By Dwight Lee Wolter.
Recent events, including the massacre of nine people in a church Bible study, have inspired churches and other houses of faith to take a closer look at security issues. The Suffolk County (NY) police department, for example, provided a hastily convened “Security Training Workshop for Houses of Worship” with tips on “Protecting Your Religious and Communal Institutions” through “Security Best Practices.” Mosque, synagogue and church clergy and lay leaders were educated in “Operation Safeguard” sponsored by the New York State Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services Office of Counter Terrorism. We received suggestions from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). We discussed some simply, effective and inexpensive tactics to protect our congregations.
But some of our responses to perceived threats were rather frightening. While being assured by the police that it is unnecessary to be overly alarmed, we became overly alarmed. When assured that an act of terror in our house of worship is highly unlikely, we reacted as if it is highly imminent.
Fear is understandable. Precaution is necessary. What is not understandable or necessary is a circling of the church wagons to protect “us” against “them.” In response to a question, a detective calmly stressed that the department did not recommend church folk arming ourselves against strangers. Another audience member recommended dispersing plain-clothed parishioners among people arriving for a worship service to spot “those who look like they don’t belong there.” Fear has become rampant. Just yesterday, the trailer of an upcoming show on a national, Christian radio station featured a voice saying, “Some day ISIS or some other Muslim terrorists are going to ‘take-out’ some Christian ministers in response to the United States taking-out some of their imams.”
Jesus lived in frightening, uncertain times as well. But in the name of security we do not need to secure the church against the very people we are called to serve. In the rush to be secure, we do not need to become insular. In our attempts to defend, we do not need to offend. In our desire to protect, we should be cautious not to turn-away the wayfarers and sojourners that God would have us welcome.
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter blogs at dwightleewolter.com and is pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York.