Progress: Examples of unbiased media coverage of church security subject in wake of TN church attack

By Chad D. Baus

As a regular church attendee, the issue of church security and the more than 500% increase in church shootings over the past 8 years is near and dear to my heart. In recent months, I have written several articles on the subject of the need for security preparations in places of worship.

In "Ohio's ban on defending lives in places of worship: How did it get this bad?" I noted that, thanks to Ohio law, CHL-holders are banned from attending worship services (or even entering the building) while armed, unless they have received special permission from church/synagogue/mosque officials.

In "New Life Church Pastor Brady Boyd speaks out on church security preparedness", I recounted a discussion by New Life Church Pastor Brady Boyd over how churches need to recognize that they are targets of violence in this day and age, and about how (thankfully) his church had prepared in advance for such a day.

And the "Security for Faith-Based Organizations Seminar" at greater Cincinnati's Creation Museum" offers church leaders advice on making all types of security preparations.

As the Denver Post recently reported, concerns over security at places of worship have been increasing in the wake of massacre after massacre in "no-guns" (victim disarmament) zones across the country - most recently at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville.

Typically when discussions of making preparations to harden soft targets such as schools and university campuses is discussed, the mainstream media is quick to attack the idea. But as two recent news stories indicate, even news outlets in anti-gun cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh are becoming more willing to at least give unbiased coverage of the issue.

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

If you go to a service at Church on the Rise in Westlake this weekend, you'll find Matthew, Mark and Smith & Wesson.

Sitting among the parishioners will be off-duty cops dressed in their Sunday best and packing heat.

Senior Pastor Paul Endrei makes no apologies for the concealed firepower amid his flock. "As a shepherd, I want to make sure my sheep are safe," he said. "If somebody comes in shooting at our church, they're not going to be shooting a lot of people."

On July 22, somebody came in shooting during a production of "Annie" at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville.

By the time Jim David Adkisson was wrestled to the ground by worshippers, he'd wounded nine of them with his 12-gauge shotgun. Two died.

It wasn't the first church shooting and -- though people of faith lit candles, held vigils and prayed for a kinder world -- it won't be the last.

But how can a pastor protect his congregation without compromising the values of his faith? How does a minister ensure the safety of her people without stationing a metal detector an x-ray machine at the front door?

It's a problem with no cookie-cutter solution. Churches and synagogues and mosques are public places, sanctuaries where all are welcome.

Antonio Stitt, a parishioner at Providence Baptist Church in Cleveland, told the Plain Dealer that "it's really a challenge because you can't really impose the kind of security that you'd like to, like frisking people. In a church setting, you can't be intrusive." Stitt is chief of police in Highland Hills and head of the church's security team. "We try to be there without being there," he said.

When Pastor Rodney Maiden first asked him to look after the congregation, Stitt thought the man was joking. Then he did some research and stumbled on a story from Toledo about two bandits who made off with a collection basket during the offering and grabbed a little girl too. "I realized, 'this is serious,' " he said.

Stitt's team carries handcuffs and, occasionally, pepper spray, but there are no metal detecting wands in their arsenal. Not yet anyway. While synagogues have long been aware of the need for locked doors and armed guards because of threats of terrorism, other religious groups have been slow to install alarm systems and card readers, basic accoutrements of a suspicious secular world.

That suits Shih Ying-Fa, abbot of CloudWater Zendo, a Buddhist temple and meditation center in Cleveland, just fine.

"There's not too much a small temple with limited resources can do," he said, "particularly against a determined assailant. Small congregations like ours must rely on the peacefulness we create, the wisdom we practice and the non-violence we teach to create an atmosphere which can discourage or defuse such terrible hatred."

Jeffrey Hawkins hears that argument and more from the spiritual leaders who come to his security seminars just outside Cincinnati. "Don't you believe that God is sovereign?" they ask. That God decides everything that happens so why try and fight it?

"That's true," he answers, "as a Christian I believe that." Then he counters with a paraphrase of Proverbs 22:3 -- "the wise man foresees danger and plans ahead, the simpleton plunges forward and suffers the consequences."

"There's nowhere in the Bible where God says, 'just go blindly and live dangerously, let my will be done one way or the other'-- it just doesn't work that way."

Though statistics are hard to come by, whenever a church shooting hits the news -- "seven people killed in Brookfield, Wisconsin in 2005, five people killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2006, five people killed in St. Louis in 2007," Hawkins intoned grimly -- his phone rings.

As chief security officer for the Answers in Genesis ministry and Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, Hawkins, a former Chicago policeman, believes a show of force -- like the armed guards and dogs that patrol the grounds -- is a powerful deterrent. Still, he respects the fact that some religious leaders consider such a display bad for business.

Of course, the Plain Dealer notes, Pastor Paul Endrei is not one of them. An armed police officer watches over the 200 teenagers who attend youth services Wednesday nights at Church on the Rise. Endrei has a personal assistant -- "you could call him a church bouncer," he said -- who stands close to him in case anybody "acts up" during services. ..."We want people to feel that when they come to church, that they don't have to worry about the dangers of this world."

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also recently posted a balanced story on the church security issue:

The recent fatal shooting at a church in Knoxville, Tenn., is a tragic reminder that houses of worship are no longer havens of safety.

Just as schools have increased their security, churches, synagogues, temples and other religious sites are taking measures to ensure the safety of their buildings and congregants.

"We pay attention to security," said Phyllis Weinkle, congregation director at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, adding that details of its security measures are not publicly discussed.

Like synagogues and other houses of worship, churches develop security suited to their individual needs. The Diocese of Pittsburgh does not have a general security plan and allows each parish to develop its own.

"We have a paid security person who is there for Sunday services and some weekday services, and we always have him for weddings and funerals," said the Rev. Donald Breier, pastor of St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.

For large diocesan events, St. Paul employs several security guards, Father Breier said.

"It's a dirty shame that it comes down to that," he added. "Unfortunately, the way society is today you have to be better safe than sorry."

The story goes on to explain that the congregation of Victorious Faith Evangelistic Outreach Church in Sheraden learned that lesson one Sunday morning in April 2004.

That's when Alvin Starks entered the church with a gun and abducted former fiancee Andrea Umphrey and their 9-month-old daughter from the church, but not before trying to shoot a church pastor (the gun jammed) and grazing the pastor's son.

In 2006, Mr. Starks was convicted of killing Ms. Umphrey after he forced her into a minivan and led police on a 50-mile chase that ended on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. He was sentenced to life in prison.

As a result of that incident the church has initiated a number of security measures, said the Rev. Charles Brown.

The church has a security team with people posted at the front and back doors of the building. Ushers also receive periodic training to spot unusual behavior.

"Prior to that incident we had ushers, but they weren't really looking at the kind of things they're looking at now," he said.

The Post-Gazette story goes on to note that mega-churches like Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, pastored by T.D. Jakes, employ a security team that includes people who carry concealed weapons. Sean Smith, who is in charge of security at Potter's House, said while every church may not need armed guards, every church should assess its security needs.

"I think the conversation should happen all across the country, whether it's a church in the inner city or the far reaches," Mr. Smith said.

"When you minister broken people you're going to get everything on a Sunday or Wednesday or daily basis," Mr. Smith said. "Some churches, because of their size, they need armed security," he said. "You have to be able to protect those in that group that really want to come and hear a word from God."

It's a good idea for churches to bring in an outside agency or person to assist with the assessment, he said. Mr. Smith does security training for churches all across the country, and there are several organizations and agencies that have sprung up to address such issues.

Harry Trombitas, a special agent with the FBI in Columbus, Ohio, also does safety and security training for churches.

He developed the program he uses while putting one together for his church.

"Basically we were a very unsecured building, not keeping a close watch on our property, not locking up, not keeping an eye on who was in and out of our church," he said.

Since February he has done about 15 presentations, free of charge, that have included 10 to 15 churches per session.

Like Mr. Smith, he said churches must assess their vulnerabilities.

"You have to ask yourself," Trombitas advises, " 'Has a lack of an incidence at our church been because of steps we've taken to keep our property and people safe or are we just lucky?' "

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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