Tennessee Pastor Prompts Backlash with Sunday Gun Giveaway

By Sarah Einselen
Tennessee pastor gun giveaway
In a video since deleted from social media, Todd Holmes, pastor of The River of Tri-Cities Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, announced that he is giving away two AR-15 style rifles at upcoming Sunday church services. (Screengrab via Twitter)

A Tennessee pastor said in a now-deleted video that he’s giving away two AR-15 style rifles during this coming Sunday’s morning and evening services at his church. The giveaway has prompted backlash from some who question how giving away guns furthers the Gospel.

Todd Holmes, pastor of The River of Tri-Cities Church in Johnson City in the far eastern corner of Tennessee, announced the giveaway in a video on the church’s Instagram page while wearing a shirt that used various weapons to spell the word “love.”

The video has been removed, but it was reposted on Twitter by The New Evangelicals podcast. The shirt Holmes wore has been marketed elsewhere as a way to show support for the Second Amendment.

Numerous people responding to The New Evangelicals post objected to giving away guns as a means of attracting people to church. David Bumgardner, a former Southern Baptist minister who said he’s a “proud owner of firearms,” called it “demonic.”

Similarly, another Twitter user said she’s fine with guns but objected to conflating guns with God.

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“Guns are a big part of the culture where I live . . .” she tweeted. “But this whole Guns and God thing is weird.”

The Roys Report called the church and sent a message through its Facebook page but hasn’t heard back.

A Twitter user who said he messaged the church “to see if it was a joke” posted a screenshot of the response he said he got.

“I don’t use guns to bring people in,” the response reads. “. . . This is for our church family, who appreciates it. Not sure who sent the post to you but I guarantee you that it was not one of our church people. It was just a hater who likes to promote division. Have a merry Christmas!”

This Sunday’s giveaway is at least the third firearm giveaway the church has hosted this year. The church also gave away a 12-gauge shotgun on Father’s Day and a rifle on Independence Day.

“Because we believe in a FREE USA and a Constitution that says, ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed,’ The River of Tri-Cities Church is giving this rifle away to a Patriot this Sunday AM!” a July 2 Instagram post reads.

The giveaway is scheduled to take place less than three weeks after a 15-year-old shot and killed several students on Nov. 30 at a high school in Michigan.

Closer to home, several schools were placed on “soft lockdown” today in Johnson City, where the church is located, as a precaution after a shooting took place off campus early this morning.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.



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24 thoughts on “Tennessee Pastor Prompts Backlash with Sunday Gun Giveaway”

    1. What don’t you like about them?

      I had to look up the Twitter account to get an idea of who they were (though my initial guess was in the ballpark). You should probably clarify the reason for your distaste.

      1. I’m not in favor of the “new Evangelicals’ who remake Sermon on the Mount Jesus and Love Your Enemies Jesus into a vengeful, gun toting, flag waving, anti vax America First “patriot.”

        1. It’s an exvangelical group that posted the video to draw (negative) attention to the it. They are highly critical of the attitudes you list.

          1. My mistake. I saw that the offensive post was pulled down, then “was reposted on Twitter by The New Evangelicals podcast.”

            I guess I assumed the worst of the “New Evangelicals.”


  1. If he were handing out condoms, talking about sexual identity, or being woke, he would be hailed as courageous and heroic. More power to him.

    1. This kind of whataboutism isn’t really helpful. In this case, it comes across as saying that because one kind of error would be affirmed and applauded, that therefore this other potential error should be encouraged instead. That doesn’t logically follow, however. It could be that both things are wrong.

  2. I’d always thought that the right to bear arms was satisfied by joining a militia…the national guard, for example.

    1. If only the Founding Fathers had been a little more prescient and careful with their wording, hundreds of thousands more Americans would still be alive today. 40,000 Americans were shot dead last year alone. Half from suicide, the rest mostly murder, along with a thousand accidental deaths. If our stats were in line with most other Western nations, the total would have been closer to 10,000 than 20,000 dead.

  3. The American jesus that is being adored by so many needs to die right now. He is a man made idol that can neither see nor hear. Thank God, one day he will burn like all the other idols of this age.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with what this man did. When they come to take your kids and force jab them you will want guys like this defending you. Hopefully they are still there when you need them.

    1. Sara, giving away AR-15s in church reveals profoundly poor judgment.

      I trust neither this man’s theology nor his trigger discipline, nor that of anyone who approves of this.

  5. Isn’t this illegal on some level? Doesn’t a person have to have a background check, etc., before becoming a gun owner? And where in the Bible does it say that you should bribe people to entice them to come to church? This is so wrong on so many levels. I do hope that this is not something that other churches also try to gather members.

  6. Much of the point of the Book of Revelation is that followers of Jesus shouldn’t be finding their security and placing their trust in the violent methods of the Beast/Rome. Looks like this guy missed the message — maybe he’s one of the misguided folks who thinks it’s about modern Middle East politics.
    The relationship of a segment of the U.S., including many Christians, to guns deserves the label “idolatry”.

    1. I know a very rich Christian businessman who constructed a bunker 30 feet under his massive garage and stocked it with lots of survival gear, food and guns. He had enough food for three months for his family. The guns, I guess, were for anyone coming over looking for food.

      I don’t get the mix of this kind of thinking with the type of life Jesus told us to live.

  7. Talk about tone deaf…. America has a messed up gun culture… Countries like Germany may 300 killed in the entire country for the year … whereas a single metro area in the U.S. may have 300 persons shot and killed in just a few months…. what a disgrace

    1. Germany’s actual recorded murder rate for 2020 was 2401, which was an increase of just over 3% from the prior year. If you were to extrapolate the murder rate given the difference in population, their murder rate is probably 50% of the U. S. for the same year. However, the data might also be skewed given the dramatic increase in the murder rate last year in the U.S. In any event, their murder rate for last year was eight times more than the 300 you mentioned.

      Does it really matter in the end? Given that not so long ago Germany gifted the world the holocaust with its millions of murdered victims, comparing yearly homicide rates with them just means we have a lot of catching up to do.

    2. Yeah, it’s not gun ownership that’s the main problem, it’s gun culture — the fetishization of guns and silly fantasies of defending the nation against tyranny.

      Mark my words. If tyranny ever comes to the US, the gun fanatics will be the ones cheering it on.

  8. Interesting juxtaposition right now with the pic of this pastor and his assault rifles right below the pic of the Mennonite missionaries in Haiti.

  9. Would someone please tell me what the scandal is? All over the country, many places have a responsible gun culture of hunting, target shooting (Olympic sport), and guns for self-protection. In rural areas, with small police forces covering many thousands of acres of land, people must be prepared to defend their home. Many states flush with legal gun owners, e.g., NH, WY, WV, have a low incidence of gun violence. We are called to not resist maltreatment when presenting the gospel, to not promote the gospel by force, but believers are not called to be random victims of violent criminals. The famous Baptist frontier evangelist Peter Cartright carried a gun. Methodist circuit riders on the western frontier often carried pistol and rifle.

    Throughout the Roman Empire all men carried knives. In cities, military grade swords were banned with the ban enforced by Roman troops, but not knives. Yet, Peter brought a sword into Jerusalem. (Jn 18:10) However, in the countryside, you were on your own. Think of the man left for dead on the notorious Jericho Road. Because of this, people traveled in groups for protection and outside the city armed themselves for travel. Galilee was infamous for bandits. Rural folks everywhere were armed and hunted for meat, as well as to fight off thieves, lions, and wolves. Roman commoners also constructed homemade weapons made from writing implements, house tiles, table legs, etc. Paul writes about “danger from bandits…danger in the city….danger in the country.” (2 Cor 11:26) This historical context for Christians in the first century is often ignored.

    1. Do you find it a bit weird that supposedly Christian members of Congress send out cards celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with pictures of their entire family holding assault rifles?

    2. I’ll take a shot at this (pun intended), as someone who enjoys target practice and hunting. Gun ownership per se isn’t wrong, but it’s not part of Sunday worship. Loosely summarized, the Westminster Catechism ch. 21 says that Sunday mornings are for worshipping the Father, Son, and H.S.; for preaching the Word; for administering the sacraments; for prayers of thanksgiving and intercession; and for singing. There are many things which are fine in life (like eating ice cream) that are inappropriate for church worship services.

      Also, the pastor is doing this in a divisive manner. There are first-order doctrines which separate believers from non-believers, second-order doctrines that separate believers into different houses of worship, and third-order doctrines that should not separate believers even when they disagree. (Per Al Mohler, https://albertmohler.com/2005/07/12/a-call-for-theological-triage-and-christian-maturity.) Gun ownership at best is a third-order doctrine, although in America it is more of a secular/political issue. The pastor is making a stumbling block for fellow believers. Not cool according to Romans 14.

      Finally, I want to say that if you disagree with me, you are still my brother in Christ and I value you and all who read this as members of Christ’s body and as people Christ died for and rejoices over.

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