Recent Violence In Churches Exposes Lack Of Security, Experts Say

June 8, 2009

Author: Manya A. Brachear

Source: The Chicago Tribune

Dr. George Tiller wore a bulletproof vest as he handed out bulletins in his church's lobby on May 31. But it wasn't enough to save the abortion provider when a man aimed a gun at his head and pulled the trigger.

Fortunately for the other members of Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kan., the gunman turned and walked away instead of carrying out his vendetta on the congregation.

But experts say that as congregations offer shelter for victims of domestic violence, protest gun laws or take controversial stands on abortion, gay rights and the Middle East conflict, houses of worship have become battlegrounds and targets for attack. The prevailing false sense of security only adds to the danger, they say.

"Our society has deteriorated to the point where people will take the battle right into the church," said Jeffrey Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network, a national organization focused on helping churches plan for emergencies. "People see it as a soft target rather than see it as a place of reverence anymore."

But Hawkins and others say U.S. churches are loath to admit they have safety concerns for fear they might scare members away. Some don't take precautions. Others that have safeguards such as bodyguards or cameras hide them from congregations. Others simply stay silent on social issues, illustrating the chilling effect such danger can have on ministry.

"As Christians we have to do what God places on our heart," Hawkins said. "But in reality you also have to be prepared to protect your church and your congregation."

Hawkins and others say that on matters of security, Christians in particular have been complacent.