-Jimmy Meeks, police officer, minister, and owner of Sheepdog Seminars
Five days ago a 21 year-old walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine people. He reloaded his weapon five times during his killing spree. Friends say Dylan Roof wanted to shoot up a nearby university but couldn’t get past security, so he decided on the likely gun-free church instead, taking advantage of their warm welcome and inclusiveness.
As is always the case when a mass shooting happens, there were red flags ahead of time. Roof had told friends of his hatred toward black Americans and about some of his plans at least a week before. He posed in pictures highlighting his bigoted interests that were shared online. His aspirations were not a secret. In a move that is atypical of related acts of violence, he spent an hour in the church before opening fire, which could be another indication of advance planning.
Is America a free country? Yes. So reporting everyone who has biases or passionate opinions to the authorities isn’t called for. We are a land of diverse beliefs and freedom of speech is protected by our Constitution. But if someone you know is threatening to go kill others, discuss it with the authorities. Who knows what horrors you might prevent if they take it seriously. See how this killing spree was averted by an alert father, Father Tips Off Police to Son’s Alleged ISIS Sympathies, Authorities Say.
A common response to this tragedy has been, “I can’t believe something like this could happen!” I understand the feelings of shock, horror, and disbelief. No one wants to believe this could happen to them, or their family, or in their church. Start believing it. This is the world we live in.
Hundreds of people have lost their lives in church violence in America and Christian persecution is rampant around the world. This is not by any means the first time this has happened, and it is far from being the last. Given the volatile state of our planet, and increasing animosity towards Christians and Jews, I expect to see more of the same and worse.
For some graphic examples of what is happening to Christians in other countries, see the Gatestone Institute’s recent report Jihad on Christians. Some will protest that I’m drawing a parallel to Islamic terrorism, but reality is that this rabid intolerance of other belief systems is universal. There are millions upon millions of human beings today who think they are justified in violating and killing others because they’re different.
Going back to, “I can’t believe something like this could happen!”, this is a wake up call to all churches in America. You should have a security committee. You should have a security plan. You should be ready for natural disasters and emergencies. The church should be the most prepared private entity in any given community as community members will look to you in times of crisis. You’re also responsible for the well-being of a lot of those same people. Stop worrying about being nice and start thinking of how to save lives.
Jimmy Meeks again, from Church security: need highlighted by S.C. shooting:
“The biggest obstacle for churches is just not believing that [a violent attack] could happen at their churches,” said Jimmy Meeks, a Southern Baptist police officer in Hurst, Texas, who presents church security seminars across America. People “don’t listen to what needs to be done until they believe it needs to be done.”
The popular WWJD campaign years ago always depicted Jesus as doing “something sweet” and often overlooked Christ’s cautious or protective actions, Meeks said. “What about John 2:24b-25 — Jesus ‘knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man’? What’s wrong with not trusting people you don’t know? Be watchful of them.”
Some church leaders say, “we don’t have the money!” You can increase security and be better prepared without money. You just need to start with a few good men and women willing to sit down and develop some standard operating procedures. Ask the obvious questions–what if there’s a fire? Active shooter? Earthquake? Tornado? Controversial guest speaker? Bomb threat? Kidnapping? Domestic abuser who keeps showing up at the church threatening his ex-wife?
Discuss how you would ideally handle such events and draw up a plan. Consider that some of the biggest threats might come from or have to do with your church family itself. Domestic violence often becomes workplace violence– similarly, an abuser usually knows where their ex goes to church and might want to take her out among others in a blaze of glory. A noncustodial parent might try to remove their child from a nursery. Protesters could show up and try to disrupt an event.
Brainstorm. Take notes. Don’t consider any question or scenario too outrageous or unlikely. Consider all events at the church, not just large services. Involve your local law enforcement agency to get their insights. They will often do security assessments or consultations. Some offer security training for churches. There are also private security firms who provide these services. Obtain copies of plans other congregations or agencies have written up and work from them. Train your staff members and volunteers in basic emergency protocols. Got CERTs? Got parishioners who carry firearms? Got first responders? Know your assets. Don’t require people to disclose, just ask for volunteers.
This mass murder has caused the age-old debate about firearms to flare up again. I’ve reviewed countless news articles about this story and people are either saying, “This is why we should ban firearms!” or “We need to increase armed security in church.” If your church already has one or more uniformed police officers on hand during Sunday services, then you already know the value of meeting any threat with an appropriate level of force. You acknowledge the value of having someone with certain training and skills standing by.
The fastest way to take down an active shooter and keep him from reloading five times can be an armed good guy. The use of firearms in a crowded room is obviously risky, but chances are not many people, on zero notice, are going to want to rush a gunman even though statistical chances of surviving such an incident are greater the more quickly the threat can be neutralized. Let’s not forget what one armed off duty cop was able to do in Colorado, Colorado Springs vs. Charleston: The Church Massacre That Ended Differently.
There is intense interest in church security right now, particularly in the presence of guns in churches. Time just featured Why Some Pastors Bring Their Guns to the Pulpit. This church in Colorado has 100 volunteers trained as security guards. In North Carolina, one pastor had good reason to assemble an armed volunteer security team known as the Watchmen (a nod to the story of Nehemiah). Pulse O2DA Firearms Training, Inc. is hosting a free webinar, Five Immediate Steps To Enhance Church Security, on Thursday, June 25, 2015 at 12:00 CDT.
How each church protects itself is up to its leaders. Some leaders are not anti-gun but are concerned about what might happen if uniformed police officers run into a building and see “regular” people with guns drawn– they don’t know who the criminal is. No matter how you feel about guns, now is the time to learn, to prepare, to train. A storm is coming and there is no reason to be caught unprepared. Churches, unfortunately, are for the most part soft targets, or to put it another way, sitting ducks. They have all sorts of unsecured entrances and exits and windows and activities, and most people present will have their backs to the myriad ingress and egress points. Those who don’t, like priests, rabbis, and pastors, will be absorbed in their duties. People often have their eyes closed. Consider limiting ways into the building once services start.
From First Coast News, Pastors consider beefing up church security:
“There are lot of critics that feel that pastors or even parishioners don’t need to have certain protection in places,” said Jefferson. “That is totally wrong.”
The former Jacksonville Sheriff’s officer is a member of the security detail at Impact church. He said he has served in that capacity 13 years.
“You have to have eyes that are watching people as the come in,” he said. “Watching their body language, watching what they’re carrying.”
Jefferson alludes to a practice that has kept the Israelis safe for years, behavioral profiling. Ushers, greeters, and others can be trained to watch for and report suspicious behavior. The sergeant quoted here says that everybody’s responsible for church security– “We train our members that if something looks suspicious, it is.” At his church they have an aptly-named Ministry of Defense.
As I told callers to the police department for many years, we’d rather have you report something and have it turn out to be nothing than not do anything and have it be something. Everyone at church should be comfortable reporting things and should know who to report those to. People also need to know it’s okay to call 911 in emergencies– you’d be amazed at how many people call places other than police and fire dispatch because they “didn’t think it was important enough.” Then they’ll call 911 to ask what time it is.
In today’s world, it’s madness not to prepare for acts of violence and other emergencies. They happen to someone, somewhere, every day, and the more we talk about what could possibly happen, the more likely it is that we will be able to respond to these events rather than react. So have an emergency plan like school districts do. Take advantage of Community Emergency Response Team training. FEMA recently had a webinar titled Preparing Houses of Worship for Emergencies. They have other relevant webinars archived, and other great material about preparedness. You can have code words to put the church on lockdown, install security cameras and alarm systems, change your cash-handling procedures– there are many actions you can take to improve security right now.
This video was recommended to me by a trusted friend in law enforcement, Run. Hide. Fight. You can easily find other online videos and resources, like church security expert Carl Chinn’s website. It’s packed with useful information. In western Washington, the ADTA, Armed Defense Training Association, is an excellent place to learn practical self-defense and firearms skills. Again, tap your local police and fire departments for pointers and plans.
As an aside, please do not limit your security committees and security team members to uniformed personnel. There are members with other valuable skills and insights, and women in particular can often contribute a different perspective than the sometimes black and white thinking of professionally trained men. Psychologists and teachers and nurses are just some of the people who can enhance your committees and teams.
Again, a storm is coming. Around the world, terrorists and zealots and criminals and bigots are storming the house of God. We can and should pray for peace and divine protection, but God also requires us to do the best we can with what we have to protect our brothers and sisters. Last March in Pakistan, suicide bombers attempted to murder Christians in church but were stopped by volunteer security guards who were killed in the explosions.There would have been many more deaths if it weren’t for their preparedness. As I regularly review reports of Christian persecution and church security issues from around the world, I become increasingly impressed that the churches usually doing the most to protect their people are the ones with the fewest resources.
As a survivor of domestic violence that involved specific firearms threats, for years I considered that I might be endangering others simply by going to church. In that time I learned to consider all the angles of how a possible attack would take place and have become passionate about teaching others to– and please listen to my words carefully here– be prepared, not paranoid. We are not given a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). We should not be “nice” about looming threats against the church and human life and be overly concerned about what the rest of the world thinks. We should take a bold stand knowing an infinite power is behind us, and by protecting each other we are fully in line with His principles and character.
There is something each of us can do to improve church security. The “I can’t believe this could happen to us” and “we hadn’t really thought about security” mentalities have to go. Watch. Pray. Volunteer. Give. We are a body. We should function as a body. It’s time for that body to put on the armor of God and take a stand against the forces that come to rob and destroy. We need some literal armor too, whatever form that takes. Don’t be caught naked and helpless when the wolves come to your church. They might already be inside.
The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. –Albert Einstein
This is a hot topic right now so I want to add some more thoughts:
-Some churches say “we have a security guard outside.” Okay, so who do you have inside? Having a visible off-duty officer is great, but it’s time to think about recruiting and training some not so obvious church members who will be in the services. There might be no communication between the person outside and the people inside. Something bad could happen inside before the person outside would ever know or be able to respond. Security should not only be roaming the perimeter, but mingling.
-An interesting suggestion from a few articles I’ve perused: Once the service begins, limit the number of doors that can be opened from the outside so you can keep a definite eye on the one or few doors still open. The point is limiting access to the building once people are inside, absorbed in the service, with their backs to the door.
–FEMA Webinar Library – someone needs to update the page’s content in places, but you will some both older and newer material on here
-Some pastors are being very open that their churches won’t be messed with and trying to harm others there would be a very dumb thing to do. Don’t be a soft target. While you don’t want to show all your cards, it’s not a bad idea to brief the congregation on what to do in an emergency (like don’t all run out the same door) and make it known your church takes security seriously.
-Don’t forget about all the other events that go on during the week besides your main services– Bible studies, classes, kids’ events, piano lessons, weddings, the average workdays for the pastoral staff. Be prepared all the time, not just for your big services or events. Some criminals or terrorists strike when they’re least expected or will meet the least resistance. They might want to target a specific individual and attempt to harm them when there’s few to no one else around.
-There are security systems that can be viewed from smartphones at all times and other useful technology. It’s not a substitute for a security team, but it can be a major asset.
-Keep someone on the perimeter. Watch the parking lot. Watch the outside. Don’t let problems get in to begin with.
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