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Baptist churches use gun giveaways to help people find Jesus

A church in Paducah, Ky., is the next host of a Second Amendment celebration that will raffle guns as door prizes this week in an attempt to explain the Gospel.
A man looks over the Taurus pistol display at the NRA's annual meeting in in Louisville, Kentucky.
A man looks over the Taurus pistol display at the NRA's annual meeting in in Louisville, Kentucky.

And the winner of the long gun goes to...

Members of the Lone Oak Baptist Church in Paducah, Ky., will echo the phrase later this week as they raffle guns to families attending their "Second Amendment Celebration."

The church invites any 1,000 residents to attend a free steak dinner on Thursday night to hear from religious speaker Chuck McAlister. Participants will have the chance to win a variety of 25 donated handguns, long guns, and shotguns through a random drawing.

"We're not doing it for the sake of the guns. We're not doing it for any reason primarily than to help men understand the Gospel message is extremely relevant to their lives today," said McAlister, team leader for Evangelism Church Planting and Collegiate Ministries for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. "The main goal is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and to give people an opportunity of hearing the good news and knowing they can have a personal relationship with the god who made the outdoors through Jesus."

Winners will receive a voucher to redeem at a local gun store. But first, each individual must pass a background check with the dealer. Parents will receive items won by children younger than 18.

"The purpose for any kind of door prize -- whether it be a toaster or a pretty dress from Macy's -- is to attract people and get a good crowd there. We're doing everything by the law. There will not be any guns given out at the event," Rev. Howard Fuller, director of men's ministries at the church, told msnbc.

The Lone Oak Baptist Church has hosted five similar events -- previously called "Beast Feasts" -- since 2005 to attract individuals who love the outdoors, Fuller said. Past participants had the chance to win Four-Wheelers.

The church is located about 13 miles from the former Heath High School where in December 1997 a gunman shot at a group of praying students, killing three and injuring five. The school closed last summer ahead of the opening of another nearby school.

"The focus is really trying to help people understand that Jesus really can make a difference in their lives," Fuller said. "We're trying to just point people to have a better life with Jesus."

But the celebration isn't a new fad occurring just in Kentucky.

Churches reach out to McAlister for help in planning such events and invite him to share with attendees his religious and hunting knowledge. McAlister said he has averaged one appearance per weekend for the past 20 years throughout every region in the country in connection with his former hunting television series AdventureBound Outdoors, launched in 1996.

But giving away guns as door prizes is "fairly new" because, he said, of post-Newtown concerns regarding restrictions on firearms. Guns appeal to a wider range of the population unlike other awards -- such as toasters or money.

"The love of hunting in the outdoors transcends through economic barriers. So you have men who might be hunting primarily to put food on the table. Then you have men who pay large sums of money to harvest a bear in Alaska," McAlister told msnbc. "But they are united around their love of the outdoors and their love of hunting."

Other preachers disagree with the idea. Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper said she has been fighting "guns and God" in Kentucky for 20 years.

"Most churches would be appalled. It is an appalling form of outreach of evangelicalism that is an offense to the Gospel of Jesus," Kemper told msnbc. Kemper is the leader of the New Union Christian Church in Lexington.

Legislatures in Kentucky passed a law in 1998 that allowed clergy to carry concealed weapons on church property. They later extended the legislation in 2000 to permit all followers to carry concealed weapons at their places of worship.

"My response to that at the time was: ‘Jesus would puke,’” said Kemper, who is also the executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches.

Kentucky has some of the weakest firearms legislation in the country, and ranked 43 out of all 50 states on the 2013 scorecard published by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In addition to existing loose regulation laws, the state last year enacted legalisation that weakens gun control and earned an "F" grade.

Related: On gun reform, states put Washington to shame

Eighty-two percent of Kentucky residents favored background checks in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, according to a poll released last March by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Countrywide support for strict gun-control laws, however, dropped last December during the year following the 2012 massacre.

Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky both hold "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association, meaning they are favored by the organization.

Kemper said she isn't opposed to people owning guns and acknowledged the need for some Kentucky residents to hunt for food supplies.

"I just think it's offensive. The churches should stay out of the ways in which people can kill each other," she said. "The whole notion of carrying guns to protect oneself demonstrates a lack of faith, and it also is a failure to love one's neighbor and enemy as Jesus taught us."