Church shootings seem to fill headlines on the crawls at the bottom of cable news networks. America saw death at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. Then it visited Antioch, TN at the Burnette Road Church of Christ. Last Sunday it rained its terror on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX. The latest killing spree took the lives of 26 people whose simple goal was to worship God that day.
Each round poured out of the barrel of a butcher’s weapon raises the blood pressure of church members and church leaders alike.
We have hard questions without simple answers. (If it were easy, we would have already done it.)
How open are churches to be? Are we to welcome but look at them with suspicious eyes. Some lock doors but what message does that send. Churches that want to engage the world with the love of Jesus, but they now must struggle to be welcoming but cautious. That last statement seems both two-faced and paranoid.
We are not unique to the tension between faith and fear. The first-century church worshipped and believed under threat. The threat did not deter them.
- Look at Acts 4. Fire-breathing persecutors were jailing and executing apostles. In the midst of that terror, the group gathered to pray for strength.
- Peter warns in his first letter of the sweeping tide of official oppression which tried to stamp out Christianity.
- Revelation shows the accomplished feat with John’s flesh seared from hot oil banished to the rock of Patmos.
In all the New Testament, talk of church security is missing. Christian living and teaching that changes lives and destinies occupied their minds, not their protection. People died for their faith.
So why are we concerned? It is because of a swing in American society. In our experience churches were “sacred.” A person could shoot up a bank or blow up a courthouse, but no one touched a church. It was God’s house.
The secular and scientific society of modern times yanked away the sacred from the church. It has become an institution of superstitious people and backward thinkers. Instead of sacred, the world paints a bulls-eye on religion as something to removed.
So we balance two ideas.
Do we become a fortress to keep the world out? When my father was in Navy boot camp, he told the story of the drill instructor on the first day pointing at the big fence. “That,” he said, “is to keep ‘them’ out, not keep you in.” Is that the mentality of the church? We can wall up the glass, build high fences, conduct pat-downs of visitors, and install metal detectors. Is that the church you want?
The second idea is to be a beacon to a darkened world. We are open to sharing God’s word, and help hurts. That comes with risks. Are we prepared to take risks?
Many possible answers can float to the surface but don’t answer that question.
Church leaders regularly survey this situation. (The church I serve had a discussion last Wednesday night.) My congregation has taken steps and will continue to take more. Thoughtful leaders are trying to be both safe and evangelistic. It’s a tough balancing act.
What do we do?
We must recognize a central fact. Evil is real.
Secular society cleanses it with words like mental illness or social isolation. Those are simple disguises. At the root is the evil which is what Jesus’s church seeks to attack. Letting evil control the agenda is never the answer.
While it is important to explore what to do when it happens, it becomes vital to plan for how to prevent it. No one…no one wants someone shot or killed in any church anywhere in the world.
Of all the security audits given to me at my congregation, most have a single thread. Be situationally aware. Know who comes into the building and know why. Put eyes on entrances and know how to look for possible problems. A friendly conversation can uncover tension and trouble brewing.
In short, pay attention to people. That’s a foundation of effective evangelism and good security.
The reality is while we talk about security, we will always feel the tension of safety and salvation. We make choices to do both.
At the end of the day, we trust God and make preparations. May God protect churches and help church leaders find the best solution.