Forty two years in journalism made me a compulsive note taker.
I take notes when I’m on the phone, sometimes when I’m watching TV and any time I’m at a public meeting.
About the only place I don’t take notes is in church. Pity, too, because I wish I could tell you exactly what Fr. Steve DeLeon told Star of the Sea parishioners in Virginia Beach this weekend.
During his homily the priest announced that he’d hired a moonlighting off-duty-uniformed police officer to guard the church during services. In fact, he was posted in the lobby at that very moment.
I hadn’t noticed the cop when I slunk in, late - as usual - for the 8 a.m. mass. But on the way out there he was, holding open the door for parishioners who were expressing their gratitude for his presence.
“Thank you for keeping us safe,” I heard one woman say.
Perhaps she, too, had fleetingly wondered what would happen if a deranged person decided it would be fun to gun down worshippers some Sunday morning and picked our church for his murderous act.
But let’s be realistic. It’s unlikely there will ever be a shooting in my church. Or yours. Church shootings are rare. According to a Christian research publication called “Facts and Trends,” there have been 18 shootings in churches since 1999. There are roughly 338,000 separate congregations in the country. Do the math. A pew is probably one of America’s safest places.
Still, why not have an armed guard in the lobby? His or her presence would be a deterrent to murderers - or even purse snatchers. (Plus it gives officers another way to earn a little extra cash. Lord knows we don’t pay them enough.)
In 2015, after the mass shooting that left nine dead in an African-American church in Charleston, “Christianity Today” argued that armed guards were incompatible with Christian values. In a naive piece headlined, “Armed Guards at U.S. Churches : Why It’s Tempting and Why It’s Wrong,” the writer asserted that, “Guns don’t solve problems they create problems.
Oh, please. That’s ridiculous when you’re talking about security guards.
“We are servants of the Prince of Peace. We struggle with the idea of violence at all, regarding it as at best a necessary evil. Importing the tools of death into a place where the gospel of abundant life is preached seems profoundly wrong.”
Wrong? How could it be wrong to place a visible deterrent inside the entrance to a church? How could it be wrong to defend helpless families and children from some homicidal hairball should the need arise?
My Jewish friends tell me it’s common for local temples to hire security for bar and bat mitzvahs. Given the history of violence against Jews, can you blame them?
Frankly, the only way to stop an armed gunman is with a gun in the hand of someone trained to use it.
Carl Chinn, who’s described as a church security expert, told Facts and Trends that, “Most churches spend far more time and money training their choir than they do investing in the safety of their staff and guests.”
The piece continued: “Chinn knows pastors often think the odds are in their favor and more than likely they’ll never have to deal with a serious security threat in their church.
“They are absolutely right,’ he acknowledged. ‘Odds are their church will never face a serious threat. But if their congregation does face a serious threat, the odds won’t matter much’.”
Exactly. This is a lot like seat belts. Chances are you’ll never need yours. But if you ever do you’ll be damn glad yours was buckled.