An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. A .38 for a .38?

On Wednesday, it became legal for Kentucky ministers and church officers to pack heat inside a house of worship, as long as they have a concealed weapons permit.The change - believed to be one of the only provisions of its kind in the country - came through an amendment passed this year by the Kentucky General Assembly.

A 1996 law allows state residents with permits to carry concealed weapons, but bans them from a number of places, including schools, government buildings and houses of worship. There were exceptions, including judges in their courtrooms and legislators at work.

Willie Ramsey, a preacher at the Somerset Church of Christ, campaigned to extend the privilege to men and women of the cloth, and other church officers.

"It's a matter of equal rights and equal protection under this gun law," said Ramsey, who wouldn't say whether he would carry a concealed gun in church.

Not all religious officials agree with the change.

"A friend of mine said it, and I'm going to repeat it," said the Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches. "Jesus would puke."

"Certainly one of the messages we try to put forward is a message of peace," said the Rev. Robert Nieberding, vicar general of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington. "It seems to me that when you're inviting a minister to carry a weapon, that's kind of counterbalancing peace.

"It just is so foreign to what we're as Christians supposed to be about."

Ramsey argues that churches are robbery targets because of the offerings they collect. Though his church has never been robbed, he is worried by the two dozen burglaries, thefts and vandalism incidents at area churches in the past two years.

Police say most of those cases were nuisance crimes committed by unarmed juveniles. In a more serious case last year, a shotgun-toting robber interrupted a sermon at Liberty Mission Baptist Church in the eastern Kentucky town of Gray, taking $400 from worshipers.

"I'm sure a bank would not want to lose its depositors' money and obviously we do not want to lose the Lord's money," Ramsey said.