Congregations adjust to shifting gun policies and the threat of active shooters.
Warren Mitchell, a veteran police officer and member of a prominent African American congregation in Dallas, has seen the lines blur between his work and church life over the past several years.
On Sundays, “you just can’t sit comfortably, especially from my seat, because I know I’m responsible for the security of the church,” said Mitchell, who leads a 75-member security team at the Friendship-West Baptist Church.
His congregation—like others across the country—has been forced to shift strategies and ramp up training in the wake of recent threats.
After a white supremacist killed nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, Mitchell’s 12,000-member megachurch expanded active shooter drills to other ministry teams beyond security, including hospitality teams and ushers. “Everybody needed to be a part of providing a safe environment,” Mitchell said.
Then the church’s pastor, Frederick D. Haynes III, reportedly appeared on a hit list alongside several progressive politicians who received pipe bombs in the mail last year, and the congregation was on alert once again.
Attacks on US churches by angry outsiders remain relatively rare. But they have been happening more frequently and more prominently.
An estimated 617 worshipers have been killed in violent incidents in the US since 1999, and the number of attacks at houses of worship has risen almost every year, according to data from the Faith-Based Security Network (FBSN).
This November will be the second anniversary of the deadliest church shooting in modern history: the ambush on tiny First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26 people. Since then, …