On the evening of July 17, 2015, 13 people joined together for a Bible study at the 201-year-old Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Twelve of the worshippers were African American regulars. The 13th was a sandy-haired 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylan Roof, who hadn’t sought out the house of God that evening for enlightenment, support or absolution. He felt that the U.S. was destined for a cataclysmic race war and believed that the only thing remaining to conflagrate the apocalypse was a decent spark.
The Bible study was essentially uneventful, and Roof debated some issues of theology during its course. With the study complete, the participants bowed their heads to close in prayer. Roof then produced a .45-caliber Glock handgun from a fanny pack and announced, “I have to do it. You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. You’ve got to go.”
Roof burned through six magazines for his Glock, shouting racial slurs throughout. Roof intentionally spared one woman so she could tell the story. He purportedly told her, “Did I shoot you?” The woman said no. “Good, ‘cause we need somebody to survive, because I’m gonna shoot myself, and you’ll be the only survivor.”
Roof then realized he had expended all of his ammunition. He fled the church, shouting racial epithets as he ran. Nine innocent Americans were killed and another was injured. The authorities apprehended Roof the following day. He was ultimately convicted of 33 federal hate crimes as well as murder and was subsequently sentenced to die by lethal injection.
A Sordid State
You don’t need to go further than a typical set of headlines to be reminded of the innate sinfulness of man. Social media draws like-minded people from all walks and stations for both good and ill. While the free exchange of ideas has done a great deal to expand the boundaries of man’s knowledge, it has also served to fan the flames of hate.
As I sat in an airport typing these words, the deadliest church shooting in American history traced across the terminal televisions. A perennial loser named Devin Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and proceeded to attempt to kill everyone inside. When Kelley was done, 26 worshippers lay dead, and an armed citizen with an AR-15 had saved countless more. With such darkness prowling across our great nation, it is sadly time that American churches need to start seriously considering security.
In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, the Israelites were attempting to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem amidst hostile neighbors. Nehemiah said, “Half of my men were doing the work and half of them were taking up spears, shields, bows and armor.” When the threat became a bit too threatening, God’s people prayed and took up weapons to defend their homes.
On the night Jesus Christ was betrayed, a group of armed men approached him from the darkness. One of Christ’s disciples asked, “Lord, should we use our swords?” and then cut the ear off one of the high priest’s slaves. Jesus immediately healed the injured man and directed Peter to put away his sword. I find it thought provoking that the disciples accompanying Christ on this fateful night in the Garden of Gethsemane were nonetheless armed.
Easy First Steps
The church is a body of believers. This means that in most good-sized American churches, there will be members of law enforcement as well as medically trained personnel available on its rolls. A church’s governing body should draw from these wells of expertise.
Cops can help with a security assessment. Physicians and nurses can assist in developing the resources and plans for managing potential casualties. As they say, the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.
Churches are designed to be warm and welcoming. The buildings allow easy entrance from multiple access points. All of the doors should already have panic bars installed to allow easy egress in an emergency. Consider having a member of the security team lock the doors from the outside once the service is underway to limit further access.
My church sponsors a robust daycare. Because of the innate vulnerability of these children, we have an electronic system installed that limits access during business hours. To gain access to the facility during the day, one must stand in front of a camera and allow our church secretary to unlock the door remotely. A determined miscreant can obviously breach any door, but the time and commotion it takes to do so can bring law enforcement assets.
Ideally, the church can hire a uniformed police officer to man the primary entrance point during services. Many larger churches already have an officer available for traffic control, though smaller churches might find this an undue economic burden. Many police officers pull part-time uniformed security gigs at churches and movie theaters to supplement their incomes. It has been shown that a uniformed police officer is a reliable deterrent to criminals under most circumstances.
Guns In Church
Should individual church members and/or staff carry concealed weapons during church services? I choose to. Most states have laws governing guns in houses of worship. If current events follow their present trajectory, I would expect that these restrictions will be relaxed going forward. There are, however, several practical considerations.
Some parishioners will have strong feelings about the presence of guns in church, and scriptural teachings are fairly blunt concerning how respectfully we should treat those with whom we might disagree. As openly carried firearms could be a source of anxiety or distraction, this is almost assuredly a bad idea. However, legal concealed carry is the theoretical law of the land from sea to shining sea. I have successfully concealed a full-sized 1911 underneath shorts and a T-shirt during a torrid Mississippi summer. With the right gear and mindset, you can successfully carry a gun in a crowd with none being the wiser.
However, it behooves us to ponder the practicalities. What we are envisioning is a full-fledged gunfight in an enclosed space packed with innocent people. If there is a worse place for such an engagement, I cannot imagine it. While it is an awesome responsibility being armed anywhere, it is doubly so in a crowded church service.
No amount of training will fully prepare anyone, law enforcement or civilian, for such a dark eventuality. My annual round count is way higher than that of any of the cops in my community. However, it is an easier pill to swallow if the armed members of a congregation are actually sworn law officers. This also helps manage the inevitable liability associated with this practice should something ever go wrong.
The bottom line is that this is a proper discussion to have in a deacon’s meeting or in a small group with a pastor. In my home state of Mississippi, a large percentage of the population goes armed on a regular basis, and that includes during worship services. It was a private citizen with a black rifle and the will to use it that ended the Sutherland Springs rampage. However, these questions need to be answered on a case-by-case basis dependent upon the particulars of the community and the church.
Ours is indeed a fallen world, and we are forced to consider things our parents and grandparents might never have imagined. While church shootings by deranged persons are a lamentable aspect of our free society, that does not mean we should just let ourselves be slaughtered. There is a Biblical precedent for taking up arms in the defense of the defenseless. A little forethought and a modest investment in time and gear can make a real difference should the unthinkable become reality.
This article was originally published in the winter/spring 2018 issue of “Personal Defense World.” To order a copy and subscribe, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.