MEBANE, N.C. — “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” says the Second Commandment.

That quote, along with a giant photograph of a pile of guns and ammunition, is splashed across a new billboard that has gone up along the interstate highway near Mebane, N.C.

The billboard is from the North Carolina Council of Churches, a statewide organization representing 18 Christian denominations in the state and 6,200 individual congregations. About 1.5 million North Carolinians are members of congregations under the council’s umbrella, the council says.

The goal is to “guide the conversation” over gun safety, which now is too often linked to the U.S. Constitution’s second amendment permitting the right to bear arms, said Council Executive Director Jennifer Copeland.

Christians need to think about the Second Commandment, too, she said.

“God commands the people not to have any idols,” said Copeland. “Idols can assume a lot of guises in our world that we don’t immediately understand as idolatry.

“For many of us, guns have become the symbol of safety, the idol we turn to because we believe in them to keep us safe,” she said.

Copeland argues that statistics show exactly the opposite, that the presence of guns actually is making us less safe.

“States with more guns have more deaths,” she said. “And for each time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are seven assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and four accidents involving guns in a home.”

The billboard is the first of a series of messages planned by the council during the coming months. It plans to erect a new billboard in a different part of the state throughout the summer, “regularly reminding people there is a different way of framing the conversation.”

The contentious gun safety debate needs to also consider “the guiding principles found in our scriptures and our creeds,” Copeland said.

“As people of faith, we should always guard against those things that become more important to us than the God who calls us to abundant life,” she said.

Leaders at the Minnesota Council of Churches, which has endorsed criminal background checks for all gun sales, say faith leaders can play an important role in the gun debate.

“The Minnesota Council of Churches have hosted hundreds of Minnesotans to discuss the role of guns in society through our Respectful Conversations program,” said Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of the Minnesota council. “These conversations produced greater empathy.

“Our prayer is that the North Carolina action will also yield greater empathy for the victims of gun violence,” he said, “and an increased desire to reduce gun violence.”

To be clear, Copeland stressed that the council is not advocating for a repeal the Second Amendment, noting that many gun owners support reasonable gun restrictions.

“The argument that criminals can always get a gun may be true, but we should make it very hard and very expensive for them to do so,” she said. “Good gun laws will never prevent good gun owners from having their weapons.”

Instead of focusing on guns, Copeland suggested communities could become safer by feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, caring for the sick and visiting the imprisoned.

“But that’s a message for another billboard,” she said.

 

Star Tribune staff writer Jean Hopfensperger contributed to this article.