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"Safe Sanctuaries and Freedom from Fear"

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church, in the section titled “Media Violence and Christian Values,” states in part: “Christians must work together to halt the erosion of moral and ethical values in the world community. We oppose any kind of sexist image as well as those that glorify violence. We reject the implicit message that conflicts can be resolved and just peace can be established by violence. Within the bounds of the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, the media are responsible for respecting human rights.”

I don’t think we can blame the media for all of the recent increases in violence, because all of us have allowed our society to become increasingly violent. However, our media have certainly glorified violence, and the plethora of violent video games has not helped.

Little wonder, then, that our congregations are fearful and our people are wondering how to protect their security. I have received many letters and e-mails which have asked how our congregations can prevent violence and protect themselves from random acts of violence. These questions led our conference leadership team to have a thorough discussion of these issues at a meeting last week. We met with Mr. Charles Rownd, who is our conference consultant on security issues. Charlie is a former FBI agent and the person who was in charge of security for last year’s Super Bowl. He guided our conversation about what steps our Conference and our congregations may want to consider in an effort to maintain a peaceful environment. We had a great discussion, and out of that discussion here is a summary of the advice I would offer to the Indiana Conference congregations:

  1. Start by teaching our own children, youth and adults that violence is not the answer to resolving conflicts.
  2. Share the Gospel and the message of Jesus that “Those who take up the sword will die by the sword” – namely that violence begets violence.
  3. Consider adopting policies that discourage any firearms from being brought into your church facility. Even though it is lawful, especially for police officers and others with a license, to carry a firearm, have a conversation among your church leaders about the danger of having such weapons on site in the church.
  4. Consider meeting with your local law enforcement officials, have them walk through your church facility, and discuss how best to respond to emergencies. Such a meeting should include your church’s insurance agent, your trustees and other local officials who can help develop a response plan for medical emergencies, weather emergencies, and – God forbid – any emergencies involving violence.
  5. Consider training your ushers to be your “first line of defense” in dealing with emergencies that occur during worship. Help them to be observant of any emerging problems, train them in immediate medical response, and provide them with a plan of action for responding to any problems.

There are probably other ways to deal with this whole issue. My main purpose in writing this E-pistle is to start the conversation, or perhaps to move the conversation along beyond fear and a sense of paralysis. There is no way that anyone can guarantee our safety at all times. However, we must do all that we can to make our churches safe and secure, and we all must help our people not to live in fear.