Put on the Whole Armor: ‘Be Prepared to Watch, Fight and Pray’

The Bible declares in the book of Isaiah 26:3 that “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”

Many pastors and church-goers have now become mindful of the fact that there are some really sick and twisted individuals in this world who have absolutely no problem disrupting their peace and seeking to harm them, even while worshipping God in their place of worship.

With the recent deadly shootings, particularly those that have been happening in places of worship, many pastors and parishioners across this country are having a tough time keeping their minds focused on God, while having to be concerned with their personal safety as well.

In addition to trusting in God and holding on to their faith, many churches have also chosen to take initiative to proactively get training on how to deal with an active shooter if encountered.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott called it “the largest mass shooting in state history,” and it was truly a dark day in this country, when 26-year-old Devin Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, November 5, 2017, and proceeded to shoot and kill 25 parishioners with an assault rifle, along with the unborn child one of the victims was carrying.

Although there have been other deadly shootings that have taken place over the past several years, this shooting has seemingly served as a wake-up call for many individuals who

have always looked at the church as a therapeutic escape from the world’s problems.

The Sutherlands Springs massacre comes on the heels of another church shooting that took place on a Sunday morning in September, right outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson opened fire on several individuals at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, where one woman was killed and seven others were injured. And of course, the nation can never forget the horrific murders that took place during a prayer meeting in 2015, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., where 21-year-old White supremacist Dylan Roof committed one of the most heinous and atrocious acts of violence against Black people in this history of this country, killing nine African American men and women – sisters and brothers – friends and family – in cold blood inside of a church.

Now, after coming off the worst mass shooting in Texas history, and the other tragic incidents that have taken place at the aforementioned churches, another startling incident has occurred that has left many Houstonians concerned and seeking answers.

This past Sunday, November 26th, 20-year-old Keanu Randolph allegedly showed up in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward with a gun and threatened to use it on some of the church members who were at a worship service at the Greater Sunrise Missionary Baptist Church.

According to investigators, witnesses say that Randolph pulled out the gun while standing on the street after being forced to leave the church building because he was cursing and being disrespectful to the pastor. A deacon in the church eventually called 9-1-1 and ended up following Randolph in a truck for several blocks until police arrived. According to police, once they arrived on the scene, officers ordered Randolph to put his hands up and he refused and ran, but they eventually caught up with him and took him into custody. Upon searching the backpack that Randolph was carrying, officers state they found a stolen loaded gun and 9-inch knife inside of the bag. While being arrested, police state that Randolph threatened the deacon that followed him and his family. According to police, Randolph said, “When I get out, I’m going to kill you, rape your wife and hurt your girl. I know where you live across from the church.”

Authorities charged Randolph with carrying a weapon, evading arrest and retaliation, but the alarming thing for many was that a judge only issued him a $7,000 bond and ordered him to stay away from the church and have no contact with the victim. He is currently in Harris County Jail.

John Horton, the pastor of Greater Sunrise Missionary Baptist Church, is said to be considering changing the way they look at security, with he and his staff being legally armed, as one of the primary options.

This incident in Houston could have ended tragically for the elders, children and parishioners inside the church, in the same way it did in Sutherland Springs, which is why the conversation about whether all attendees of the church should be legally armed and trained to deal with situations like this, should they escalate.

Since the signing of Senate Bill 2065 by Governor Abbott that went into effect on September 1st, it appears many churches are seriously rethinking their approach to safety and security, while seeking to maintain their respect for the church grounds as a place of holiness. Prior to this new law, the prohibition on possession of firearms by License To Carry individuals at places of worship was only enforceable if the location was posted or verbal notice was given. Senate Bill 2065 allows volunteers providing security at places of worship to be exempt from the requirements of the Private Security Act and gives congregation leaders the ability to authorize and approve select License To Carry holders to be armed in their respective churches.

Church leaders like Pastor E.A. Deckard of the Greenhouse International Church believes that in today’s culture, every church should create a Security Ministry which should include law enforcement officers, military personnel, and well trained individuals in church with concealed gun license.

“The church community should use the past church shootings as an alarm sounding and put plans in place to better secure and protect the church,” said Pastor Deckard. “The biggest threat that the church faces today from individuals with bad intentions is the myth that the church is a safe haven and nothing like that would ever happen at “our church.” Because of this false feeling of protection, I believe the church is often an easy target to attack. Imagine a bank without security, because only the people with money go to the bank. The 21st Century church must be more like Nehemiah and be prepared to watch, fight and pray, all at the same time.”

Some pastors are not so quick to move towards having a fully armed congregation, but do see the need to address these issues of violence that are affecting so many churches across the country.

“We never want to have a shootout in the sanctuary, but doing nothing loses more lives, so we have to do something,” said Pastor Gerald Shanks of Mary Olive Baptist Church in Third Ward, who attended a Church Security Workshop put on by the Houston Police Department this past Tuesday. “It is important that we are proactive and train our staff and our members on exactly what to do.”

According to Bishop James Dixon II, pastor of The Community of Faith Church, the official security team should be the only persons allowed to carry weapons in the church, because he believes the church will not be considered a safe place if all members are allowed to do so.

“There are simply too many people in a confined area,” said Bishop Dixon. “Churches should work to provide an environment wherein attendees feel safe due the security plan the church has designed and implemented. People feel relatively safe in airports and most government buildings because they are aware that there are plans in place. Churches have not had to do this before. But this is where we are today. We must make safety the highest priority.”

Bishop Dixon states that every public venue is a possible place for tragedy to break out, especially churches, but believes there are things that can be done to minimize the risk of this happening.

“Churches like The Community Of Faith where I am pastor, must do the painstaking work of planning and implementing sophisticated plans for security,” said Bishop Dixon. “These plans must focus worshipper, church leadership and facility safety. Obviously, the larger the facility and the more people attending, the more difficult such places are to secure. This necessitates even more elaborate plans and security systems. Preventing easy and unobservable access should be a part of the plan. Also, being aware of every vehicle that has access to the parking lot through cameras and teams monitoring all activities is extremely important. Manning facilities with trained and professional security personnel is next. Churches should take advantage of programs and educational sessions that are being offered to churches free of charge. Also, pastors, like me, are willing to assist other churches in their efforts to become security proficient.”

To help deal with the recent tragedies that have occurred close to home and abroad, Constable Gary Majors of the Fort Bend County Precinct 2 Constable’s Office recently held a symposium to make Pastoral and Clergy Leaders aware of what can be done to help prevent cowardly acts leading to incidents similar to those that have taken place. They invited Pastors and Clergy Leaders of any and all religious affiliations to participate, and also invited members from the ATF and other local law enforcement agencies to come together for the wellbeing of the community. They also had a Conceal Handgun Instructors on hand to help with any questions anyone had concerning State of Texas concealed license permits.

“The aim of this Symposium was to foster a meaningful dialogue between church leaders and law enforcement,” said Constable Majors. “We recognize that strong community partnerships help to reduce crime and increase public safety. We wanted those in attendance to leave educated to the law and what can be done to protect themselves and their congregation. It is imperative to discuss steps we can take right now to maintain and improve public safety in our communities and in any place of worship.”

Constable Majors says that the inability to identify an Active Shooter situation could potentially cost lives. He states that all congregational leaders and their staff must improve their knowledge on what to look for and what to do if they see something of concern.

“No amount of planning can stop someone from wanting to harm others. Nevertheless, having a plan of action and response can make your church a more difficult target and can help reduce the harm if violence occurs,” said Constable Majors. “Everyone involved in church leadership, including those who are often the frontline of security responses, should be involved in considering the risks that are present in a specific church. We must allow the church to still be the church, but people must be properly trained and comfortable with carrying and using a lethal force option.”

There is no system that could totally prevent any church or venue from being attacked but the more prepared the organization is in regards to security could significantly decrease the amount of harm done. You may not be able to prevent it but you can definitely end it sooner. It is time for all churches to look at their current security plans to ensure they are doing everything in their power and ability to keep their congregation safe.