BEAUMONT, Texas Two years ago on Super Bowl Sunday, Pentecostal preacher James McAbee was getting into his car after services when he heard a commotion. He saw two men break a window and enter a church hall that was being renovated.
McAbee called 911. The dispatcher said it would take officers at least 11 minutes to respond.
“I could hear them snapping the lumber and carrying the sheet rock,” McAbee said.
The pastor drew a .380 pistol he wore in an ankle holster and burst into the hall – only to find two adolescents.
McAbee, who’d had a troubled youth, saw himself in the pair. He lowered his gun to offer some fatherly advice, but one, a 17-year-old with two outstanding drug warrants, rushed the pastor with the pointy end of a broken 2-by-4.
“I got my gun back out in time,” McAbee said. “He froze in his tracks. I said, ‘Son, you better not move or I’ll put one right in your watermelon!’ ”
McAbee did not press charges. He told reporters he was glad he hadn’t shot them – but he was also glad he’d had his gun.
Word spread. McAbee, 36, became known around the industrial Texas Gulf Coast city of Beaumont, east of Houston. Strangers picked up his tab at restaurants and approached him at gas stations and Walmart to pose for photos and talk about guns.
Soon he had a nickname: Triple P, the pistol-packing pastor.
McAbee began teaching gun classes shortly after he earned his nickname, and cites Scripture that he says justifies the classes: Psalm 144:1, “The Lord has trained me for battle”; and Luke 22:36, in which Jesus instructs the disciples to arm themselves.
‘Don’t blame the tool’
Guns were a normal part of McAbee’s life. He was raised in Clover, S.C., where his grandfather took him hunting. His mother worked in law enforcement and carried a gun.
One day at the range, his mother, Belinda, accidentally shot and partially paralyzed herself. McAbee was 9.
He grew up caring for his mother. As a teenager, he started using drugs and stealing to feed his habit. When he was 18, McAbee was caught breaking into a neighbor’s house. He was convicted of burglary, aggravated assault and battery in a York County court and sentenced to up to six years. He served 21/2 years in a maximum-security prison.
There, McAbee felt called to preach. After his release, he was ordained by the Assemblies of God, married and had children. McAbee twice applied for a pardon to clear his record.
In 2008, his mother again wounded herself with her own gun. Weakened by the shooting, she died Sept. 28, 2008.
McAbee’s attitude about guns was unchanged: “Don’t blame the tool.”
Peace and protection
McAbee was hired three years ago as pastor of Lighthouse Worship Center. His church faces the interstate in a low-income neighborhood where gun crimes and celebratory gunfire are not uncommon.
On occasion, McAbee wears two guns to church – the .40 on his hip and the .380 in the ankle holster. His wife also carries a concealed gun. Neither has a safety on the guns they carry, and they like to keep a bullet chambered.
McAbee gets his share of criticism – mostly messages on YouTube and Facebook that condemn him for teaching people to kill.
“People think I’m a gun nut and gun crazy, but I’m not. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I believe the Bible teaches peace. But that doesn’t mean I should let them hurt me,” he said.
Recently, while McAbee was dining out with his family, a stranger called him a felon. Someone questioned on Facebook why, as a former felon, he was teaching a gun class.
Some members of his church noticed the comment online. A few knew the truth. Many didn’t.
Last month, he decided it was time to confess.
The congregation fell silent as McAbee told the story of his conviction, release and pardon.
“My life is a testimony. I’m not ashamed of who I am. We’ve all messed up. We’ve all been given a second chance,” McAbee said. The congregation murmured “Amen.”
“All those voices in my past have died,” McAbee said. “I’m not ashamed from here on out.”
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