An armed guard protects a church
In response to recent violent attacks, churches are purchasing security cameras and hiring armed security guards to protect parishioners during Sunday service.

In light of the spate of deadly shootings at various houses of worship across the country, local, state, and federal lawmakers have been pushing to fund security measures for buildings once seen as welcoming beacons for the uninitiated.

“Places of worship should be a safe haven,” declared Democratic Michigan senator Gary Peters after announcing a bipartisan bill that would authorize $75 million in grants to fund everything from surveillance cameras to active-shooter training for religious buildings and other non-profits, up from $60 million last year. “Tragically, the rise in the number of violent attacks at synagogues, mosques, and churches across the country has shattered that expectation.”

New York city council members have floated the idea of including similar funding for security in their next budget, while state legislators are seeking $5 million to pay for cameras, shatterproof windows and the like to protect congregants in Connecticut.

Goodbye Open Doors, Hello Holy Fortresses

Last month’s shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue outside San Diego was the latest in a string of deadly attacks on houses of worship around the world. Over 250 Christians died in deadly bomb attacks on three churches in Sri Lanka this Easter. A gunman killed 51 people at two New Zealand mosques earlier this year, 11 people were murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue shooting last year, while another gunman shot and killed 26 people at a rural Texas church in 2017. It seems like the unspeakable violence on houses of worship never ends.

But now, religious institutions of all denominations, long considered soft targets, are stepping up their own security, even spawning a growing security industry.

Religious leaders insist recent attacks have tipped the balance between keeping the congregation safe and the atmosphere inviting. In many houses of worship, regulars now welcome the sight of metal detectors and other displays of heavy security.

“It’s trending toward the desire to make our facilities much more secure,” says Omar Ricci, chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California. The large Los Angeles mosque has armed security guards. Several members even carry their weapons to pray.

Security guards, cameras and bulletproof-covered stained-glass windows are now commonplace at the Conservative Jewish Sinai Temple ever since the Sept.11 terrorist attacks. “The members don’t mind being stopped,” insists executive director Howard Lesner, who’s been asking members for donations to help pay for these measures for years. “They are happy about it. They would like to see more being done.”

Not All Agree

But in an op-ed published in Christian Today, Rev. Mark Woods makes the case against armed guards and assault rifles at church– tempting as it may be.

“Guns don’t solve problems, they create problems,” Woods proclaims. He suggests that as stewards of peace, it is antithetical to religious values to bring in tools designed to kill into a place of worship.

“There are security precautions that churches can take short of arming themselves. Woods says churches can liaise with local police departments, have non-lethal measures available, and can develop a culture of vigilance.

And certainly, there is always the possibility of another mass shooter, driven by ethnic or religious hatred, coming in the front door with a weapon. But, Woods argues, normalizing violence, weapons, and security theatre is a road better off less-traveled.

Petrified to Pray

Despite measures taken by many houses of worship, religious service attendees are feeling more vulnerable than ever.  

A recent survey from Church Mutual, an insurance company focused on worship centers, found that 12% of Americans who attend religious services no longer feel safe while doing so. The Jewish Electorate Institute polled 1000 voters and found more than 70% of them think Jewish Americans are less safe than they were two years ago.

There is no doubt that houses of worship are being attacked at alarming rates by terrorists emboldened by online echo chambers and easily acquirable deadly weapons. But should religious organizations go down the same path that schools, shopping malls, and other so-called soft targets have taken? Will we reach a point where stepping through a body scanner or metal detector is a routine part of attending your holy house of choice? Many would agree- open door policies are not inviting when armed guards are at the entrance.

What do you think? Do churches and other holy buildings really need to fight fire with fire? Or is peace and love enough?

22 comments

  1. Angel says:

    So much between the separation of church and state. Since the fed’s are funding grants to churches, I guess that mean’s it’s also time for “non-profits” to start paying taxes!!

  2. Guairdean says:

    Christ told his followers to be armed against those that would rise up against them. Luke 22:36 makes this clear. It’s not necessary that everyone be armed, but a couple of men with the means to defend the church will deter attacks. Luke 11:21 re-enforces this. “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace” The same is true of a place of worship, a school, a shopping mall, and a private home. When guarded by men with the means to stop an attack, the attack will stop before it starts.

  3. Dan Atatakai says:

    Where does one start with this?

    “Places of worship should be a safe haven,”

    Yes, and so should schools, hospitals, movie theaters, homes and in parks. So what? Why would churches get money for upgrading their security systems when schools can use it so much more, and churches are tax-exempt. Ask your parishioners to pay for the security systems, minister.

    How about funding education programs for our children so they can actually learn about the various religions in an unbiased way, so that they can actually see that they all have far more in common than different. For these “christian haters” who are out to attack Muslims because they pray 5 times a day and grow facial hair, they need to learn that their nonsense religious bigotry is borne out of ignorance and fear, not anything legitimate.

    Yes, it is going to take a few generations before religious bigotry subsides dramatically, but look at how much good Ms. Jane Elliott, a simple educator, has created with her programs to reduce greatly racial hatred.

    https://youtu.be/1mcCLm_LwpE

    1. Lionheart says:

      “For these Christian haters who are out to attack Muslims because they pray 5 times a day and grow facial hair,…”

      No Dan, I think you’ll find that you missed out a few little facts of raping Yazidi children, killing their parents, beheading heretics that don’t accept Allah, treating all women as second class, brutalizing many of them, and treating them as slaves.

      I’m sure you’ll say that is only applicable to fundamental Muslims, but look deeper my friend, don’t be fooled, these Quran edicts are not going away any time soon. They hate the west, and only live and abide by one law, Shariah.

      🦁❤️

  4. Martha Knight says:

    Church Mutual is part of a larger company which has specialized branches to cater to different institutions. Each branch markets heavily to its named market, such as churches, giving the impression the company concentrates entirely on those institutions. Of course it would emphasize any perceived danger and use that to encourage sales and justify premiums. An insurer should differentiate among customers, such as churches, inspecting them and taking into account such things as masonry vs wood construction, one story or two, access to exits, being up to recent code changes, occupancy size, accessibility. One year I had a local insurer give our local church in a denomination’s organizational area (called a conference) a proposal, and that insurer did a careful inspection, noted some safety and code violations and exposure to possible legal action, and quoted us a lower premium. The conference (which owns the real estate) shot this down and stayed with Church Mutual, The local church must pay for utilities, maintenance and upkeep or improvements. Safety concerns such as lack of exit marking or approved fire extinguishers had been overlooked for years, but such details were not found by Church Mutual, with no inspections. I would not impressed by Church Mutual’s advice, which could well be self-serving. Communities, settings, congregations and structures differ as to exposure to violent attack or even vandalism. Within the last decade there was a fatality in a neighboring small town, when its organist was shot during a service by her estranged or divorced husband came in and shot her fatally before being controlled. He was a respected music teacher in the public school system. There was no way to predict he would “snap” and would do so in a church service, and it is hard to imagine the security precautions that would have prevented this, other than metal detectors at all entrances.

  5. James Slack says:

    To All Concerned: I believe that all churches of faith have the right to arm their people, if that will make them feel safe. I retired from law enforcement and feel strong about this subject. I do feel camera play a big roll for safety also. There is another thing churches could do. That is, all church goers will come into one door only. All others will be locked. The door will be able to go out but not in. The only door open will have a armed guard or person of the church there st all times locked or open yo let people in. When services start NO DOOR shall be opened for anyone. It will be hard to accept at first but people will adjust. This is just my thinking. One more thing to consider. The persons armed must have the mind set to act to protect everyone. Thanks for allowing me to enter my suggestion.

  6. James Slack says:

    I’m adding the last comment (mine). All doors will have cameras aimed at them. If anyone should opens any door after they are locked. They will be in camera and they will have to answer why they did

  7. Lionheart says:

    I guess the gods of these religions aren’t really interested in their members spiritual security to save their flock, but you can guarantee members will hold “thoughts and prayer” vigils after an attack in the pretense that their god really cares. In the meantime, while waiting for religionists to wake up, I guess they need human security, coupled with the science of modern electronic security.

    🦁♥️

    1. JASON D BENDER says:

      LOL Good point!

  8. JASON D BENDER says:

    Notice the apparent educational level (or lack thereof) of the pro armament posters…

    1. Guairdean says:

      Would you care to post some examples of what you feel indicates a lack of education?

      1. JASON D BENDER says:

        Grammar of the following “I retired from law enforcement and feel strong about this subject. I do feel camera play a big roll for safety also. There is another thing churches could do. That is, all church goers will come into one door only. All others will be locked. The door will be able to go out but not in. The only door open will have a armed guard or person of the church there st all times locked or open yo let people in.”

        1. JASON D BENDER says:

          I retract my comment. Your post was well written. Sorry,

  9. Dr. Daniel R. Thomas. Ph.D. D.D says:

    Jesus Himself speaks to this:

    Luke 22:35-38 NASBS
    And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” [36] And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. [37] For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” [38] They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”

    To rely on the police and the federal government is to on my push the problem (and the solution) one step away from you. God has given us three approved of orgaizations:

    Marriage; The Church; and Civil Authority. But He has never removed our responsibility from any of these to protect, defend and support each.

    To be armed and vigilant is part of all of the scriptures.

    Song of Solomon 3:7-8 NASBS
    “Behold, it is the traveling couch of Solomon; Sixty mighty men around it, Of the mighty men of Israel. [8] “All of them are wielders of the sword, Expert in war; Each man has his sword at his side, Guarding against the terrors of the night.

    Psalm 144:1 NASBS
    Blessed be the LORD, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, And my fingers for battle;

    1. Dark Gray says:

      Allow me to counter your Jesus quote with one from a different source:

      ’20 There are two glaring examples of upside-down thinking in the New Testament, whose whole gospel is only the message of love. These are not like the several slips into impatience which I made. I had learned the Atonement prayer, which I also came to teach, too well to engage in upside-down thinking myself. If the Apostles had not felt guilty, they never could have quoted me as saying, “I come not to bring peace but a sword.” This is clearly the exact opposite of everything I taught.

      21 Nor could they have described my reactions to Judas as they did if they had really understood me. They would have realized I could not have said, “Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?” unless I believed in betrayal. The whole message of the crucifixion was simply that I did not. The “punishment” which I am said to have called forth upon Judas was a similar reversal. Judas was my brother and a Son of God, as much a part of the Sonship as myself. Was it likely that I would condemn him when I was ready to demonstrate that condemnation is impossible?

      22 I am very grateful to the Apostles for their teaching and fully aware of the extent of their devotion to me. Nevertheless, as you read their teachings, remember that I told them myself that there was much they would understand later because they were not wholly ready to follow me at the time. I emphasize this only because I do not want you to allow any fear to enter into the thought system toward which I am guiding you. I do not call for martyrs but for teachers. No one is “punished” for sins, and the Sons of God are not sinners.’

      A Course in Miracles, Hugh Lynn Cayce edition

  10. Martha Knight says:

    Christians are under the New Covenant, not the Mosaic Covenant, based on Law. Christ FULFILLED the Law on behalf of all; only he was qualified, the rest of us humans were not. Blood sacrifice was required, and other penance, before the New Covenant (Covenant of Grace) enacted by Jesus. His conversation with the first disciples about being numbered with the transgressors was part of helping them understand his role as Messiah and the dangers involved. As in the Sermon(s) on the mount or hillside, he emphasized peacemaking,He knowingly allowed his own arrest and conviction, torture and horrible, agonizing death. On the Mount of Olives he and the disciples with him had only to leave Gethsemane Grove by walking down the other side to be beyond the jurisdiction of Temple Guard and officials. He chose to surrender, and reproved Peter for slicing the ear from one of the arresting officers. At the Last Supper, a covenant meal, he declared that the symbolic bread and special cup of wine were HIS body and blood, GIVEN for others. As passive as a sacrificial lamb or kid at Passover, held in a disabling position by the owner for a quick slicing by the priest, Jesus cooperated in his own trial and death. By available accounts, so did the disciples who were martyred. Paul insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen to be tried in the Roman Senate, so as to proclaim the gospel in the Senate with maximum “coverage.”

  11. Maiane santo santos says:

    This place is achieving something I detest, Facebook and Twitter style response. I don’t believe in religion, I have no use for the belief of a higher being, yolo and mainly yodo, but anything to stop the rampant killing of people because some piece of shit feels it’s his desire, should have only one response, if it stops the hurt it has a place and in this new society of me, me, me, this might be the proper answer.

  12. Ben says:

    Let’s protect churches like we do schools.
    With thoughts and prayers.
    You don’t see pagans getting attacked … Because we’re armed.

    1. Lionheart says:

      Actually Ben, many pagans have been beheaded in the recent ISIS war for being just that, pagan, often classed as sorcerers. Thoughts, and speaking to an imaginary friend, saves no one.

      🦁❤️

  13. Martha Knight says:

    Those claiming the Quran commands Muslims to kill or brutalize or attack all Westerners should study the Quran and learn what Mohammed meant by “infidels.” That was not his term for people who were not his followers. The Quran instructs Mohammad’s followers to be peaceful, and specifically includes People of the Book among believers in one god, whom he referred to as Allah but made clear is the same as Yahweh: people who followed Judaism and Christianity. The Quran speaks against terrorism.
    To claim Islam itself is about war and conquest, or annihilation of non-Muslims, is no more accurate than claiming Christianity is all about brutal, forced conversions (Remember the Inquisition!) and armed conquest of Palestine (the Crusades). To point to teachings about armed resistance to (well defined) contrary forces as proof that Islam urges war on all others is like claiming that Judaism and Christianity are about violent conquest and even ethnic cleansing being approved or commanded by God: In the course of conquering their Promised Land, Old Testament Jews were commanded to kill entire populations of some communities, and God is said to have destroyed the communities of Sodom and Gomorrah (no, not for homosexuality but for gross inhospitality and xenophobia)– people, buildings and all. Do we therefore condemn those who use Jewish and Christian scriptures as focused on killing? Do we claim religions based on those scriptures urge war and destruction of those who do not share their religious beliefs and practices?

  14. Secretary3rd says:

    Willow Creek Community Church which is a large church has always had the South Barrington police and fire departments on campus during services.
    Staff are known to pack. Since Illinois is a right to carry many members do carry in church. So if any person wants to cause trouble they are the ones that will find themselves digesting lead.
    The police have their own room where security cameras feed into that room. Any form of trouble and with few key stocks that building is locked down.
    There is enough muscle to keep any trouble maker in check without breaking bones.

  15. Secretary3rd says:

    Most religious centers outside of the Middle East is not a place where mayhem will break out. Even with all the different religious beliefs those places will never experience any form of violence not even the pastor even being insulted. So this weekend will pass without making headlines. As some say with my congregation the only thing I have seen being brought into our temple are pillows.
    Wonder why?

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