‘A Gun Itself is Not Evil’: Tennessee Church Defends Hosting AR-15 Raffle for Fourth of July Celebration

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jul 09, 2024

A church in Tennessee has given away an AR-15 as part of a raffle for the Fourth of July Weekend.

The raffle captured the attention of people online, who grappled with the idea of a stereotypically peaceful religion like Christianity encouraging the use of weapons among its worshippers.

Tennesse Raffle

A local Fox News station spoke with Todd Holmes, the senior pastor at the River of Tri-Cities Church in Johnson City, Tennesse who set up the AR-15 Raffle.

"Welcome to Tennessee" state sign with blue background and the state's emblem, beside a highway

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“This is just one of the many giveaways that we do here at our church,” Holmes said. “And I thought it was appropriate, since it’s, about our nation’s independence and part of our Constitution and our Second Amendment rights.”


Is it Inappropriate?

Pastor Holmes sympathized with some who may feel that a church is an inappropriate place for a gun but ultimately felt a gun is not a tool exclusively for evil.

A side profile view of an AR-15 rifle.

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“There’s a lot more opportunity to be killed in vehicular violence or crash, I guess I should say, than there would be a gun,” Holmes said. “And people can get upset about something, but in the end it’s really not about a gun, it’s about a person’s heart and because a gun in itself is not evil. It’s as good or as evil as the person that’s using it.”

Taking Precautions

Holmes stressed that they aren’t just handing guns out to just anyone, and that the person who wins the raffle must pass a background check.

A close-up image of a person's hands typing on a laptop keyboard, with one hand also interacting with the trackpad

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“I want people to know that we’re not putting the gun in the hands of suspects, okay,” Holmes said. “But it would just be people who totally pass a background check and who legitimately are allowed to own a firearm.”

No Different Than Any Other Giveaway

According to to Holmes, his congregation is made up of ex-military and law enforcement members, who don’t bat an eye at an AR-15 giveaway.

A close-up of an old black bible on the ground.

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“We’re just very active in the community. Like people focus on the guns and things like that, but nobody focused on last week when we were in the local community and we gave away gift cards and cooked out for the entire community and blessed the entire community,” said congregation member Kai Carter.

Sympathetic to Gun Victims

Carter, who is an associate pastor and dean of Smoky Mountain Bible College, also expressed empathy for victims of gun violence, but said that experience doesn’t make an inanimate object inherently evil.

A black handgun surrounded by gold bullets.

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“I’m also very sympathetic about anyone who’s lost a loved one in a shooting and things like that,” Carter said. “But again, a gun is just an inanimate object. It does not commit evil or good. It’s the person that’s behind the weapon, that does the evil or the good.”


Church Advertisement

While some may look at a raffle like this cynically, as just a way to draw in members, Holmes insists they have done this before without even advertising it very much.

Silhouette of a large cross standing against a dramatic cloudy sky

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“A few months ago, I gave away one of my own personal weapons, and I was just like, you know what? I’m going to give it away. And it was an AR-15, I’m going to give away my AR-15. And so I did that and I didn’t announce it. We didn’t put it on any social media or anything like that,” said Holmes.


People in Need

Holmes views the giveaways as a stepping stone to something greater, and he hopes to increase the stakes as time goes on.

A Christian cross seen in a field in the evening.

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“Hopefully very soon, we want to be able to give a house away because these are things that people need. And so we just want to be a blessing,” said Holmes.


How Common Are Gun Raffles?

Despite what some may think about the conflict between religion and weapons, in America, churches raffling off AR-15s are not unheard of.

Four guns in leather holsters lined up in a row on the floor.


A West Michigan church also recently listed an AR-15 as a raffle prize. Last year, a New Mexico school raffled off an AR-15 to raise money for students.


Criticized Online

Commenters online seized on this raffle story as a vehicle to point out contradictions between a religion of peace like Christianity and gun culture.

A painting by Ary Scheffer of Jesus Christ.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

“As Jesus would’ve done,” said one Reddit user. “They remove the Christ in Christian,” said another Reddit user.


Eternal Warfare

Other commenters came with Bible verses to defend the idea of associating the Christian church with weapons like guns and swords.

A person with their hands clasped over an open bible that is on a wooden surface.

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“You and everyone else needs to understand that all of Christianity rests upon a foundation of an eternal war between good and evil where their god and everyone pledging fealty to him is good, no matter what they do, and everyone who does not is evil,” said one Reddit user.


Common Experience

Others took to recount their own personal experiences and felt that a gun raffle like this is seen pretty commonly in America, even in places you might not expect it.

A magazine filled with bullets.

Will Porada/Unsplash

“This is pretty common, I have some friends in Minnesota who have been going to bingo halls for 20+ years, and they’ve won more than 20 guns in that time period playing bingo,” said a Reddit user.