Tending to the Safety of our People in Church
There has been much conversation in conventional media and social media about what churches should do to best prepare and protect themselves against a violent intruder. I googled “church active shooter” and got 2,940,000 hits. There is no lack of options, suggestions, analyses, and arguments available with the click of a mouse. So, the few things that I will mention here are not meant to be all that could be considered or proposed. Nevertheless, I do believe that it is appropriate for the synod’s bishop to draw attention to particular points having to do with the care of God’s people in our churches, particularly in light of the recent advice to churches conveyed over some media that church members should carry firearms with them to church in order to protect themselves and others.
First, I have looked through resources for congregations provided by Church Mutual Insurance Company and have received permission from Church Mutual to include their links to these resources in this email to you. Let me recommend them to you:
Armed intruder webinar series
In general, these resources promote preparation for an active shooter event with an ALICE approach:
Please look at the resources for explanations of each of the ALICE elements. The second and third armed intruder webinars on the first link above make mention of it being unwise to carry a gun to fire upon a violent intruder, but the issue is not dealt with at length.
Second, let me introduce legal considerations. The Illinois concealed carry statute lists places where legal weapons are not permitted; churches are not included in the list. However, any building housing a preschool is included, so any church with a preschool should be subject to a non-waivable prohibition on concealed weapons on the premises. Churches not covered by the automatic ban on concealed weapons in the statute can prohibit them by placing the “no guns” sticker at the entrance to the building. But what if a congregation encourages members to carry in church? There are legal ramifications of this.
Our synod attorney offers the following consideration to our congregations:
Allowing concealed weapons on premises is an invitation to liability in the event something goes wrong. The church has implied knowledge that there are loaded, concealed weapons on premises. It is not hard to make the argument that the church “knew, or in the exercise of ordinary care, should have known” that having concealed weapons on premises might cause bodily harm to innocent bystanders. That doesn’t mean the church is automatically liable. The injured party would have to prove the church was negligent under those particular facts and the church would be able to claim that it was not negligent. Negligence is doing something a reasonable person would not have done or failed to do something a reasonable person would have done. A church that issues an open invitation to concealed weapons has already taken a lot of steps toward establishing a liability situation in the event of a shooting mishap. You can come up with all sorts of hypotheticals, but if your first question to the church in any of the hypothetical situations is “Well, what did you expect?” then you most likely are dealing with a liability problem.
Third, here is a link to a copy of “A Pastoral Letter on Violence” which was first offered to the Church by the ELCA Conference of Bishops in 2013. I would like to draw your attention to two features of the letter: 1) its balanced treatment of the matter of gun ownership, and 2) that it points us to ELCA-produced resources for addressing violence that have been available to us for years – violence issues are not new.
Finally, please reflect on what it means to be the body of Christ and to be witnesses to Christ as you consider how respond to today’s needs for safety and protection in the church. After all, we are Christ’s Church – all that we are and all that we do flows out of the life and salvation that God has prepared for all people. How do we best witness to this sovereign, creative love of God, even in our this-worldly security planning?
S. John Roth
Central/Southern Illinois Synod (ELCA)