For many people, church is a haven, a safe place — often considered a second home full of brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s not the kind of environment in which you’d naturally think about firearms and self-defense. Perhaps that’s one reason evildoers choose to target churchgoers. Church should be a place of rest and worship, of renewal and peace. An environment of sharing words of scripture and singing hymns of faith doesn’t seem to fit with counter-assault tactics and firearms training. Of course, it doesn’t seem to fit with mass shootings either. Yet because violence can be anywhere and at any time, protecting houses of worship has become an important topic of discussion.
I have spent a lot of time in churches — from attending services and enjoying special presentations to listening to my father speak or even having the opportunity to perform. While I have read countless stories of martyrs and heard plenty of atrocities regarding countries that punish or even kill Christians, I never really considered those dangers as I slid into a pew with my family to soak up God’s Word. I assume that many other congregants have felt similarly … if not more strongly. In fact, according to a 2012 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, approximately 75 percent of Americans were not in favor of guns in churches and places of worship. And, unfortunately, Religion News Service reported that “many denominations, from Lutherans to Methodists to Roman Catholics, either in the wake of Sutherland Springs or well before, have taken a stance on the issue, condemning gun violence and advocating for greater gun control.”
The problem is, even though a church should never be a place of violence, that doesn’t stop violent people from doing harm there. In fact, that’s a bit like saying gun-free zones keep killers with guns away. That simply doesn’t happen. We see the complete opposite; these gun-free zones and places that are traditionally (or stereotypically) absent of firearms are often targeted by criminals. It has been reported that as soft targets, “Places like public libraries, malls and movie theaters, as well as houses of worship, provide access to anyone who wishes to enter. This welcoming environment makes churches, synagogues and mosques particularly vulnerable to attack.”
So what can we do to protect churchgoers? Every person has the inherent right to protect himself or herself from harm … and that doesn’t change the moment you walk through the sanctuary doors. In fact, isn’t that exactly what criminals look for? The vulnerable? The trusting? The unprotected? You shouldn’t be rendered defenseless in any situation. Even though Christians may be instructed to love our enemies, we have never had the expectation or the obligation to be victims.
No doubt, in uncertain times like these, believers in God will turn to prayer for direction and for protection. But that doesn’t mean the church should stop there. It’s a situation in which the phrase “fail to plan, plan to fail” comes to mind. Since no one wants panicked people showing up in large groups with firearms they don’t know how to use, it’s imperative that leaders address the possibilities and the procedures. Churches can certainly employ armed security guards to keep the congregation safe. But planning and training are just as important for pastors, elders, deacons and church members. Nowadays, we should realize and accept that a security team should be just as commonplace in the church as a praise team.