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: