Intolerance and imposition always have been the biggest threats to freedom, all too often manifested in violence. World history has been shaped by religion in both productive and destructive ways. Such strife is as old as faith itself and shows no sign of slowing down around the globe — from persecution of minority beliefs to all-out wars between religions, sects and factions.
Houses of worship are seen as havens immune to the burdens of the outside world. They’re called sanctuaries for good reason. Sadly, places of worship in America increasingly are going the way of our schools. Safety is by no means a given.
— In 2012, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page killed six at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
— In 2015, 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof killed a pastor and eight other black worshippers in Charleston, South Carolina, a case representing both hate crimes and religious persecution.
— In October 2017, a 25-year-old masked man, Emanuel Kidega Samson, killed one woman and wounded eight at a church in Antioch, Tennessee.
— The following November, Devin Kelley, 26, opened fire at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people and wounding about 20 others. It was the deadliest shooting at a place of worship in modern U.S. history.
— And last October, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers was charged with 63 federal crimes and 36 state charges after 11 people were killed and six others, including four police officers, were wounded at Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Church security consultant Carl Chinn says there were 1,706 deadly force incidents at faith-based organizations in the U.S. between 1999 and December 2017. Of those 1,706 incidents, an estimated 479, or 28.08%, resulted in a homicide or death of a victim.
While we hate to see yet more American institutions — pinnacles of our democracy — locked down or turned into armed encampments, it is easy to understand why more worshippers are carrying weapons to church. It’s easy to see why some larger places of worship are developing their own security forces.
We’d like to believe our society will get a grip on mass shootings and other forms of deadly violence before all freedoms are upended, but given the politics involved and the complexity of factors contributing to the violence, it would be naive to expect progress in short order.
And if secured they must be, places of worship will be better off if they are armed with expert information about sound, safe practices and not just bullets.
Law enforcement agencies should meet with faith leaders regarding security measures at places of worship in partnership with the FBI. Give church leaders information toward security plans for their own congregations’ needs.
Outreach is in order. Collaboration will not stop the violence, but it may save lives.
An editorial from the Johnson City (Tennessee) Press.