Emergency personnel respond to a fatal shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017. (KSAT via AP)

Churches look to tighten security, even arm congregants, after Texas shooting

(RNS) — In 2007, the unthinkable happened at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

A gunman opened fire outside the church, just as its midday service had dismissed. His bullets hit several members of the same family as they left, wounding David Works and killing his two teenage daughters, Rachel and Stephanie.

More than 600 people were on the church campus when Matthew Murray — a 24-year-old man armed with an assault rifle, two pistols and enough ammunition to kill 100 people — made his way inside the building, church pastor Brady Boyd remembered.

"I know there's a great theological debate about what Jesus would do," he told RNS. "I just know firsthand for me, on the day the shooting happened on our campus, we lost two very good, sweet, young teenage girls, and that was awful and horrific, but we could have very well lost 100 people that day."

Boyd believes that didn't happen because Murray ran into Jeanne Assam, a former police officer and member of the church security team who was legally carrying a pistol. Assam returned fire, ending the attack that had started 12 hours earlier, when the gunman had shot and killed several others at a nearby mission center.

The memories of that day came flooding back for Boyd when he learned of the mass shooting Sunday (Nov. 5) that left 26 people dead and tens more wounded at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, described as the deadliest attack on a church in modern American history.

Brady Boyd, Senior Pastor, New Life Church, Colorado Springs

Boyd said he had just moderated a discussion with Kay Warren of Saddleback Church about mental health during this weekend’s services. He was showing Warren the church’s memorial — a space for healing and reflection that includes a park bench and two spruce trees — when someone approached with the news from Texas.

“We stopped and mourned and were so sad yesterday to hear the news. It was devastating to us. It brings back a lot of painful memories for us," he said.

Reflecting the attack on his church 10 years ago in a blog post on Monday morning, the pastor wrote, “The sad reality is that every church should have a strategy to protect its members when they gather.”

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Across the country, many churches and other places of worship are considering security measures as mass shootings have become a tragically familiar narrative in the United States. In the last five years alone, gunmen have taken lives not only at churches such as New Life, First Baptist and Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., but also a mosque, Jewish center and Sikh temple.

On Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton suggested on Fox News that churchgoers carry concealed weapons.

He was echoed by Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas, also on Fox News, who insisted that if a gunman opened fire at his church, “they may get one shot off or two shots off, but that’s it, and that’s the last thing they’ll ever do in this life.” That’s because as many as half his church members carry concealed weapons into church with them on a given Sunday, Jeffress estimated.

“This is the world we’re living in. We need to do everything we can to keep our parishioners safe,” he said.

Also in the Lone Star State, Rev. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, tweeted that his church was planning security training for church leaders.

In Texas, a licensed gun owner can take a gun to church unless the church has said otherwise, according to the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action.

But gun laws vary from state to state, as does guidance on guns in churches from denomination to denomination and church to church.

And few Americans were in favor of guns in churches in a 2012 PRRI survey: More than three-quarters of respondents (76 percent) said concealed weapons should not be allowed in houses of worship.

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations has compiled resources about mosque safety and the Sikh Coalition recently launched a security initiative. In the past few years, the Anti-Defamation League, founded to combat anti-Semitism and other bigotries, has been sharing what it has learned with other religious and community groups, according to Elise Jarvis, the ADL’s associate director, law enforcement outreach and communal security.

“Unfortunately, the reality of the Jewish community is we are targets,” Jarvis said. “It’s something we’ve been dealing with for decades.”

Jarvis suggested places of worship build relationships with law enforcement so their first call to police isn’t a 911 call, and officers understand the community. She also suggested they pay close attention to who attends their services and other events, something that can be as simple as greeting people at the door, and having plans in place for different emergencies.

Boyd, the pastor at New Life, said he knows not all are comfortable with the idea of guns in church. Most crimes can be deterred by a uniformed police presence — hiring an off-duty police officer or recruiting a volunteer officer who attends the church, he said.

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Quickly after the shooting on its campus, Boyd said, New Life made the decision to talk openly about what had happened, something he encourages for other churches facing tragedy, like in Sutherland Springs. The church brought in counselors to talk with church members. Even a decade later, he says he talks about it from the pulpit.

It's going to take a long time for members of First Baptist Church to feel "normal" again, he said.

But, he added, "our faith tells us when the enemy means us harm, our God can turn it for good, and so we've seen that happen at New Life."

Comments

  1. You put guns in your church? You are allowing the culture to dictate what you do, rather than Christ
    2 Corinthians 10:4 –
    English Standard Version
    For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

  2. I’m having a heart attack…I actually agree with Sandi !! The earth is shaking the sky is filled with lightning.

  3. There are several good reasons as to why this is a bad idea from a rational perspective but in this instance there is also the fact that as a house of worship it should be considered sacrosanct. Guns as a matter of course violate that.

  4. All children should be armed in the States, to protect themselves from second amendment loving adults

  5. Well thought out and written article. Unfortunately I’m afraid it will fall on mostly deaf ears even after the tragedy in Texas this past weekend.

    Most professing Christians think God is some kind of magical fairy in the sky who is going to protect them from every harm on the face of the earth. These are the same people that run to the doctor every time they get a sniffle and gladly accept the less than Godly solution for their ailments.

    These same individuals would not open their mouths to share the gospel message for fear of offending someone yet they object to self defense and quote every verse they can think of to support their irrational philosophies.

    So I ask all of you who think this way, why you seemingly ignore these words of your Savior?

    Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. Luke 22:36

  6. So why did Jesus tell His followers to sell their clothing and buy a sword? Luke 22:36 You have not learned to rightly divide the word of God.

  7. Even with the facts set before you, you can not see the truth. Two stories, two outcomes. One where nobody had a gun in the church and most of the congregation died, the other where one man was armed and ready, and only a few were harmed. I suggest that you reconsider your thoughts. Jesus told us to sell our garments and buy a sword…..guns are the modern day version of a sword.

  8. First I have no idea what incident you are referencing where only a few were harmed.

    With reference to your quote, I would commend that you nunderstand context – t It ifollows ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell
    you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is
    reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two
    swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied. It is with respect to the fulfillment of Isiah 53:9 – certainly 2 swords were not sufficient to protect Christ. And in fact when Peter sliced the ear off, Christ told him enough and put your sword down.See Matthew 26: 52-54

    Just 3% of mass shootings have been stopped by an armed civilian while 13% have been stopped by an unarmed civilian. And the more civilians with a gun, the greater the likelihood of deaths through ‘friendly fire’. This is more likely with handguns for which most owners do not even train for on a regular basis despite being the most difficult to hit a target. Mass shootings also seem to be associated with the use of automatic weapons and large cartridges putting armed civilians at a greater risk of being shot themselves. You might find this video interest as to how most armed congregants are likely to respond https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=8QjZY3WiO9s

  9. I don’t know LLL, but I do know that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in high places.

  10. Arm everyone. There are enough guns now that if everyone who owns more than one would give one away, well, we could arm twice the number of people, at no cost. And by all means, arm the churchgoers so someone could pull the trigger on the next homophobic, white supremacist, misogynistic , bible-thumping man-of-the-cloth to vomit from the pulpit. You guys are pathetic.

  11. Peter, put up thy sword. Funny, the first chance they had to use one Jesus changed his mind.

  12. The Godly solution to serious ailments is – well, to die. Have a nice trip.

  13. Churches look to tighten security?

    Maybe, your god just isn’t real. Ever consider that?

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    ― Epicurus

  14. Have any of you considered looking at other high income countries? Take this report: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-u-s-gun-deaths-compare-to-other-countries/

    Now ask yourself why the United States is so plagued by gun violence.

    Then look at the Second Amendment.

    It says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    In practice, like a sawn-off shotgun, this has been truncated to: The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    And that is why the US is plagued with so much gun violence.

  15. Guns and rifles are the weapons of churchmen.
    The Name of Jesus is the Weapon of a born again Christian.

    Isaiah 54:
    17 No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.

    2 Corinthians 10:
    3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:

    4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

    5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God,….

  16. If these “churches” spent half as much time and energy banning assault weapons & military grade weapons as they do on the abortion issue they would not have to worry about massacres. They have known for decades that these are design to kill large quantities of living people but are too cowardly to tell the big boys with toys. THAT is what Jesus would do.

  17. Since that’s an obvious conclusion to you I’m sure you’ll follow it. The only option is so-called science…enjoy your chemo and radiation.

  18. Self defence against principalities and powers in high places is prayer.

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