October 22, 2017

Of Swords And Plowshares

BarneyFifeI am old. Not so much old-fashioned as just old. So when I say I am seeing things now I didn’t see growing up, there is a lot of water that has passed under the bridge of time. I’m not talking about the horseless carriage (I’m not that old), nor even the cell phone (but I do remember the bag phone).

I’m talking about churches using armed guards during worship services.

In the church I attended until recently, an off-duty police officer is hired to be present for both Sunday morning services. He wears a shirt proclaiming him a police officer, and his gun is clearly on display. He even passes the plate when ushers are in short supply.

I know a man who is the fulltime bodyguard and security officer at a small megachurch here in town. He has his revolver concealed under his suit coat, and has an earpiece allowing him to listen to others who are watching video monitors and communicating any potential threats to the pastor. He walks the pastor to and from the stage area, making sure no one gets too close.

Then there is the largest church in my town. They employ a small army of uniformed police officers both inside and outside of the church building. They are unsmiling reminders not to make any sudden moves or, heaven forbid, attempt to take a child under the age of two into the sanctuary. (Really—you’re not allowed to do that.) And as this preacher does not ever mix with the congregation, there are plainclothes security personnel to keep you on your side and God’s anointed ones on their side.

I cannot ever recall seeing armed guards in a church service until after the turn of the millennium. There probably were some in some churches before then, but now it seems it has become a status symbol. You know, “My church has more guns than your church.” Who wants to attend a church where there are no badges on display?

Yes, I know that there have been a few instances of people being shot while in a church service. But if you take all of the services conducted in our nation every Sunday, and multiply that times 52 weeks in a year, I think you have a better chance of being selected for the first mission to Mars than you do encountering a gunman in church this or any year. It would be a different case if you went to church in Egypt or Nigeria, but across our land, I am not sure I see the need for the sword in a worship service.

I wrote on Sunday about becoming vulnerable. What kind of message do we send when we have guards to put up the facade of all things being under control, of everything being safe? Is that what God calls the church to be?

I am going to let you flesh this out. What are your thoughts on armed guards in church services? A necessary evil in the world we live in today? Or is it an attempt to control what we need to leave in God’s hands?

Comments

  1. Jeff, I seriously doubt you’re actually “old.” ; )

    As for armed guards, it strikes me as complete madness – and very much a trend in a certain segment of evangelicalism only.

  2. As for the message, it’s a lot like mark Driscoll’s MMA posturing 9and claims that he was rushed by a man with a machete).

    In other words, the church is showing off its machismo – somehow, I don’t think Jesus had a squad of “enforcers” around, but The Godfather certainly did!

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      >I don’t think Jesus had a squad of “enforcers” around

      To be fair [and I think armed guards at churches is madness] Jesus was God. His “enforcers” includes archangels. I do not think there is much of a 1:1 there.

      But, there is also simply no purpose to these ‘guards’ [or IMNSHO, “actors” is a better term, they engaged, however unwittingly, in theater]. Unless there was a specific credible threat – in which case I have no doubt the municipal police would be there, for free. A standing guard is getting paid – by somebody.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        A standing guard is getting paid – by somebody.

        “TITHE! TITHE! TITHE!”

        • Chris Auten says:

          Just a modern day interpretation of the Old Testament armor bearers. And it dovetails nicely with HUG’s admonition to tithe as I suspect these protected pastors are quick to browbeat their flock with the requisite scriptures from Malachi.

      • Adam, the “jesus was God” argument seems a little specious to me, if only because he didn’t go around calling on the “twelve legions of angels” he speaks of during the passion to come and rescue him during his earthly life.

        Not only that, few people who heard or met him believed him to be anything other than a fellow human being. (At least, if you go by what’s in the Gospels.)

        His kingdom is not of this world, therefore, his servants aren’t supposed to used armed might, yes?

  3. If it’s a status symbol, it’s one which needs to go.

    But if it’s a response to threats against people in the church, or violence which has happened in the past, it makes sense. I’d prefer they carry non-lethal weapons, of course. Those who live by the taser aren’t all that likely to perish by the taser.

  4. those pastors are probably displaying more fearfulness than machismo, unless the ‘security’ packing guns are part of a way to impress the congregation with the ‘importance’ of the pastor

    sad day when a pastor sends a message that he trusts a glock more than his flock . . .

    actually, it may be more a case of projecting an image of self-importance than actual fear . . .
    ‘ the more important the pastor, the more visible guns in evidence for his protection’ ???

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      A message that civilization is in peril, your children are threatened, and cruel Mohammedans are massing at the border is more convincing if you had to enter the building past armed guards. I do not believe this is fear, it is theater.

    • “…he trusts a glock more than his flock.”

      Good line, Christiane! You never know when one of those sheep may turn wild. And you never know when a wolf may be among the sheep. I am very much NOT a gun control person. My family hunts and I grew up with a father who owned a sporting goods store selling guns and tagging dead deer. You can make all the gun control laws you want and the “bad guys” and the emotionally unstable/violent will still get guns. Nevertheless, I would prefer to not see guns in church, but I guess I would have nothing against some of the congregation having a concealed weapon for those few occasions when it’s absolutely needed to protect the people.

      • “the emotionally unstable/violent will still get guns”

        Except that with less guns around, less of them would be able to get guns.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      sad day when a pastor sends a message that he trusts a glock more than his flock . . .

      GREAT. LINE. CHRISTIANE.

    • …are part of a way to impress the congregation with the ‘importance’ of the pastor

      In many cases, that’s exactly what it’s about.

  5. Our church had an incident this past weekend, where an individual was escorted out of the building by security and ultimately placed in police custody. It happens. These days, for a large church, physical security is as important as a “reducing the risk” program to protect children.

  6. We know that the day is evil. And that certainly a nut case could walk in and start shooting. But that is everywhere and anywhere.

    We choose to not live in fear, especially as we know that we are all dying anyhow. And that the Lord “will not let a single hair on our heads perish”…even if we happen to be murdered.

    No security forces in our sanctuary other than the security that is given in His promises.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > We choose to not live in fear, especially as we know that we are all dying anyhow.

      +1

  7. All of that sounds completely insane to me. Weird, paranoid, over the top…just nuts. I’m thankful I have never even visited a church with that going on, it would have freaked me out.

    Contrast these paranoid nuts and their bodyguards with Pope Francis–an actual world leader and target for God help us I don’t want to know how many creeps, terrorists, and criminal rings–joyfully wandering off the path to embrace people and be among them.

    Then read that story where Jesus walks on the water…hah yeah. Which of these two examples demonstrates a man of faith? Enough said.

    • On the other hand, we do have the Swiss Guard on duty during liturgies in St. Peter’s, so do we Catholics have room to point our fingers at anyone else?

      After all, it has been 486 years since the Sack of Rome!

      🙂

      • LOL fair enough. Though I admit to having doubted those swords were real…

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Though I admit to having doubted those swords were real…

          Even if real, they are useless against a car or briefcase bomb, or an automatic rifle.

          • Cedric Klein says:

            Thinking that the visible Swiss Guard is the only security detail for the Pope strikes me as very idealistic & naive.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > Thinking that the visible Swiss Guard is the only security detail

            No one suggested that was the case.

            Although I’d wager whatever else security exists is also useless in the cases mentioned; there simply is no *time* in such attacks, which is why people use those tactics [Security people always stress that *time* is everything and then some]. It takes less than a count of one-thousand-one one-thousand-two one-thousand-three one-thoursand-four for most attacks to conclude; that is not even enough time for a ‘defender’ to make a decision.

          • Remember how two years in a row that crazy lady was able to get close enough to Pope Benedict at the Christmas Mass to grab him? Didn’t she even knock him down one of the two times?

      • “After all, it has been 486 years since the Sack of Rome!” Give or take a millennium, Martha! 🙂

  8. It’s pretty much the opposite of what Jesus did. Like pretty much in american evangelicalism.

  9. In some denominations, including most of the older ones, carrying weapons into the church is considered a violation of the church’s sanctity. For example, Emily Post notes that at a wedding in which the couple intend to pass beneath the crossed sabers of an honor guard, the officiant may require this to be done outside the church rather than inside, even though the risk of a sword-fight breaking out must be very slim.

  10. Just heard that the church in which I used to be an associate pastor now has security people (I don’t know if they are armed). I was a bit stunned. I’m sure there must be some justification – perhaps related to the size of the crowd. Another reason I would never want to be part of a large church.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Having “safety officers” makes sense. Having armed guards [and *HOPEFULLY* they are sufficiently trained… I doubt it, those kind of people are expensive] is just nuts.

      • Final Anonymous says:

        I agree. When I worked in a pastoral care ministry, I encountered some situations that presented a risk of danger to specific members or the congregation at large — an abusive ex-husband with a restrianing order threatening to confront his ex-wife at church, for example. I never knew who the “safety officers” were or what training they had, but as far as I knew they were members of the church who anonymously (to us) and inconspicuously kept an eye on things, and were on high alert during situations as above.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          If you are at a mega-church scale you might very well need specifically designated people. At least around if someone falls, has a heart attack, stroke, or any medical issue [even elderly people who might get confused]. And just to keep a look out for odd behavior. But that is a very long distance from a guy with a gun.

          In a crowded building full of civilians I shudder to think what a guy with a gun in going to do – unless he is fabulously well trained. 99 out of a 100 he is just going to make anything that happens worse; provided anything even happens… which is extremely unlikely.

    • Don’t forget Dr. Tillman was shot in a Lutheran church.

      • A one in a million assassination of a high profile target. Could have happened at his grocery store or dentist’s office just as easily. And how much WORSE it would have been if a couple of amateur hired guns had started a crossfire situation in that enclosed space with panicked civilians. 🙁

        • Just for clarification, many of the “hired guns” are not amateurs, but professionals (off-duty police officers, etc…)

        • And even if they aren’t off-duty police officers, you can’t be a paid armed guard without being trained and certified. There is no such thing as an “amateur hired gun.”

    • And don’t forget the Knoxville Unitarian church shooting, so there are threats out there.

    • An aquaintance of mine, an off-duty police officer, shot and killed a crazed gunman in a Korean church here in LA some years ago.
      I know of at least 2 pastors who have had death threats and had guns waved at them. In both cases, there were women who had been counseled by their pastors to leave their physically abusive husbands, and the husbands then threatened the pastors in retaliation.
      The churches that I am aware of that have these kinds of security problems usually don’t advertise their security. If the pastor senses a security problem, they have a code phrase like, “will Mr. Zeiss please come to the front of the sanctuary for prayer”, which tells the off-duty police that they anticipate trouble.
      (FWIW, I am not a gun owner.)

      • The incident you are speaking of is one of over 700 Deadly Force incidents I have tracked in faith-based organizations.

        It happened on June 30, 1985. Dan Bong Jow killed 36 year old assistant pastor Gregory R. Owyang and senior deacon Li Fook King (56) by shooting them during the 08:00 service. Jow was mentally disturbed and had come to kill his ex-wife and her family members, but they arrived after the service. Off-duty SO Deputy Donald Leverence was in the audience, pulled his weapon and fatally shot Jow stopping the attack.

        Serious crimes have happened in every single denominationa dn in every size of congregation. And it’s not as rare as most think (certainly not as rare as a trip to Mars)

        if you are still close to officer leverence tell him I appreciate what he did. Bob Vernon (former LAPD Assistent Chief) told me the story.

    • Something needs to be said in favor of the American trinity – Colt, Smith & Wesson. Don’t forget J. Frank Norris, the “shooting salvationist”. If the long term pastor of First Baptist Fort Worth hadn’t been packing, he wouldn’t have been able to gun down a distraught man in his pastoral office. His pistol saved his life so that he could preach the very next day.

  11. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    >I’m talking about churches using armed guards during worship services.

    The presence of armed guards helps to raise the atmosphere of fear and tension [their presence includes the implicit statement that they (like much of our military infrastructure) are necessary].

    > What are your thoughts on armed guards in church services?

    I would probably never go to that church again.

    > A necessary evil in the world we live in today?

    It is a political stunt of the most vulgar form. Unless the church has had a specific credible threat, it is ridiculous. Are they paying those guys?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The presence of armed guards helps to raise the atmosphere of fear and tension [their presence includes the implicit statement that they (like much of our military infrastructure) are necessary].

      And for a Pastor/Dictator, it’s not much of a stretch from “Security Detail” to “Pastor’s Enforcers”. On display before the sheep, broadcasting the message Don’t Step Out of Line and Tithe Tithe Tithe.

    • Yep. It’s worth noting that Jewish institutions and synagogues receive threats pretty much regularly, many of them serious and credible, from multiple points on the extremist map (racist, Islamic, etc). And STILL most only have guards (I’m not even sure if they are armed) at the High Holy Days–when many unfamiliar faces are passing through the doors. And still remain mostly unscathed, too.

  12. I have actually been giving this some thought lately, even before reading the post. But for me it’s actually a bit more personal. You see, I’m actually currently a candidate for becoming a pastor of a local Baptist church. I’m an unconventional candidate, being without M.Div or ordination. In spite of that, I suspect this is where God is taking me. We’ll know in a few weeks.

    Along with that, for several years now, I have been planning to obtain a concealed carry permit and training myself to use a weapon for the protection of myself, my family and those around me. The only reason I haven’t done that yet is my budget hasn’t allowed for it.

    So as I am looking forward to becoming a shepherd, I’ve been considering whether I should proceed with this process. Is it right for a pastor to carry? Is it right for a pastor to carry while leading worship? Ever? Never?

    My internal jury is still out regarding the rest of the week. I haven’t resolved that issue (although it’s still theoretical since I still don’t own a firearm). I’m pretty sure, however, that I would NOT carry while leading worship. I can see the case for it. If someone gets violent, being able to protect my flock…sure. But one might assume that if the flock (or myself) is attacked while worshiping, there is a certain level of religious persecution involved. Not systematic, not organized or coming from the government. But at some level, someone is targeting you because you are christian.

    If that is the case, it seems pretty clear that the Bible tells us to take it. I see it as one thing to be a victim of a random shooting on the street or in a theater, but completely another to be attacked for Jesus’ sake. In that case, I think my call would be to lay down my life, but not to act to take another.

    Now, carrying concealed while out ministering in the community? Does that carry the same charge? I think it might. So I’m not sure that I’m going to follow through with my plans.

    I do believe that individuals have the right to self-protection. I realize that statistically, the occurrence is rare — unless you are one of the people actually involved in an attack. I think that it is good to be prepared to protect your family and loved ones. And I think that if someone were to invade my home, I would be tragically in the right to stop the invader with deadly force.

    But for a minister of the gospel to employ a weapon, especially while functioning in that office strikes me as a use of “right-handed” power that makes perfect sense, except that it is completely antithetical to the call of the gospel. The gospel doesn’t make sense. Instead it is True.

    So I think my focus has to be more on doing things in the world the bring the true Shalom that only Christ can bring. and I am called to do that using the tools and “weapons” that Christ used and that he provides. I am not better than Jesus that I should be allowed to avoid those who would kill me. I am not better than Jesus, who when Peter jumped to his defense (did he have a permit to pack that sword?) rebuked him for relying on the sword and foreswore the protection that Peter would have given him.

    This makes me feel vulnerable when I want to feel protected. This makes me feel weak when I want to take action. This makes me reflect on what it means to trust Jesus.

    I pray that these ministers let of of “right-handed” power and instead learn to dwell in the left-handed weakness of the gospel.

    Should someone invade my home,

    • Ignore that last sentence fragment. 😉

    • For some years I carried concealed. Then, when Arkansas passed “right to carry” laws I did the “right thing” and got a permit.

      What ever you decide, Dave D, my recommendation is to NOT get a permit. It will likely cause you more problems with the police than it will ever avert. If you decide to carry, then do so and shut up about it.

      I own firearms, but I haven’t carried for at least 13 years. My normal American paranoia has receded.

    • Respectfully Dave, I can’t reconcile self-protection with Matthew 5:39. I don’t own a gun by choice. I fear if I did the (real) enemy would exploit the opportunity to demonstrate how shallow my faith is – particularly if my family were threatened. I’m not saying you’re wrong. It’s just something I’ve thought about and, for now, think its better to not have the option.

      Somewhat related – in light of this, what was Peter doing with a sword at the time of the Lord’s arrest anyway?

      • Funnily enough, because Jesus told him tosell his cloak and buy one. It’s about a chapter earlier there in Luke’s Gospel. Luke 22:36. At the Last Supper, Peter shows Him two swords and Jesus says, ‘It is enough.’ One of those bizarre episodes in the Gospel, when seen in connection with what happened later. I kind of feel sorry for Peter in that situation. ‘You tell me to buy a sword, then tell me off for using it? What the hell, Jesus?!’

      • I totally hear that Steve. I don’t disparage non-resistance at all. In fact, functionally, I am at this point living as a non-resistor (at least in terms of owning and carrying a firearm). I affirm that such a stance is not a matter of cowardice at all (as some would claim), but can be a very principled and courageous approach to the question of how to live in a violent world. My own stance is neither all black nor all white. It’s complicated.

        Thanks for the grace of your comment. May the peace of Christ rule in all things and may his protection surround us all.

  13. Brad Lockner says:

    As a Canadian the whole concept of armed people in church, far less armed guards, is completely foreign, even absurd. Absolutely not needed anywhere in the U.S. either.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      As a non-Evangelical American, I find the idea pretty absurd, too. The examples Jeff gives seem to be either poorly-considered responses to possibly legitimate concerns when packing so many people into one space (which in turn are an argument in favor of smaller churches, but that is a different discussion) and vulgar machismo posturing. The “pastors” (and I use the scare quotes advisedly) who have armed security to keep the hoi polloi away are a complete disgrace.

  14. David Cornwell says:

    Watching out for the security of children is one thing. I doubt we need armed guards to do it. However I think we as Christians should be renouncing violence rather than preparing for it, and having armed people in the sanctuary for that purpose is a response of fear rather than of faith.

    I agree with Chaplain Mike concerning this being another reason to not want to be part of a large church.

    • In my career, I have designed buildings for both urban and rural churches. The urban megachurch wanted sunday school classrooms with FOB (remote control) lockdowns, just like the public schools. They had electronic tracking tags so kids could not be snatched without an alarm going off. They had pager systems (like when you are waiting at a restaurant) to give to each parent as they left to go to the sanctuary or their adult Sunday School class.
      At the suburban/rural church, when I ask them if they want these features, they just laugh and say that half the congregation is concealed-carry.
      Is there any difference in the expression of faith between these two, other than their choice of defensive technology?

      • David Cornwell says:

        I’d have to think about what you are saying.

        Right off hand it makes me think that scattering children throughout churches, and away from parents isn’t a good idea to start with. Children should, perhaps, be with parents, families together during worship. Another argument for smaller churches.

        I recognize this doesn’t solve the problem for already existent mega churches. But it does make me never want to be part of one.

        We are a nation and a people gripped by fear at every turn these days. As Christians we somehow need to reflect the Kingdom of God rather than that of our prevailing culture.

      • What comes to mind immediately is that one church is protecting children via defensive measures – lockdowns, tracking, etc. Those might be a huge inconvenience if they go wrong, but they aren’t going to hurt anyone. The churches using a plethora of guns are going with a more offensive solution – the only way to truly stop someone by using a gun is to shoot him. If that goes wrong, someone may die. My dad likes to call it “preventitive offense”, because other than the ability to threaten, there is nothing truly defensive about using a gun.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        Yeah, in Suburban Texas, the latter is definitely the norm. No need for paid security. 30-50% of the parishioners are packing.

  15. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > Absolutely not needed anywhere in the U.S. either.

    Some mosques and temples might feel in necessary, at least at certain times of year. The things I have heard Christians say about our Muslim neighbors… if I put on their shoes I would feel concerned. Christians get to say these things in the public square, on radio, and on TV – and nobody bats an eye. Politicians talking about Sharia law coming to *Oklahoma*? I, as literate citizen and a Christian, think “whatever, that’s crazy”. But you cannot blame a Muslim for feeling something else.

    It is hard to believe a Christian church would need any such protection [except under specific credible threat].

    • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

      Years back, when I was in Messianic Judaism, one of our sister congregations in another city was attacked by a neo-Nazi gunman. I was pretty young at the time, so I don’t remember the details, but I know that several of our ex-military members organized a plainclothes security team of folks who were trained and qualified, likely better than the local rent-a-cop would have been. This was with the Elders’ knowledge and consent, but it was not made public to the rest of the congregation. There were a few times when they had to escort someone who had gotten out of hand off the campus, but they never had to draw their guns, as far as I know.

  16. Soo amazingly sad. So many reason.

    A couple of random thoughts:

    1. ‘Cause you know the disciples were Jesus’ security force (one tried and got smacked down by Jesus).

    2. Nothing says relationship building like a wall of armed security guards.

    3. I’m so important and adults are so important that kids can’t even be seen. Worshiping is for the over 2 crowd. (This has deep theological implications for the spiritual reality of the child and what we think being able to commune/worship God is.)

  17. Marcus Johnson says:

    It sounds insane, but there is still the question of whether or not there is an imminent threat to the congregation that requires armed guards. Were there any bomb threats called in? Was there a physical altercation on church property? If so, then temporary armed security would make sense until the threat is resolved.

    But if this is one of those paranoid strategies taken in a community that is just as likely to be trampled by a herd of coked-up unicorns than an active shooter, then maybe it behooves church leaders to determine whether or not this is just an impulsive reaction to a threat that doesn’t exist.

  18. Richard Hershberger says:

    It’s a side issue, but what is up with prohibiting infants in the sanctuary? Infants don’t cause any trouble: they don’t move around much, and if they start making noise this can usually be fixed with a bottle or a pacifier, or a discreet exit to the bathroom for a diaper change. Furthermore, they are uniformly adorable. It’s when they are a little older that they become a problem in church. I can’t bring my four-year old to church. My almost-six year old is better, but she really only has about forty-five minutes of virtue in her. So I find this church’s policy not only appalling (did no one bring up “suffer the little children…” when they came up with it?); I also find it inexplicable.

    • So do I, Richard. To me, this says it is all about “the show.” There are all kinds of classes and playgrounds and events for the kids to enjoy while their parents are enjoying the “main event.”

    • Yeah…our one attempt at visiting one of those newfangled “emergent” churches was foiled by how WEIRD and legalistic they were about separating us from our at the time VERY young children. I don’t leave pre-verbal kids with strangers if I can possibly avoid it, just a personal comfort zone thing. And I am very cautious about leaving older kids, too. I know this is radical, but I want to KNOW who is caring for my kids! Anyhow these coo-coo clocks would not back down. Our kids were quiet and not bothering anyone, but they kept sending these clean cut grinning females over to try to “help us” by taking the kids to the cordoned off, no entrance permitted “childcare zone.” When we were persistent in our polite refusals, one of the pastors came over and basically told us to comply or leave. Guess which one we did.

    • My church also doesn’t allow infants or the very young children in our sanctuary during services. It’s done for these young ones. Our worship music it can get fairly loud and we don’t want to damage their hearing.

      • Frank, if it’s that loud, it’s loud enough to damage the hearing of teenagers and adults, too.

  19. I get the post. I get that Jesus didn’t have armed guards. I get that the church shouldn’t be like the world in it’s paranoia and its need to show/wield raw power. So my comment isn’t intended to say we shouldn’t be critical of some ego stoked pastor who thinks armed guards are cool, or some churches that go overboard. My comment intended to say that things are a bit more complex than that.

    I go to a large church, and we have uniformed police in the building and making rounds in the parking lot. We also, as I understand it, have several folks who, on their own, carry every Sunday.

    The uniformed officers are not protecting the pastor, they are there to respond to whatever may happen on the grounds. The patrol cars making rounds in the parking lot are there to keep folks from breaking into cars (big problem in the past, even in a low crime area) during worship. As for the folks who carry on Sunday morning, my guess would be that they carry every other day as well, as a choice to protect themselves and others from those who would do them harm. Not specifically worried, or afraid of what might happen at the church.

    I’m glad we have LEO’s on site to help deal with situations that regularly happen when you have large numbers of people gathered in one place. Particularly when you have taken on the responsibility of caring for hundreds of children concentrated in one area. Not to mention (multiple) non-custodial parents who have tried to pick up and leave with kids. How do you realistically, practically do this without police on site to mediate?

    Until you’ve seen some of the tin-foil hat letters that regularly come into the church, and known what situations arise on any given Sunday, don’t be too quick to judge.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      If a church has a specific problem of car break-ins, then some sort of security response is reasonable. This need not be uniformed, much less armed, security personnel. Merely having people and/or cameras visible will generally do the trick. (How often do supermarkets have uniformed guards patrolling the parking lot? I won’t say it is never, but I don’t recall having seen any.) Do it right and those visible people also can serve as greeters, making the church a more welcoming place. (A cynic might suspect that making the church unwelcoming for the wrong sort of person is considered by some churches to be a feature rather than a bug.)

      As for packing heat for when the crazy comes in guns ablazing, this is a hero fantasy common in some circles. As Jeff points out, the chances of this actually happening are close enough to zero as to make little difference. I am more worried about accidental discharges than I am an armed crazy. And the thing is, part of being an armed crazy with guns blazing is a low expectation of survival. The fantasy isn’t really of stopping the crazy from killing people, but of taking him down before he kills as many people as he might otherwise. The fortunately limited experience of such events has not made clear how well this actually works in real life.

      As it happens, my church has one member who is a law enforcement officer. I have only seen him carrying a weapon once, when he changed into uniform to go directly on duty. He looked adorable (and I told him so). I suppose it is possible that he is carrying a concealed weapon on other occasions, but it would surprise me.

      Oh, and I was church president for two years. I have a pretty good idea of what the mail brings, and it is nothing even vaguely resembling what you describe. I guess it is the wrong sort of church to attract the tin-foil hat crowd.

      • Hey Richard, thanks for the response.

        I guess we can disagree about the level of security response necessary for the parking lot. We had cameras, and folks in the lots before. Didn’t stop the thieves. As for the grocery store? Don’t know about that, but at the local mall our police department puts up portable marked watchtowers during the Christmas shopping season. I assume it’s because the normal mall security isn’t sufficient during that time.

        As for those packing heat for the crazy ones, I don’t know anyone with a fantasy of being a hero gunning down the bad guys. I’m sure there are some who think this way, but nobody I know. The folks I know who have a carry permit all say the next to last thing they ever want to do is kill someone. The last thing the ever want to do is bury someone they love. I know, I know, that’s a cheap shot slogan, but it does give a sense of how far down the list the idea of killing someone is.

        We have a security committee that oversees all the ways we try to provide a safe place to be. It includes deacons, elders, the local law enforcement folks, retired FBI, owners of security companies, Dept. of Homeland Security, and others I’m forgetting right now.

        • Sorry, accidentally hit the wrong button and it published before I was ready.

          I was going to say add that these folks have had loooong discussions about the balance of what needs to be visible, what level is appropriate to the possible threats vs, what kind of message does this send as the local body of Christ. I know these people and their heart. And I have confidence in the decisions they’ve made. All of this to say that the steps we’ve taken have been long considered and well thought out by folks who are children of the King trying to be good stewards of the people in their care.

          I’m not on the security committee, so I don’t see everything that comes in the mail. But I’ve seen enough anecdotal evidence to make it pretty plain that we gat a regular dose of folks who don’t connect the dots like you and me. I’m holding one in my hands right now that someone in the congregation gave me.

          Anyway, I’ve enjoyed thinking through some of this with you.

          • Also, just reread my comments. Didn’t mean to imply we need Dept. of homeland security for our church. The folks I mentioned on the security committee, except for the local law enforcement, are folks in the congregation who work at these places, and volunteer to be on the committee.

  20. Nothing new here, really. During the 17th century Scottish Coventanters would meet in open spaces to avoid being arrested and post “security guards” (or whatever they were called back then) off a way keeping an eye out for Charles I’s soldiers (there’s a picture of this @ http://www.covenanter.org/Westminster/directoryforpublicworship.htm; note the armed guards on horses at the top of the picture).

    And no, this didn’t justify it then any more then it does now. My church has no armed guards nor is it under consideration. But if I were a Coptic Christian in Egypt I might just ask the priest for an armed guard or two to dissuade at least some of the church-burning, people-killing nut jobs.

    Just sayin’…

  21. No. No, no, no. Jesus hardly encouraged Peter’s use of a weapon to defend him when he seemed to need it.

    I have thought long and hard about the issue of self defense and concluded that I would rather be killed than to kill. While that’s a philosophical decision, it has practical application, too. If offering violence is not an option for me, then I won’t project any kind of threat in the way I move, act, or speak.

    What’s the worst that could happen? To live is Christ, to die is gain. Actually, the worst would be seeing my kids harmed, but I still would not kill even to protect them. A moral tenet that only holds until my kids got involved would be hypocrisy; then my children would be idols because I would have put them ahead of God. They understand.

    • While I do not have a hard and fast opinion on this topic, I think that the example of Jesus’ discouragement of Peter’s weapon is somewhat irrelevant. Jesus’ destiny was to die, and us such anything to interfere with that destiny was to be discouraged.

      Also, while you may not kill to protect your kids, what if you are in a position where you are a teacher of my kids? How would you protect them?

      • By hiding them, shielding them, anything else I could do. I’ve been a teacher all my professional life, and I’ve never carried a gun.

      • Jesus made a theological point of it to Pilate: “My Kingdom is not of this world, if my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight…”

        it seems like Jesus wasn’t just safeguarding his own calling, but teaching his disciples about the Kingdom he was inaugurating, its character and power.

        Plus, I don’t know if I would say his disciples are much different in their calling to die. Certainly the significance of their deaths is different, but they are being conformed to his image.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Damaris, over the years I’ve gradually moved to almost this same position. It’s a difficult one, but a moral and ethical one for the Christian. I think as Christians we need to renounce violence. Otherwise we are just another cultural reflection reacting in exactly the same manner as everyone else. Fear should not be the controlling motive of what we are about.

      Escaping death isn’t an option anyway.

      • Well said David… especially this, ” Otherwise we are just another cultural reflection reacting in exactly the same manner as everyone else.”

  22. First, I appreciate you and the Internet Monk site. Thank you for raising this issue.
    The likelihood of facing a deadly force incident in church is more like that of getting struck by lightning (really – the statistics are similar – it’s not like winning a trip to Mars). The difference is that those of us who live in lightning prone areas take precautions and even train our children for it at our schools, while many pastors feel about security like you and others have so eloquently stated here.
    More people have been killed in churches in the last 5 years than have been killed in schools. Are we opposed to security in schools?
    I was one of the founding planners of the security program at our church in 2005. I was one of those early ones approved to carry a firearm, and I was in the organized response when we stopped an active shooter who killed two in the parking lot, then came into our church intent on killing many more. While the overwhelming majority of our training was (and continues to be) on de-escalation and less-than-lethal responses, we also understand that the best tool for stopping a gun in bad hands is a gun in good hands. Jesus encouraged his men to get swords then rebuked Peter when he used it in the wrong manner and time. It isn’t about stopping all protection – it is about having properly trained responders. Jesus didn’t make a mistake when he told his men to get swords.
    It’s not about dying and our heavenly promise. It’s not about status. Is in not an attempt to control what is in God’s hands. It is about sensible and intentional protection of the people under our care.
    Let’s be fair and truthful. Most pastors who have protection details were not in favor if it themselves at first. But circumstances, experiences and real threats have resulted in them finally accepting it. While I don’t doubt some may be showboating, the ones I have met (and I know many) reluctantly accepted it after seeing the dangers in our changing world.
    There is a roaring lion seeking those he may devour. His weapons are in the hands of people. Nehemiah said, “We prayed to our God and posted a guard…” (Neh. 4:9). Those of us committed to serving our churches in this capacity are not doing so to be recognized. We do so to protect. We are not in uniform, aren’t easily spotted, do smile and we do welcome children into the sanctuary.
    I agree with being spiritually vulnerable. I do not agree that we subject the people in our care to criminal vulnerability as a religious statement.
    Keep up the great work.
    Carl Chinn

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      The likelihood of facing a deadly force incident in church is more like that of getting struck by lightning (really – the statistics are similar – it’s not like winning a trip to Mars). The difference is that those of us who live in lightning prone areas take precautions and even train our children for it at our schools, while many pastors feel about security like you and others have so eloquently stated here.

      Not sure your analogy fits. The precautions and training in lightning-prone areas revolve around avoidance, safety, awareness, and seeking shelter in the case of a threat–prevention, not confrontation (besides, everyone who tries to fight lightning loses…and is probably pretty drunk or high).

      More people have been killed in churches in the last 5 years than have been killed in schools. Are we opposed to security in schools?

      Depends on the school. Does that particular school have a history of violent incidents requiring intervention by trained, armed officials? If so, then we should get some for that school, and quickly. If not, then we might as well also claim that the armed guards will protect our children from herds of rampaging elephants. Same rule should probably apply to churches.

      We have a bad habit of letting national statistics impact our decision in this particular issue, when it really should be local stats. A church community in a suburb outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan might have no need for armed guards, whereas a church in inner-city Chicago that is surrounded by a lot of active gang activity might benefit from heightened police protection. There isn’t a cookie-cutter answer to this issue; it really has to be determined by each community, depending on what their immediate concerns are.

      • the bad habit that is being talked about is that ‘violence will never happen to me’ or ‘violence will never happen here’.

        Did Sandy Hook Elementary get a message about a ‘credible threat’? Did Virginia Tech get a message as well? Did the theatre manager get a call about batman carrying an assault rifle in Colorado? Did the receptionist at the Navy Yard get a call/text/fax/email about a ‘credible threat’? And who is the official that decides a ‘credible threat’ is creditable? Why don’t we just have all law enforcement officers lock up there weapons until there’s a ‘credible threat? Then the officer can call a ‘time out’, retrieve their weapon, come back and call ‘time in’ and carry on with their duty now that there’s a credible threat.

        Also, if there’s no ‘cookie-cuter’ answer to this issue, then why don’t we allow each church to defend themselves as they see fit instead of demeaning them? No one is saying you gotta go to this church or that church and no one is stopping you from creating your own. If any of you think you can do a better job then, by all means, please step up.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Do you really want an answer to any of those questions, or are they rhetorical statements? Seriously, it looks like you just regurgitated a hysterical hodgepodge of statements that were screamed by some talking head over the past year. Cool it, take my statement for what it is, and ask me some questions that have some rational thought.

          For the first half of your rant: Each of the incidents you mentioned were in different contexts from what this forum is discussing: armed security in churches. There were different preventative measures that could have been taken for each one; some may have included armed guards, and others (i.e., the Navy Yard shooting) were screaming warning signs for months. None of them were in church communities, in which the chances of someone getting killed or injured by a firearm are so small, a calculator cannot retrieve the proportion without going to an e + number (trust me, I tried to do it one for a course project).

          For the second half, I’m not sure where you got the impression that armed guards were a bad idea, or that I was in favor of disarming law enforcement agents. I did state that the church community that considers this as a preventative measure should not consider national statistics, as they do not accurately inform on the possible dangers in their communities. Instead, they need to look at local statistics (e.g., how many violent crimes are committed in their community, number of violent altercations in their church in the past year, size of their church community), and determine whether an armed escort for their pastor is really necessary. Focusing on local statistics, I suspect that some church communities might need to take greater precautions to ensure the safety of their community. Many, however, will find that they are not in grave enough peril to warrant parishioners packing heat and armed guards in their sanctuary.

          Take a chill pill, dude. Not everyone is anti-gun. Some of us just think that there is a third option between “Jesus take the wheel” and “Go ahead, punk; make my day.”

  23. So what’s next? A Minister of Defense? I can hear it now:

    A Reading from the Book of Armaments, Chapter 4, Verses 16 to 20:

    Then did he raise on high the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, saying, “Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.” And the people did rejoice and did feast upon the lambs and toads and tree-sloths and fruit-bats and orangutans and breakfast cereals … Now did the Lord say, “First thou pullest the Holy Pin. Then thou must count to three. Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the number of the counting, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade in the direction of thine foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.”

  24. Wait, aren’t a lot of these churches the places where people are “Just a-waitin’ for the Lord to take me hoooome” and “Just Passin’ Through”? Then why be so afraid to protect your own life if you’re just waiting for it to end?

    But in all seriousness, I feel that churches are already doing a terrible job at being welcoming without having armed guards. I also hear things like “he who chooses to save his own life will lose it” echoing in my ears, but of course I’m probably interpreting that wrong.

    • Yeah…seriously. LOL this reminds me, I took my mom to a concert vespers at this little old mainline a while back. Mom is rightfully, due to a rough experience in her past, kind of church-phobic, so it’s hard to get her into a service even when she wants to go. Anyhow, the usher at the door knows my husband and me but that didn’t stop him from coldly grilling my mom–a nicely dressed respectable lady in her mid-60s–about how it was expected everyone should LEAVE at the end of the service, and not CAMP OUT in the bell tower. They had had a PROBLEM with CERTAIN PEOPLE doing that, see. (Ie it happened once years ago.) Wow, thanks for the kind welcome! Surely the rampant paranoia has nothing to do with the declining numbers in the pews and plate!

  25. I think the comparison with “reducing the risk” programs is important. When schools and daycares implemented background checks and prevented adults to be alone with children, predators did what came natural: they moved to more vulnerable targets, i.e. churches. Now churches are being forced by their insurance companies to implement similar programs. There have been a growing number of rampages targeting public venues, with the most vulnerable becoming the biggest targets (e.g. shopping malls, movie theaters, schools, etc.). For a church to hire a security guard is not a lack of faith.

    Even if a church cannot hire a security guard, other precautions could be taken to reduce risk.

    During a recent trip to India, security guards search cars and people entering hotels and other public venues, including metal detectors. This is the world we live in. Ignoring that risk out of “faith” or martyrdom is irresponsible. Martyrdom-lust is the mirror opposite of Mark Driscoll’s blood-lust, but equally reprehensible.

  26. The fact is, over 450 people have died a violent death on church and faith based property since 1999 (that’s more than at schools during that same time period). And all the talk about lack of faith is ludicrous. Jesus said we were to take no thought about what to eat, drink, or wear, but He did not advocate passivity about these matters. We are told if we don’t “work,” then we should not eat. Thus, faith without works – is dead.

    Churches are like any other buildings; they are not in the least sacred. They are mere brick, wood and mortar. Jesus even told us, “beware of men… they will harm you IN the house of worship (Matt 10:17).” The Almighty does not dwell in temples made with hands…

    And it’s not the mega churches that are getting hit. When you study the stats, you quickly learn it is the smaller churches that are usually targeted. Churches between 30 and 350. Churches like First Baptist Norwood, MO. A few weeks ago a gunman entered, fired of several shots before being tackled. There were 39 people sitting there? (thirty-nine)

    And what do we say to Carol Daniels? Sitting inside her church in Anadarko, Oklahoma 5 years ago – alone – an intruder brutally murdered her. He stripped her of her clothing, mutilated her body with a knife, laid her in a crucified position – and then set her hair on fire before leaving….

    And Fred Winters standing behind his pulpit in 2009 (Illinois) when shot down by Terry Sedlacek…. August 19: Five men waiting to be fed at a church in Chicago when shot in a drive-by..

    Most of you commentators have not thought this matter through. You have allowed your faith to make you religious. You reek with superstition, not spirituality.

    In April of 2012, a man crashed his car in a church parking lot in Aurora, Co. The small flock of 30 rushed to his rescue. He came out shooting! He shot 2, killing the minister’s mother. He went inside the building, only to be met by a member with a gun (off duty Denver cop) who was able to shoot him down… saving many other lives…

    I was married in a church where in 1980 a gunman entered, shouted “This is War,” and then shot 15- killing 5. They are still in great pain…

    And… not everyone shot on church property is a believer.

    Ultimately, our problem is with Jesus himself. We have twisted his words and even feminized him! We make him out to be some poor, pathetic, passive individual who never fights back. What are we to do with those pictures of him in Revelation? When he comes back, is he not wearing a robe dipped in blood and a 2-edged sword protruding out of his mouth (“with which He will smite the nations”). We have de-clawed the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” John 2 even goes so far as to say that “Jesus trusted NO MAN…”

    Even Jesus took precautions in dealing with violent men. John 7 states he did not go to Judea because there were people there looking to kill him. Why didn’t he just go anyway, and “trust” God? He was heeding the words of Solomon: “A prudent person FORESEES DANGER, and TAKES PRECAUTIONS…(Proverbs2 2:3)

    Why not love your flock enough to protect it? I say again: Why not LOVE your flock enough to protect it (“…love always protects..” 1 Corinthians 13).

    And do your homework. Wake up to the reality that evil is around us.

    Consider this: somewhere between 10 and 23 children are sexually molested at church or faith based property every day of the week. Are we going to just “trust the Lord” to protect them: or shall we have standards in place to help shield them from pedophiles?

    I was once of a preacher who reportedly said, “We have angels protecting us here at our church…” O really? One of the first things angels did in the NEW TESTAMENT was practice safety! When Herod went on a killing spree of 2 year olds and under, the Angel went to Joseph’s house and told him to take Mary, the baby, and GET TO EGYPT… Why didn’t the angel just stand there and guard the door, forbidding Herod’s henchman from entering…

    The fact is, those of you who do not believe in security are the “sheep” in society, and you have little understanding of the “wolves” around you. You fail to recognize the potential for harm that resides in the hearts of killers. But, we love you! Yes – WE….LOVE….YOU…. And we are the “Sheepdogs” – and as such, we are willing to fight for you and your families.

    One more thing… I challenge you to click on this link and watch the trailer from a movie about a church shooting in 1980. In the trailer, you will hear the ACTUAL SHOOTING… http://www.sheepdogseminarsforchurches.com/ken-and-red.html

    Please do not forget… WE…LOVE…YOU….

    • “Jesus didn’t make a mistake when he told his men to get swords.”

      I agree, Jimmy. And there is no indication that he ever told Roman soldiers to stop being soldiers, either. Part of a soldier’s job will involve killing at times.

      If I had a student in school, I would want there to be several people at the school who had concealed wearpons permits. (Here in Maine, people can receive those.) Even then, you don’t know that you could get quickly enough to one part of the school where a shooter is, but at least you have a chance of getting to the shooter. Yes, it is not good to take a life, but if you take that shooter’s life and save many, many innocent little lives in the process, I say put that magazine in the gun and get going!

      In one of the Rambo movies, Christian missionaries were heading into a various dangerous country. Rambo told them they were foolish, basically, but they said “God will protect us” or something to that affect. Rambo protected them and they realized that they had not seen real evil before and they had to fight that evil with violence themselves. It was a hard lesson, but they learned it.

      • Rambo…seriously? Rambo.

        I would not want excited people firing guns anywhere near my children, even if they meant well with it. More bullets=more casualties.

        Some of the successful derailings of mass shootings lately have been by unarmed people. The secretary who talked down the deranged man in a school, for instance, or the shopkeeper who simply put his hands up and said “don’t do this.” Or the young men who tackled Kip Kinkel.

        But then again, I don’t see Rambo as anything but a lame, violent Hollywood flick.

        • KvB, God Bless You…but you’re not listening….”if you have ears….hear”……the only word you heard was Rambo… You missed her point completely ….we respect your right and understand your need to be passive….Others have a different mind set….they will protect their loved ones with Gods help no matter what the cost….have you ever thought about what you would do if an active shooter was approaching you and/or your kids at school or church…and a gun was at your feet from the dead ” sheepdog” who tried to stop them….Ask yourself this as a mother…would you pick it up and try to stop others especially other children from dying? If my child was there…I pray you would. I believe Jesus would want you to…I couldn’t face Him if I didn’t try to protect you, my kids, your kids, or any kids or any innocent from evil. Not trying to get you to think like me…but try and respect those that live as sheepdogs as we should respect your thoughts on life and living. We live in a fallen world with evil…some of us will go against the wolf but would be horrified to fire a gun with a lot of children around…and would try and take the wolf without a weapon and would not fire and would take a bullet ourselves than have one of our bullets hurt one of His. Please pray with us that we will never have to face that day….

    • I’ve heard a number of statements lately that can’t seem to tell the difference between taking a precaution, or resisting an evil influence, and firing guns at the people doing evil. That’s a major problem throughout your comment, including here:

      “Even Jesus took precautions in dealing with violent men. John states he did not go to Judea because there were people there looking to kill him. Why didn’t he just go anyway, and “trust” God?”

      Why didn’t he just go, and pack heat?? He avoided the situation entirely!

      For instance, with the threat of pedophiles, almost every church does have standards in place to protect children. Like keeping a close eye on them in public places, and posting two or more adults in kid’s room during worship, etc.

      The reality is, there are no pictures in the Bible of a violent Messiah. The images you refer to in revelation are his word (the sword) and the blood of martyrs, including his own (the blood-soaked robe)

      We have declawed the Lion, but part of that process has been making him into a justifier of violence. Personally my jury’s out on what situations, if any, we ought to consider the possibility of violence, but there’s absolutely no way to make Jesus into someone who condones its use, not from Scripture.

      If I was going to consider violence, it would never be in self-defense against persecutors of the faith. I don’t know what percentage of the violence statistics you cited fall into that category, but whatever else is the case, there is certainly no argument for killing people who want to kill you for your faith. If there were, there would be some Biblical or early church precedent for it. We don’t find Christians in the early church starting wars against their persecutors. Instead, they went to the lions singing hymns…

      So is it still “religious superstition?” What if you actually believe that the Messiah rose?

      • Of those 450 plus deaths, only about 30 were persecution related. Over 80 were domestic violence. We are not talking about persecution. we are talking about violent killers who will kill on church property or anywhere else. I encourage you to do your homework! A church building does not have some type of special protection over it / that’s superstition. Again, we are not talking about avoiding persecution: it is an honor to die for Him. We are taking about stopping violent killers who care not where you are.

      • “…although I can respect an honest pacifist, I believe him to be entirely mistaken.” CS Lewis

    • +1 could not have said it better myself.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Yes, 450 people have been killed in church shootings since 1999. Actually, it’s a little more than 450, and when you factor in the number of people injured in church shootings, that number comes up to 871.

      871 people…since 1999.

      Divide 871 by 14, and you get 62.2 people per year that were killed or injured–let’s round that up to 63.

      That’s about 1.19 people per week–let’s round that up to 2.

      An average of 2 people per week are victims of church shootings…out of 118 million people who regularly attend church in the United States. Want to do the math and see how small of a percentage 2 is of 118 million people? I’m not even sure your calculator can go that far.

      The anecdotes of people you offered of people assaulted by weapons carry a lot of emotional appeal, but they are still anecdotal evidence which, as any high school debate or writing teacher will tell you, make for poor evidence for the argument you are trying to raise.

      I am certainly not a superstitious man, nor am I insensitive to the threats that individual church communities face. However, all the Bible verses and anecdotes in your original post leave practically no real justification for the level of apprehension and radical initiatives which you either imply or demand the church consider. There is definitely an argument that some church communities could benefit from the presence of armed security, if there is solid evidence of an imminent threat. But the generalized tone of your argument, combined with its urgency, seems to gloss over some glaring logical fallacies inherent in your argument.

  27. someone in passing says:

    Honest question – what is a “small megachurch”?

  28. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I cannot ever recall seeing armed guards in a church service until after the turn of the millennium. There probably were some in some churches before then, but now it seems it has become a status symbol. You know, “My church has more guns than your church.”

    “ZARDOZ YOUR GOD GAVE YOU THE GIFT OF THE GUN!
    THE GUN IS GOOD!”

  29. “If I see a madman driving a car into an innocent group of bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christin, simply wait for the catastrophe and the comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I MUST TRY TO WRESTLE THE STEERING WHEEL OF OUT THE HANDS OF THE DRIVER.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    • “Safety never takes a holiday” – Paul Blart

    • Then that gets us to the question of efficacy. Bonhoeffer failed at his assassination attempt, so whether it was morally allowable or not it was ineffective. How many times has a school or church or workplace shooting been stopped by an armed civilian or private security guard? I’m genuinely asking; I simply don’t know. But surely, if we accept churches and others arming themselves for protection, we have to know whether having guns provides protection.

    • Final Anonymous says:

      Which is a far different response than shooting the driver in the head.

  30. I once visited a Lutheran church from the 1750s in rural Finland. It was the the sort of church where people used to boat in together from their respective villages along the lake for Sunday Service. It had another feature apart from the boathouse for the long “church boats” that I found interesting:

    There was a gatehouse where you had to check your firearms before entering the church proper.

    This says something significant.

  31. To me, this is more a philosophical or preferential issue, rather than a theological one. Some people might feel safer going to a church that has some security, some might feel safer going to a church that doesn’t. Not sure I see this as a Biblical “Does God want security in our churches?” kinda thing. And by the way, just because I feel safe going to a church that does NOT have security doesn’t mean I shouldn’t respect the feelings of those around me who prefer to have it.

  32. Highwayman says:

    My mind is boggling. I thank God I don’t go to a large church. And am not American.

    • David Cornwell says:

      You’ve got a point. We have become one of the most violent societies in the world. Violence is always answered with more violence, and if that doesn’t seem to work, then even more. It’s a cultural form of MAD (mutually assured destruction). If we do not work at destroying each other, then we are obsessed with self defense. It’s not only in our acts of violence but also in our speech. So much political speech is hateful. And at times even religious speech.

      Pray for America. We need it. And our churches.

  33. Marcus Johnson says:

    Hey, Jeff, I’m thinking some of the Internet comments are disappearing due to the website goblins again.

  34. The only thing one can say is: Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!

    Or in the words of Charlie Brown: Good grief.

  35. He wears a shirt proclaiming him a police officer, and his gun is clearly on display. He even passes the plate when ushers are in short supply.

    OK, Jeff, let’s do the math here: This church is big enough to need protection by someone packing heat and yet it’s short on people to pass the plate?

    Sounds like theater to me. Or a crude way to get people to give more.

  36. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    There is a cop at the 7:30 Mass in my parish, but I don’t think he’s paid to be there. I think he’s attending Mass before his shift starts.

    And I want to know what kind of brain washed freakazoid zombie would go to a church where children under 2 aren’t allowed in the sanctuary and the pastor never ever interacts with the congregation?

  37. The large and growing urban downtown Episcopal Church I’m a member of has felt it necessary to employ a security guard for the last few years. I don’t think he’s armed. I don’t know the details, but I think he was hired after a number of thefts had occurred at the church during services. I think he’s primarily someone whose job is to keep an eye on things and make sure doors are securely locked and opened at the right times.

  38. Here’s another local one from last year: http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?id=8884263

  39. This is not a cut-and-dried thing. First of all, we must take the great commandment seriously, and loving our neighbor certainly includes “thou shalt not kill”. More than that, the current fascination with firearms in some sectors of the populous is not conducive to greater civility and cooperation in my experience. That being said, I just don’t see how a mega-church is any different from the mall, the fair, or any place where you have large numbers of people gathered in one place, especially with restricted egress. Perhaps we should move toward plain-clothes presence; on the other hand, many criminology studies indicate that in obvious presence is more of a deterrent than otherwise. And if I am honest, I have to admit that having a police presence in such a situation is an act of loving my neighbor. So, while I might wish I lived in the new kingdom where the vocation of police officer will be a distant memory, I really can’t judge a church for this practice.

  40. The mega-church where I am on staff has a largish security detail (basically bouncers, though some of them are armed) who escort the senior pastor into the sanctuary, and (discreetly) stand watch him during the service. While we have thankfully never had a shooting incident or terrorism threat, a small group of attention-seeking homosexual activists has attempted to infiltrate the service on several occasions, in order to stage a protest against the church’s teachings on sexuality. The service is filmed and broadcast on TV, so we offer a tempting target for these kinds of stunts. The security guys basically keep the crowd under control, and if anybody misbehaves, they remove him while the camera pans away. I’ve never seen them use weapons, but most of them are burly, ex-military types who are capable of handling anything. They have their own Fellowship group where they do Bible study and practice kung fu. Other staff people watch the crowd for them during broadcasts, and alert them if they see anything.While I believe that as individuals, God calls on us to turn the other cheek, those who are given responsibility for protecting others have a duty to use force if the situation calls for it. We are also commanded to love our enemies, even if we have to kick them out of the church or sic lawyers on them (as in the case of the gays).

    • Again, in my view this is what…

      Big church
      Celebrity pastor
      TV ministry
      Etc.

      …gets you.

      The need for Bible studying, kung fu practicing bouncers who escort the pastor into the service and keep the crowd under control.

      Somehow, that is a combination of words I never thought I would have to string together.

      • To clarify, the security guards do not employ kung fu during the services themselves, but only practice it as a recreational passtime at their Fellowship meetings (small groups which study the Bible together and practice mutual accountability). Groups in the tradition of R.B. Thieme, Jr. have been incorporating martial arts since the 1970’s. The practice has aroused controversy in the past, with some calling it un-Christian, and others seeing it as a way to defend ourselves against the future one-world dictatorship predicted in the Book of Revelation, but for most it is just a form of exercise. We are not a cult or militia.

      • “Big church
        Celebrity pastor
        TV ministry
        Etc.”

        You mean churches that a lot of people enjoy going to, a pastor who might be effective in communicating the faith and equipping the congregation, and one who may be able to communicate the faith to those in far reaching areas.

        I am not taking a side on this, but please don’t portray the situation of armed guards in extreme terms (kung fu practicing bouncers who keep the crowd under control). They are there to protect, not enforce martial law.

        Likewise, those advocating such protection should not paint the extreme to the other side, as if there is a danger under every rock.

        But let’s be honest, even those who are against this can see where this came from (school shootings, etc…) and so you may not agree with armed guards as a solution, you do know this idea did not come out of thin air.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Gotta agree with RDavid here. Big church + celebrity pastor + TV ministry is not a recipe for negative church environments or unnecessary initiatives. Neither is the decision by a church community to add or increase its level of security. Problems arise if–and only if–church communities make these drastic–and, in most cases, very expensive–decisions as a result of knee-jerk reactions to events without careful deliberation and logical research.

          That being stated, while I wouldn’t assume that the concept of armed security in churches is not a knee-jerk reaction, I suspect that a majority of churches–while they do need to take better precautions in certain areas of their ministry (e.g., background checks, proper training for ushers and church leadership regarding possible emergency situations)–would find from some decent research that there is little to no need for armed security.

          Overall, I think we need to kill the generalizations on both sides of this issue. You’d be surprised how much more complex this issue is than a mere guns vs. no guns polarization.

  41. Seneca Griggs says:

    Wednesday, 13 May 1981, in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican City. The Pope was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali A?ca while he was entering the square. The Pope was struck four times, and suffered severe blood loss.

  42. Attention Sheepdogs. Go to http://www.sheepdogseminarsforchurches.com

  43. This thread has had me alternately shaing my head or laughing out loud. My foremost thought is I would want nothing to do with an “Untouchable” leader. Yet I have been in meetings with special speakers and seen the (usually troubled) attendees who push their way forward to get that special attention, or word to the point of speaker exhaustion. So to a degree I contradict myself. And that, I suspect, is the problem with this topic. There are bona fide statements on both sides of the divide. I want to be secure; the world is full of crazies.

    It is the increase of the unstable which has not been discussed. Rather than saying America is a violent nation, should we not be looking at the anger, lovelessness, fatherlessness and other sources of rage which drive some of these perpetrators?

  44. My observation as a police officer has been that many preach peace until the wolf comes, and then they expect us boys and girls in blue to be there at the drop of a hat to deal with it. I am not saying this to paint people as hypocrites, I am just passing on what I have seen. And that’s ok. Not everyone needs to be the sheepdog. Not the Barney Fifes of the world, and not those whose conscience forbids them from violence. But some do–those with sound judgement, training, and aptitude. I wrestle daily with the implications of the gun I carry on my hip. If I ever use it to take someone’s life, it may destroy me as well. But I think I can more easily live with a decision to use lethal force than to let the wolf have his way with the sheep as I observe helplessly. Like Jimmy Meeks said, We Love You.

    Adults can make decisions for themselves about what level of security and/or risk they’re willing to tolerate. Children cannot. I am tired of investigating child sex assault crimes that were allowed to perpetuate because the adults in their lives refused to take action because the perpetrator was a dear friend or a member of their church. Stop telling yourself the Lie that it “can’t happen in my church, in my neighborhood, in my town.” Guard your children vigilantly, as they are precious gifts from God. Vigilance is not the same as paranoia. Vigilance is looking both ways before you cross the street.

    And the armed guard passing the offering plate is a little tacky 🙂

  45. Steph Thank you for your input and serving as a police officer.

    This is an interesting blog. I side with the minority of those who have offered their opinion. My church does have a safety and security team and I’m the director of it. Please believe me we’re not a bunch of macho people but rather a team that are designated as the first response team. We’ve responded to many medical situations. By being the safety and security director I do safety audits of our three campuses. I don’t hand out citations but I do write up my findings and give recommendations. I’ve asked the campus pastors to direct their volunteers to have new guests take a walk around and see if they see anything that might be regarded as a safety concern. This does a couple of things. It helps the new comer feel like part of the church and it puts a new set of eyes on things that people may see but not notice because it’s always been that way. We consider dealing with injuries and prevention of injuries or fire as the safety aspect of our team.
    We also are an active security team. When I first joined this team we were what many of you have described. I was in a team meeting after being with this team for about 6 weeks. I was asked what I thought of our team. My comment was I thought we looked like a bunch of cowboys running around. There were some jaws that dropped when I made that statement. Sense then we have made significant changes in what we do and how we behave. We don’t shadow our lead pastor. He actually put a stop to that.

    I’ve done many risk assessments looking at processes. These are called Failure Mode Effective Analysis. Through these we’ve identified many areas of risk and made improvements. Even though we’ve come a long way from the cowboy era we still have room for improvement. We will work on continual improvement. We are well trained in what we do.

    Some of the obvious risks houses of worship face are child abduction or abuse, bullying, jealous ex spouse or boy or girl friend. This list goes on. Some things many people don’t put a lot of thought into are sensitive information hacking, accident liability, and vandalism. Theses can be very costly to people or the house of worship.

    Now I will focus on the main subject of this blog. I believe that’s armed security in a house of worship. I’ve studied the risks and fully understand we are at very low risk of an arm attacker coming into our church. Hopefully if it ever happens our knowledge of behavior analysis would give us an advantage where we could talk a person down if they have bad intentions.

    My teams number one mission is do as all Christians have been told to do. Spread Jesus Christ’s word. We are there to allow God to work through us to prevent people from going to hell. We greet people.We pray over people. We show them Grace. With all that said though we are prepared and trained to take action if needed. We pray before every set of services that we can focus only on our main mission. I know that we are protected by God. I also know that God often works through those of us that allow Him to.

    God bless and be with each of you.

    • I want to add just a bit to my last entry in this blog.

      I have spotted people come into our church that are carrying concealed hand guns. I have talked to these people and there has never been an issue.

      I stated earlier that we have had to talk some situations down. No one has ever been hurt.

      A few people on my team and I have been thought to be pastors for our church. This has never been purposely conveyed to anyone. We must be doing something right if people think we’re pastors. This has to do with our willingness to pray over and care for people.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Thanks for that insight, Frank.

      There’s a huge difference between establishing a risk assessment team, determining what possible security concerns affect your church community, and creating initiatives that address those issues (e.g., what it sounds like you and your team are doing–and doing quite well), and demanding that a church community establish armed guards solely because of some tragic, highly publicized incidents that do not inform on legitimate concerns which your community might face. The first option makes sense, regardless of the size of the church, especially if your church community has an open-door policy to the entire community. The second option is rash, underresearched, and can lead to some really illogical, expensive, and disastrous mistakes.

  46. I guess I knew of this, but not to the extent you outline Jeff… I guess it kind of leaves me numb… but also understanding how far amercian church life and/or evangelicalism has fallen… to being just another worldly ‘event’ or ‘institution’ that cares much more about its own preservation and worldly position than anything else. We are in a truly sad state. How long Lord? How long before You say, enough?

  47. My comments have permanently vanished. I suppose the world will have to survive without them . . .

  48. “Unless the Lord guard the house, in vain do they watch who guard it.”-Victor Hugo, Les Miserables.

    Nothing really wrong with protecting the church, but pretty clearly the apostles creed were under constant danger, and relied instead on God, and hey, if it’s my day to be a martyr, a security guardr won’t stop it.

  49. Way late to this discussion. But to me there are separate issues being commingled.

    Should a church have security packing guns? Interesting debate.

    Should a pastor be isolated from the congregation in the name of security?
    No way in my NERHO.

    And to be honest this brings up a pet issue of mine. Once a church gets to over 500 or 1000 regular attendees it should split. Past that point it’s too big to be a community and instead is an organization. And most churches bigger than that tend to be more of a follow the pastor than a follow Christ church.

    And if churches top out at this size the first two issues mostly go away.