Beliefs

After fires, killings, black churches debate the best ways to protect themselves

A small prayer circle formed nearby where police responded to a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C,, on June 17, 2015. A gunman opened fire that evening at the historic African-American church in downtown Charleston. REUTERS/Randall Hill
A small prayer circle forms nearby where police are responding to a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, June 17, 2015. A gunman opened fire on Wednesday evening at the historic African-American church in downtown Charleston. REUTERS/Randall Hill

A small prayer circle formed near where police responded to a shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015. A gunman opened fire that evening at the historic African-American church in downtown Charleston. REUTERS/Randall Hill

(RNS) The leader of the National Baptist Convention, USA, says his member churches should “do everything that is humanly possible” to protect themselves — even if it means hiring armed guards.

But the head of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination would rather churches call 911 if necessary.

Dr. Jerry Young, 18th President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. Photo courtesy of Will Sterling of Sterling Photography

The Rev. Jerry Young, 18th president of the National Baptist Convention, USA. Photo courtesy of Will Sterling of Sterling Photography

After nine people were fatally shot at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C., and more than half a dozen black churches have burned, officials of mostly black denominations are taking different — and sometimes contradictory — approaches as they try to prepare for a safer future.

More than 1,000 people took part in a Department of Homeland Security webinar Wednesday (July 1) that emphasized measures to prepare for a range of crises.

The Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-chair of the National African American Clergy Network, tuned in to the webinar and heard advice on how congregations should connect with first responders.

“Some churches are doing that,” she said. “Others had not been and I think the Charleston church massacre helped people to understand that houses of worship that welcome strangers also have to be ready for strangers that mean harm.”

Leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church said the denomination is preparing congregations to “set up safety watches and take preventative measures to protect human life and physical assets.”

The Rev. Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, said he will be advising members of his predominantly black denomination to take new measures, from installing interior and exterior video cameras to having office security systems buzz in visitors.

“We are in consultation even now with the experts to assist us in making sure we get to all of our constituent churches instruction, advice and suggestions as to how they can actually beef up security around the worship centers,” he said.

In his opinion, that can include armed guards.

But Bishop George Battle Jr., the senior bishop of the AME Zion Church, doesn’t think guns should be an option.

Bishop George E. Battle, Jr., Senior Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Photo courtesy of A. M. E. Zion Church

Bishop George E. Battle Jr., senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Photo courtesy of AME Zion Church

“We’re not going to have any guns on our property to deal with that,” he said.

Referring to a verse from the Book of Isaiah that says “no weapon formed against you shall prosper,” he added:  “We can’t preach one thing and do another.”

Authorities have not linked the Emanuel AME attack to the church fires or confirmed that the fires are racially motivated. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating five fires across the South at predominantly black churches in June.

ATF’s Bomb Arson Tracking System shows there were 127 incidents at houses of worship in 2014, compared to 146 in 2013 and the same number in 2012. Last year, 42 were deliberately set, 26 were ruled accidental and 54 were labeled “undetermined.”

Still, the recent spate of black church fires, which remind many of attacks in the 1960s and 1990s, has prompted widespread concern.

Anthea Butler, a professor of religious and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said the government webinar should only be the beginning of efforts to address the attacks on black houses of worship.

“While this is important, it focuses on prevention — not cure or eradication of racism or religion-based hate crimes,” said Butler, writing in Religion Dispatches. “What needs to happen is a concerted effort by all churches, black and white alike, to confront the issue of racism in America with fervor.”

There has been some response across racial lines to the recent incidents.

Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis started a fundraising campaign to rebuild recently burned churches that were victims of arson with a goal of $25,000. It has raised more than $113,000.

“The response to this has been incredible, but truly not surprising,” said the Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of the predominantly white Episcopal congregation. “There is so much good in people’s hearts.”

Carl Chinn, a ministry security expert, said prevention is a worthy goal but it cannot eliminate evildoers.

“There have been many wolves, and there will be more,” he said. “Some will hate blacks, some will hate Christians, whites, Israelis or Sikhs — but they will come.”

YS/MG END BANKS

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

16 Comments

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  • I don’t see any problem with having at least one armed person on site at all times, as you never know when some lunatic will come in to mow people down. The Devil is in full bloom right now, doing as much damage as he can in every quadrant of society, so best to be ready.

  • Greg1,

    Guns have no place in a Christian Church.

    The real problem is that White, Hispanic, Asian Christians et al, are not flooding the “Black Churches” as brothers and sisters in Christ in large numbers. Any Christian that is afraid of being killed for the faith needs to be awakened to what being a Christian entails.

  • BeBrave: We must realize that we have entered into a biblical period where lawlessness has become common, and “The Faith” is the Enemy to many deranged people, especially on the Left. In 1903 Pope Pius already saw the horrors coming: “Who can fail to see that society is at the present time, more than in any past age, suffering from a terrible and deep-rooted malady which, developing every day and eating into its inmost being, is dragging it to destruction? You understand, Venerable Brethren, what this disease is—apostasy from God … this great perversity may be as it were a foretaste, and perhaps the beginning of those evils which are reserved for the last days; and that there may be already in the world the ‘Son of Perdition’ of whom the Apostle speaks.” Pope Pius X, E Supremi October 4th, 1903. So as much as I’d like to agree with you, I don’t see anything wrong with placing incognito guards in churches. Would you want your child mowed down by a henchman of the Devil?

  • If my child was mowed down by a henchman of the devil?

    One already has been. And although he was not martyred for The Faith, he was never the less killed by the world and its ways.

    You need to study. The Church was birthed in times such as these. Actually a thousand times worse . . . WITH THE EXCEPTION of ISLAM. Muslims DO actually kill us as a matter of their religion.

    What the western world does is entice and seduce us into depravity and error. Read Jude, Peter and Paul’s epistles. Read the apologia’s of the first, second and third century Christians. Homosexuality was and is absolutely horrid and rejected by “the original Christians” and is today by the same truth and reason. But be that as it may, if we are to be persecuted and even martyred for keeping to Christ, we had better first know for sure that we are walking in the truth. Jesus was clear about this. So, let the homosexuals, the atheists et al do there damnedest. If we should be crushed by them, stay in the…

  • I have and do read the Patristics and understand your position, but I also want to be ready for when my life comes to an end. Sadly, some people are not spiritually ready, and suddenly stand before God in Judgment, and the end result is not good. My hope is to receive the last rites, and then hit the road. But your point is well taken.

  • Jedidiah,

    From this article:

    “After nine people were fatally shot at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C., and more than half a dozen black churches have burned…”

    That’s FROM the author !

    Humans have been classifying each other since Cain was worried about people killing him for the murder of Abel.

    If you think the human race is at the point where race isn’t an issue, please tell me what planet that is.

    As it is, racism stops with you.

    As it is racism stops with me.

    But how many NON-Black Christians (of ALL varieties) are on the way to AME “Black” Church in Charleston SC?

  • The day we remove race as a means to make millions, then it will stop. The race war is fueled by those who want it to never end, in order to continue in their positions of power and cashing in on it (Al Sharpton is an example).

  • Greg1,

    The Democratic party needs to understand that when their ism cards are played out, their done. Unless of course they rid their party of the militant atheist movement run by the ACLU and stop their efforts to make real Christians a silenced underground society.

    Then again, if the GOP stops their war on Unions (which seems impossible) and really protects Christians from the rabid gay fanatics working to turn The Church into an underground society and secular factory of fresh young bodies . . . the demise of the Democratic party is only a decade away. (How weirdly ironic that President Obama gave a eulogy for a fallen Christian at a Christian denomination that opposes his efforts to celebrate and “affirm” homosexuality.)

    I don’t know Greg1, the Democrats represent a permissiveness that is as sickening towards families as it gets. The Republicans stand for the rich getting richer and families being relegated to serfdom.

    The race peddlers seem insignificant…

  • And that is why I am Independent. In the past, the Republicans used the religious beliefs of many when it was politically expedient to do so. Let’s see how many now will campaign on turning back this gay marriage tide?(not many I’m sure). And as for the Democrats, usually their positions are everything that is opposed to common sense. They repeat their positions of “bizarre madness” so many times that the the people eventually cave. In reality, though, the Devil is the brains inside of that Party. He has wormed his way in, through sin and disobedience to God; he gladly finds a nesting place within those who adamantly spit in the Face of God; that party is totally infested with the fallen angels. But the Republicans are not far behind them. Ah! some things never change (Gen 3:1-7). At present, I will be voting for Bobby Jindal, the only one with the courage to speak Truth.

  • Churches aren’t built with safety in mind for their daily users. As a music director I note that many church choir rehearsals are held at night in open churches in choir lofts with no lockable door or gate. Organists practice in choir lofts accessible to anyone who climbs the stairs. I’ve been playing the organ alone in a church choir loft at Xmas midnite services where street people came up to join me…. All churches should improve their safety, starting with the regularly scheduled uses.

  • Be Brave, what I mean is that it is really inexcusable that white Christians and others don’t do what you’re suggesting. If black churches were surrounded by white and Asian and other brothers and sisters in the Lord for protection purposes, racists wouldn’t dare raise a wicked hand.

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