At a recent faith leaders meeting in Southeast, pastors discussed the sobering fact that houses of faith are very real targets of attack all across the country, including in D.C., and that more attention is needed to ensure congregants are safe.
The Center for Homicide Research reports it is trying to establish the number of church shootings that have occurred in the U.S. since 2006 but admitted on its website that it is unable to complete its work. Still, they, along with other sources, have recorded 18 church shootings across the country since 2012, not including the most recent attack in October on a synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 worshipers were killed.
For one Southeast pastor who knows firsthand how real the threat is, he told how a rifle was aimed at his head outside of his church — and in front of his children and grandchildren — by a man involved in a domestic dispute with a member of the congregation.
“God intervened,” he told his colleagues. The gun jammed. He was physically assaulted but lives today to warn pastors that such threats cannot be “prayed away.”
Kudos to the Bowser administration. Its Office of Religious Affairs, under the leadership of its director, Rev. Thomas Bowen, is leading an effort to train church leaders how to identify impending danger and to develop safety plans offered by the Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency. Church leaders are also receiving grant-writing assistance to apply for federal grants, of which nine churches received a total of $1 million so far to add security upgrades and training.
Bowen shared the fact that incidents are happening all over the city, some publicized and others are not due to the perceived impact on already-low church attendance. Some congregations have gone as far as eliminating collections and adopting alternative methods instead.
Attacks on churches are not new, and frequently Black congregations were confronted during the civil rights movement. The 2015 church shooting in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead was a painful reminder of the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four young girls. Racial and religious hatred, domestic violence, child custody disputes and mental illness are among the many reasons why churches become targets.
At a time when the doors of the church need to be open more often to those who need spiritual uplifting, due diligence must be taken to protect the sanctuary, church school, and offices from the dangers of the streets. Churches must prepare.