It happens in churches across the country every Sunday. This time, though, the outcome was tragic.
Robert Braxton III, 27, took a seat in a Pennsylvania church. A member in the row behind him tapped him on the shoulder and told him that he’d taken a seat belonging to someone else. Church ushers and the associate pastor intervened, but Braxton remained in his seat. Then another attendee walked over, pulled out a handgun and shot and killed Braxton.
The shooter held no official function with the church. But he represents what many churches tacitly consider their quiet contingency for security threats. Some church leaders resist forming a designated security team, relying on some “good members” to come to worship with concealed weapons. They would be the “first line of defense” if problems arise.
Obviously, that laissez faire approach creates its own dangers. Some churches will pay a horrible price for this kind of untrained force, especially in our current social atmosphere of hair-trigger outrage.
Other churches choose to respond with armed, uniformed police officers stationed around the building. But is that show of force always appropriate for a church setting? Not according to Craig Cable, church security expert. He said, in this week’s Holy Soup podcast, that police officers are trained to “see a threat and deal with the threat.” However, a well-trained ministry security response might be to “see the person, and see the opportunity to help.” Those two different approaches would have likely resulted in entirely different outcomes in the Pennsylvania pew sitter case mentioned here.
This ministry approach to church security is a middle ground between doing nothing (or relying on unofficial, untrained concealed-carry parishioners) and deploying an ominous armed police presence. Cable trains church security team members on practical skills, such as de-escalation. Many people think they’re already a “natural” when it comes to de-escalating tense situations. But, he warns, their natural, instinctive responses may be quite dangerous.
Cable conducts training on de-escalation and other topics at Group’s Safe and Secure Church Training workshops. And he assembled a complete video-based Safe and Secure Church Training Kit, available for church leaders and security volunteers.
Since last year’s mass shooting at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church, more churches are aware of catastrophic threats. But, as Cable explains in the podcast, the more likely dangers are actually much more commonplace. Though God is our ultimate protector, it also pays to be prepared for the real risks that occur around a church of any size. For more, listen to the podcast here:
I am more appalled by the fact the church member, ushers and assoc. pastor tried to chase a visitor out of this seat. This Church sounds like it had an armed person in there for a reason. They have lost their Jesus loving minds. “I saw a stranger and I took him in…Love they neighbor as thy self…” Completely missed by some one of the bent, ” You are sitting in Joe’s seat.” This is why churches cannot gain new members in the traditional setting. They killed a 27 year old- who came to church. Not many of those coming these days. Ruined a family who loved him, too.
The Pharisees have taken over and forgotten that Jesus would have given up his seat. After all he gave up his life for you and me.
I agree with Cathy Benson. It is tragic that this young man was killed for the fact that he sat in someone else’s seat. Where is the love of Jesus? If I were told that I was sitting in someone else’s seat, that would have been a sign that God was not in that church — God had left the building!
Thank God we are not there yet in Australia churches; in fact we do not carry guns around anyway as it is illegal to do so. I understand that in the early Nordic Christianity the Viking Folk left there swords outside the church. The fact that a visitor was told that a particular seat was the “regular spot” for some one shows that this church had lost the plot entirely. The fact that this was seen as a “Security Risk” shows that America has lost its way. Only in America as the saying goes. What happened to the murderer?????.
I looked up the story in the news and it was a little more complicated than Thom tells. But should have been handled differently.
But this article is stimulating some good discussion!
Clearly the shooting should not have occurred. But based on over 20 years of investigating major felonies, I can state that the worst source of information is the major media, with newspapers topping the list. And right behind the media would be sentencing hearings. In other words, even with the additional light shed on the incident by the article (thanks, Peggy Emerson), we still don’t have a clear – enough picture of what happened to draw much in the way of lessons.
“If you don’t read the newspapers, you’re uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you’re misinformed.” – Mark Twain
This does, however, show how important it is to be prepared, not just for an incident, but to have somebody trained and able to deal with the media. And to expect that the media will get important elements wrong, and you will be burdened with the fallout – not just from the incident, but from the misinformation.
This story is what you would call an unusual freakish event. This is like a once in a blue moon thing. You don’t have this potential in every church. It’s not the guns fault or that people are allowed to carry. Count the amount of churches in the country and you’ll find the chance of this is negligible in yours….0,00001% You have a better chance of dying in a car accident on the way to church. So maybe all churches should close because several people have died driving to it.
I had a brother-in-law have a bad reaction to surface numbing stuff the dentist would rub on your gums before giving a shot. After that he would no longer use it on anyone so now everyone had to suffer the prick of the needle going into our gums because the dentist is now in fear of being sued.
If there is one thing that is worse than what happened in this story is over reaction for these rare events. It would be like one person dies because of a bad reaction to migraine medicine that is helping 100,000 people so they ban the medicine from the 99,999 because one of those others could potentially have a bad reaction and die also. So the 99,999 now have to suffer with debilitating 24 to 72 hour headaches because of one bad incident.
Everything in life is a risk and we all lose on occasion despite how careful we are. There cannot be made enough laws nor enough freedoms taken away to protect everyone from everything and everyone.
The probability of something like this or a mass shooting in our church or anywhere near us has properly been characterized, in my view, as “non-zero.” And since the use of a firearm, or any sort of deadly force, is the absolute last choice even when faced with a life-threatening situation, I think the firearm is almost a distraction given the real topic of this blog. Who among us has had something happen in our church that has raised the question actually posed here? The most common source of safety challenges is “family law” situations. So the questions we should be asking long before the possibility of deadly force are things like how to deal with heated arguments between, say, estranged spouses? Or (and this is a biggie) how do you guard against an estranged spouse (possibly with a restraining order) taking his or her young children out of nursery or day care during a service? Here on the West Coast we have an exploding problem with “homeless” people setting up their campsites, blocking church entries and exits, particularly when the weather gets wet. It’s becoming more common for the “homeless” to come in for “refreshments” after services. A certain percentage of them are under the influence of something, and may not be friendly. These are the things we need to be thinking about. Shooting people – this shouldn’t be ignored, but – not so much.
Well, my third sentence above was supposed to have said, “who among us has NOT had…”
I want to jump in and respond to some of the concerns that have been shared in the comments. I completely agree with the observation that the use of lethal force in a seating disagreement was both incredibly tragic and extremely rare. That said, I hope no one is missing the larger and most important point of the blog post and podcast. Over the last several years while serving on my church security team, I’ve had multiple occasions where I’ve had to use tactical communication to deescalate potentially volatile situations. Our team has experienced everything from intervening in domestic incidents where protection orders were violated to someone under the influence of drugs threatening suicide. Our team is trained to identify potential threats and verbally deescalate those situations while looking for opportunities to minister to the individual. I feel churches are making a huge mistake if they dismiss the importance of developing, training and equipping safety and security teams because they’re willing to play the odds that a gunman isn’t likely to walk through their doors. The problem is that they won’t be prepared for the myriad of other threats that they’re much more likely to encounter.
Amen, brother! (Not a euphemism. I mean it.) This is the issue that must be addressed, in some form, by every church.
Not sure what you’re referring to re: tactical communications. We’re in the early stages of forming a safety team. We introduced hand – held radios a few months ago, on a limited basis. Your thoughts?
Great question, David. Tactical Communication is a subject that we cover in our Shepherd’s Watch Church Security training. In a nutshell, it’s the intentional use of words and phrases to help deescalate potentially volatile situations in order to calm the individual and gain voluntary compliance.
That’s great you’re starting the process of developing your safety team. I’m the lead developer of the Safe and Secure Church training kit and I would highly recommend looking into getting that kit for your church. Here’s a quick snapshot of what’s included in the kit:
– Determining your church’s risk and liability
– Developing a safety and security mindset
– Understanding the most common threats to your church
– Increasing your awareness and ability to spot danger
– Protecting children in your car
– Verbally deescalating dangerous situations
– Lockdown and evacuation procedures
– Attracting, training, and retaining security team volunteers
– Medical and security scenarios to help train team members
– Active shooter situations and scenarios
You can learn more about the kit by going to http://group.com/security.
Ah, okay. We’ve called it “Verbal De-escalation.” Yes, I already teach a class on that to ushers and elders, at minimum.
Yes, we’re looking at the Safe and Secure Church package. Thanks.
Reading the article and comments it is clear to see that most Churches have become unique tribal entities, each with it’s own sense of self survival. The power structure , the way income is sourced , the unwritten rules of behavior become the identity of the Church and protection of those attributes becomes the primary focus and purpose. Not unlike a motorcycle gang. When this approach is taken, the incident in the above article, and the concerns and approaches suggested in the comments are normal. Church today, in no way represents the early Church of the followers of Jesus .
This is not the case at all, Al. First, keep in mind that what limited information we have about the above indicates that we know almost nothing of what actually happened, and original reports were wrong. Churches, at least the evangelical ones, have never done more to reach out and connect with the community, even while the community is becoming increasingly hostile to us. We live in a fallen world, and we, like everyone else, need to deal with the realities surrounding us, and coming in our doors – which remain open and welcoming. Motorcycle gangs are the antithesis of the Church.
I will also assert that we are becoming more like the early church, not less so. Evangelical denominations are working more closely together than ever to remain a safe place for all. The early church had to meet behind closed doors. We are doing everything we can to keep our doors open.
I disagree with your analysis . Jesus never intended his Church to be a place to give power to the status quo or the self appointed religious elite. He intended his Church to be a place to give hope to people who did not have any.[ like the person in Thom’s post ] Evangelical Churches today offer people political division and nationalism. It’s no surprise worldly behavior like violence is finding a home among-st their walls.
Al, your assessment of the church universal is ludicrous. It is not a place that empowers the elite. It is not a political stage. It is not a nationalist stage. If that is what you are seeing, the problem is either internal or limited to a specific church or a few. Step back into reality.
I am speaking mostly of white protestant evangelical churches in the USA. What country do you live in?
You are speaking, that much is true. Now, if you were speaking factually, honestly, and with any shred of integrity or support…that would be most impressive.
I’ve lived in the States my whole life. Traveled pretty extensively. Always made a point to try and find a church on Sunday. Have a couple degrees related to theology and ministry and a mass of information that flatly proves your statement to be not only uninformed, but patently false and dishonest. But hey, what’s two decades of actual research compared to someone’s opinion? 🙄
Al, the status quo in the United States is becoming more hostile to the Church. A national politician in the last few days opined that Christians should not be eligible for public office. California Senator Kamala Harris a few weeks ago attacked Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for being a member of the Catholic church. Laws hostile to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity are being passed all over the United States.
It’s true that most of the members of my particular denomination in the United States are what you call, “white.” We do everything we can to bring our message of salvation to people of every color. Color has nothing to do with Christianity. I’ve been on one (so far) short – term mission to Togo. Not a lot of “white” people there. By the way, would you like to know the country of the largest, and fastest – growing national organization within my particular denomination? Ethiopia. Other countries, particularly some on the African continent, are beginning to send missionaries to the United States.
And let’s not forget, for a while, the largest number of Christian missionaries came out of Asia. Korea, if memory serves.
Christ taught a pretty clear message: LOVE ALL. Most churches do their level best to do just that. Sure, some don’t. But the majority, the VAST majority, preach, teach, and practice the Word of Christ.
Mr. Cable, what is your background? Whenever I see the word “expert,” I want to know how it was attained. I have a pretty extensive background in security, so part of my interest is to expand my own knowledge base, but I am also generally curious.