pass a background check first.
CHITWOOD: That's a nice looking outfit, looks like that's pump action. We got to name here?
FARMER: While deer rifles are the big draw, there are Bibles available too. They're lined up on tables by the stage, some in camo and waterproof. But unlike the guns, the Bibles aren't free.
For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Paducah, Kentucky.
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