Just the other day I was conducting a Defusing Aggression Training for security staff at a local Baptist Church and was asked what I would suggest for members of their Safe Team to do if some nut job (my words, not theirs. They’re nice people) started charging the pulpit (and the pastor) in the middle of a service. Since the question was raised in the context of several Baptist pastors getting blown out of their pulpits by mad men in the past few years, let’s assume the person charging the pulpit is either brandishing or unleashing many bullets from that firearm!
Outstanding question, considering the fact that every 2.9 months in the United States there is some sort of mass shooting. Not only that, Rage-Shootings in our churches are not uncommon. Worse, of all the places of worship in our country Baptist venues are the most popular targets of Rage-Attackers. There are reasons for this, but that is not the theme of this post. I thought I would do my best to answer the question posed at my seminar. You might be concerned about your family’s safety at your place of worship, or your school, maybe even your workplace. In my opinion, all of these workplaces (church, schools, synagogues are also workplaces) are ripe targets for Workplace Violence, which is rampant in the U.S., and, by the way, wil be more rampant in coming years…but I digress…...
STOPPING CHURCH VIOLENCE
Since June 22, 1980 when a crazed zealot stood and shouted, “This is War!” in the First Baptist Church in Dangerfield, Texas (as the pastor was leading the congregation in a song about Jesus) and raked the packed pews with bullets, wounding 15 and killing 5, including the pastor (the first mass murder in a church in the U.S) , over 500 churchgoers and clergymen have been killed to date, 145 of them of the Baptist Faith. I mention all of this to establish that the concerns of my Baptist friends are certainly legitimate.
My answer to the query about what to do if a shooter charges the pulpit is whatever it is you do, it is probably too late. I hope I’m wrong, of course, but the Rage-Shooters I study are just that – Rage Shooters! They may be driven by an opposing ideology that the pastor and/or church has attacked; They may be impelled by serious mental health issues; or a guest speaker at the offending church might represent an opposing religious view point that enrages. All of which, to me, at least, means that, like the shooter in Dangerfield in 1980, they will, after maybe a brief pronouncement, attack the church and all the people within suddenly and with extreme violence. Again, I could be wrong, and I hope I am, but—
Likely, he will charge the pulpit, but probably not before unleashing Hell on the congregation on his way to the spiritual leader of the church. Once it starts it may be too late to stop the shooting, but the best bet is to Be Proactive instead of Reactive. That may be your best strategy.
QUICK SKETCH OF PROACTIVE STRATEGIES
- Create a Safety Committee.
- Initiate and Perfect a Safety Plan.
- Make Creating a Safe Room(s) where parishioners can barricade themselves “safely” a priority.
- Establish and Inform about Escape and Evasion Routes, etc.
- Communicate with local authorities and solicit ideas and suggestions for dealing with an Active Shooter.
- Identify Possible Groups Hostile to your Beliefs.
- Initiate and Conduct Safety Training for your Parishioners.
- Training Should Educate, but also put parishioners through Dynamic Simulation or Realistic Scenario Training(s).
- Stress Inoculation/Dynamic Simulation Training for Safe Team on how to respond to an Active Shooter event.
- Reach out and help parishioners who are in crisis.
- Police Sources who would likely respond to a shooting-crisis, or violence, should be invited to participate in Dynamic Simulation training.
- Local EMS (Medical Emergency Responders) should also be contacted for suggestions and/or information regarding how and when they would respond, etc.
Churches should also be aware of their resources available to mitigate and minimize the possibility of a mass shooting in their facility.
VALUABLE RESOURCES AVAILABLE
- Your ushers could be your front line. Ushers come in contact with almost, if not all, of your visitors. Train these people to recognize Signatures of Danger – verbal and non-verbal signs of danger, as well as signs that a visitor could be carrying a concealed handgun, edged weapon, and/or shotgun/machine gun, etc.
- School ushers and others how to deescalate and/or defuse aggression and/or even violence. Maybe teach ushers and others on self-defense and subject-control techniques, or at least escape and evasion.
- Train you safety team on how to disarm an active shooter.
- Do not forget to involve your local police authorities. At least those that would likely be your first responder(s) in a shooting or other type of violent event.
In the next post let’s talk about Dynamic Simulation Training designed to prevent and/or actively respond to this type of violence.
Until then, stay safe.