A decade ago, there were roughly only 10 incidents of church violence across the U.S. In 2007, there were 41 incidents. In 2009, there were 108. In 2012, there were more than 135. And by mid-July 2013, there were already 58.
Much media attention has been given of late to the Louisiana pastor who was shot and killed a few weeks ago during a church service at the Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center. But there have been a host of other violent crimes that have occurred at houses of worship in recent months.
For example, in Wilmington, Del., a man was shot and wounded in the parking lot of Ebenezer Baptist Church — the second such deadly-force crime lately at a church in that city.
In Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., two priests were walking around St. Helen Catholic Church, when two men jumped over the church fence and robbed them at gunpoint.
At a private funeral at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Roman Catholic Church in Cheektowaga, N.Y., two men knocked on a church door and then forced their way in when two women opened it. One man held a gun to one woman’s head, and the other put a knife to the other woman’s throat as they demanded cash.
In Albuquerque, N.M., 24-year-old Lawrence Capener was attending church with his mother at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church. Without warning, he hurdled the pews and rushed the choir while wielding a knife, according to police, and stabbed four people.
And churches aren’t the only houses of worship facing increased violent crimes.
Hundreds of people were praying inside the Muslim Federation of New Jersey mosque, when a gunman opened fire from the outside, shattering glass windows and embedding bullets in walls and cars.
And in 2012, six people were killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin before the murderous thug took his own life.
Most of the information above comes from Carl Chinn’s website (http://www.carlchinn.com), which is meant “to help churches and ministries recognize the need for intentional security and to provide simple concepts for starting or improving security programs.”
Christianity Today explained Chinn’s background this way: He “wakes up at 4 a.m. to search Google News for church, shot, bomb, arrested and three dozen other violent words before heading to work. He has reason to be interested: As building engineer at Focus on the Family, he was a first responder to the 1996 hostage crisis there. A decade later, Chinn found himself in the hallway as a gunman attacked his congregation, New Life Church. In his spare time, he now offers security consulting for churches and runs what is almost certainly the country’s most extensive database on church violence.”
This ecclesiastical violent crime trend is for real. For proof, consider that in 2009, Christianity Today reported: “ASIS International, the world’s largest security training organization, opened a new church-security division earlier this year. Groups already in the field include the Christian Security Network, the National Organization (of) Church Security and Safety Management, and Strategos International.”
And this past weekend, the ninth annual National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management conference convened in Dallas. It is one of the largest annual church security conventions in the country. (You can check out more about it at http://www.nacssm.org.)
Chinn is the first to say there’s much more involved in congregational safety and security than merely posting guards and bearing arms. Chinn says on his website: “I have never allowed the message to be wrapped around that axle. I believe in our right to defend ourselves with a gun. When it comes to defending others, I believe in that as well, but strongly believe there should be training for that level of protection. A conceal carry license should not be the only affirmation of one’s ability to protect others in a deadly force situation. … To have folks who are intentionally ready is the best thing any organization can do.”
I realize there’s a fine balance between faith and defense, but I believe we’re called to do both. One verse says in the Scriptures, “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”
If a house of worship has no safety plan, I recommend that church leaders come together with local law enforcement — maybe even officials who are a part of their congregation — to discuss church safety. At the very least, I’m certain these public servants and trained defenders with licenses for concealed weapons would be more than willing to volunteer by manning a post discreetly at public events.
It’s gravely unfortunate that we’ve reached an age when we have to be concerned about security in church, but such is a sign of the times. Statistically, however, we must not forget that being in a house of worship is still one of the safest places on the planet; you’re three times likelier to be struck by lightning than you are to depart this life by sitting in church.
Nevertheless, with everything from harvest festivals to Christmas services in the coming months, it’s high time for churches and other faith-based organizations to quit checking their brains at the door of faith and secure the safety of congregations and others inside. You might even pass along this column to church leaders you know.
In God we trust; all others we search.
Next week, I will relay some of the best advice for how some are making their congregations and houses of worship safe and secure. For more information, check out the resources at http://www.carlchinn.com. Also, check out Chinn’s book “Evil Invades Sanctuary,” Chapter 4 of which provides sound guidance on setting up a faith-based security operation. Another great book is “Shooting Back: The Right and Duty of Self-Defense,” which details how one person saved many lives in a congregation gathered in prayer.