Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Defending the Church Against Maniacs, Crooks, and Others

Authorities have finally released Matthew Murray's reasons for killing innocent Christians at the YWAM center in Arvada and at New Life Church here in Colorado Springs last weekend.
“I’m coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the (expletive) teeth and I WILL shoot to kill. . . . God, I can’t wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don’t care if I live or die in the shootout. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you . . . as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.”
How do you defend against someone like this? He is obsessed, furious, and beyond reason. He has a plan in place, has equipped himself (a rifle, two pistols, smoke grenades and backpack with 1,000 rounds of ammunition), and doesn't care if he lives or dies. When he shows up at the dorm, or the church, or the shopping mall, or the playground, you can't reason with him. You can't say, "hey, let's talk about this over a cup of coffee." Your only option is to respond with force the moment the threat is identified. You shoot to stop and you don't stop until he does. It doesn't matter if he is a homicidal maniac, a thief with a gun, a fanaticist strapped with explosives or a mugger with a knife. Life is a precious gift from God, and your life and the lives of those you are defending outweigh his a hundred times over.

For churches, there are a number of things to consider. There are several threats that must be considered. The staff needs to develop contingency plans (including responses to each identified threat, fallback plans, plans for communication and notification, etc.) and train staff members what to do in case of an emergency (including medical emergencies - CPR and first aid). Threats could include anything from:
  • power outages
  • accidental fires and floods
  • hecklers
  • vandals
  • thieves and con artists
  • arsonists
  • bomb threats
  • armed attackers
    • (against the preaching pastor, staff, or congregation in general)
  • suicide bombers or car bombs
  • hostage takers
The church needs to consider all entrances and exits and how to protect them. If a situation arises, where should the people in the sanctuary, adult Sunday School, and children's ministry be taken? Where are the fallback positions in case the first place is unsafe? Who determines if an evacuation is safe or if people need to remain in secureable areas in the building. How will the staff and security team communicate? Will the security staff be uniformed or plainclothes, openly carry arms, carry concealed, or be unarmed? Will the church hire permanent staff, off-duty law enforcement or use trained volunteers (or some mix of the three)? How much training and preparation is required for safety, effectiveness and legal liability purposes? What information should be given to the congregation? Are there physical measures that can be implemented (like proper lighting at night or concrete posts in front of the building to protect against car bombers)? What are the best positions to post security staff? What areas of the building are most vulnerable to specific threats?

Matthew Murray sent threatening emails to YWAM before the attack, and made hate-filled posts to an anti-Christian website just before and after the Arvada attack. Does the staff know how to identify warning signs like this and know who to notify? Can they distinguish between someone acting suspiciously and some poor guy just looking for a handout? After hearing about the attacks in Arvada, New Life Church beefed up their security and it paid huge dividends in human life. They identified a possible threat and took action to protect their people, even at the risk of looking silly in the eyes of some.

I need to caveat this post with a disclaimer - I am not an expert on physical security - I'm a network security professional, but I am also a gun owner who has thought a great deal about how to protect my family and what it means to carry a weapon. I know enough to say that basic security principles apply whether you look at a computer network or a church foyer. Common sense and deliberate, forward thinking will save lives. The basic steps of incident response are:
  • Planning and preparation - without this, you are doomed to failure...
  • Prevention - what can you do now to reduce the threat or your vulnerability
  • Detection and notification - training, training, training...
  • Containment - you need a capable, properly equipped team in place. Now...
  • Eradication - removing the threat and protecting people and assets...
  • Recovery - working with authorities, updating plans
The church needs to build relationships with local law enforcement agencies and identify trained individuals (with current or former law enforcement backgrounds, military , government or private security experience) within the church. Those organizations and individuals will be your best resources for increasing security and protecting your congregation. Only bring in outside consultants if you are unable to get the help you need from within the church or from local law enforcement. On the other hand, realize that this will not be a zero-balance item in the church budget. You are going to have to spend at least some time, effort and money to increase your security and protect your people.

We live in a dangerous world. Great Britain has learned that trying to eliminate guns through gun control and bans is an abject failure. Attacks against churches and other public places are becoming regular occurrences. Churches need to take some time, now, to plan, prepare, and train for contingencies. Old plans need to be updated on a regular basis. Training must be recurring. Security needs to be added to the church budget. While we shouldn't turn our churches into fortresses or make security a distraction from worship and fellowship, it should be a reassuring, felt presence that will act as a quiet deterrent for would-be attackers.

Scripture tells us that "God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love and discipline" (2 Tim 1:7, NASB). We do not live by fear, but by faith. God has given us the ability and the right to defend ourselves (Ex 22:2), and has promised His protection as well. We do our part and then trust Him to do His. Please don't let this tragedy pass by and believe that it can't happen to your church! Do something about it!

1 comment:

Keith Walker said...

Preach it! In Colonial times one could be fined for not bringing their gun to church. Wow, has our country changed.