Do Churches Need to be Armed to Fend Off Violence?
You don't go to church thinking you could be the victim of a violent attack, but it happens more often than you might think.
One of the most publicized acts of violence at a church happened in Colorado Springs in 2007. Matthew Murray, 24, opened fire in the parking lot of New Life Church after the 11 a.m. service.
Murray struggled with mental disorders and became angry at Christians and bitter after being denied a chance to go on a missions trip.
He took the lives of teenage sisters, Stephanie and Rachel Works, and injured their father and two other parishioners before encountering a church member inside the building who was a volunteer security guard.
Saying God guided her and protected her, Jeanne Assam heroically faced the heavily armed Murray and shot him with her personal concealed weapon. He then took his own life.
Sounding the Alarm
Incidents like this have Jimmy Meeks, a church security expert, sounding the alarm.
"We're up to at least 473 confirmed violent deaths on church and faith-based property since 1999," Meeks told CBN News. "That number is equal to or maybe slightly ahead of the number of violent deaths that occur at schools that we hear about what seems like weekly."
An ordained minister since 1973 and a police officer for more than 33 years, Meeks wants churches and faith-based organizations to become aware of the violence and learn how to protect their congregations.
He criss-crosses the country, helping lead what are called Sheepdog Seminars for Churches.
Meeks says there are three types of people -- sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Simply put, sheepdogs protect the flock from wolves.
"The main thing we tell churches is that it's easy to know what to do if you can get beyond being blind about what's happening," Meeks said. "In 2013, we had a death on a church and faith-based property every eight days, and every two, two and a half days, a violent incident occurring on church and faith-based property."
"The most common one (type of violence) we see is probably domestic violence. A man is mad at his wife; a church in Louisiana a couple of years ago, he simply went to the church, he pulled her out in the parking lot and shot her dead. We see that a lot; these guys get angry, and they just don't care where their wife is," he elaborated.
"So churches need to be aware -- if you're having domestic violence in your church, and you are -- you do have it somewhere," he explained. "Church people do good at covering things up sometimes; you need to be aware of these things, and you just need to be ready; you need to be prepared."
The Sheepdog Seminars for Churches are designed to help congregations and faith-based groups be prepared.
Meeks and other experts appeal to churches to form what are called "Eyes and Ears Teams." The teams are made up of men and women whose assignment on a given day is to watch out for anyone and anything that would try to harm a congregation.
Seminar leaders also advocate the use of spiritual weapons like fasting and prayer.
They say the idea of protecting church-goers is biblical, citing among other scriptures, Nehemiah 4:9, which says, "We prayed to our God and posted a guard…."