By now you have learned of the incidents among gatherings of the faithful in Monsey, New York and White Settlement, Texas. It’s now time to start learning from them as well.
In the former, a machete-wielding attacker broke into a home where Orthodox Jews were celebrating Hanukah with their rabbi. Five people were wounded, some grievously. The attacker fled the scene and was arrested later in a traffic stop. In Texas, a gunman stood up during a service at the West Highway Church of Christ, brandishing a shotgun. He killed two congregants before being killed himself by a single shot fired by the leader of the church’s volunteer security team.*
There will be many details revealed in the coming days. But there are already are lessons to be learned – and we have an obligation to learn them. As always, the first lesson is to free oneself from the shackles of two deadly lies: “It can’t happen here” and “If it happens, there’s nothing I can do.”
It can happen here, wherever “here” is. America is a huge and glorious place, as diverse in a single nation as any entire continent inhabited by man. Aside from the common characteristic of humans gathering to live out a life of faith, you’d be hard pressed to find places more distinct from one another than White Settlement, Texas and Monsey, New York. A large suburban church congregation is hardly an intimate gathering of believers at a rabbi’s house. It can happen in your “here,” and if it does . . .
You not only can do something, you must. Over and over and over again we have learned that those who attack places of worship, attackers who are not confronted, as in the first mosque targeted in New Zealand, will kill and kill and kill. On the other hand, once confronted with any force at all (even a thrown credit card machine, as in the second mosque targeted in New Zealand) most attackers will divert or break off their attack. Especially and necessarily so if the confrontation leaves them dead. So, to that end. . .
Arm yourself. Jeff Cooper famously said that “an unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it.” The Monsey Jews were disarmed by the State of New York, prohibited most effective weapons even in a home like the one where the attack occurred. The White Settlement Christians were free under their state’s laws to be armed, and armed in church, and many of those there considered all that must considered, then armed themselves. That said, John Steinbeck explained that no mere gun is enough – because the gun is not really the weapon** – so you had better. . .
Train. Train with your chosen tools. Train realistically, frequently, honestly. Practice in a way that provides relentlessly objective metrics. (“Wearing this, while seated like this, I can draw from concealment this fast and put a shot on a target this large at this distance 100% of the time.”) Then tell yourself the truth about yourself. Jack Wilson, the man who took down the West Highway Church shooter, drew and fired, connecting with a single head shot, in something under two seconds at a range of perhaps 50 feet. This is prodigious skill and Wilson, a firearms instructor, had to have trained long, hard and well to attain it. But what mattered more than that skill was that he knew he had that skill. He obeyed the rule that a man has to know his limitations and then he acted within them.**** Your limitations may be different and may demand a different action. But whatever those limitations, you must. . .
Act. I’ve said it in this space time and time again: Do everything you can to avoid violence. But when the time comes for violence, the crucial thing is to be violent enough fast enough. One could hardly have embodied that more perfectly than Mr. Wilson. But, although he will rightly be lauded as a hero, note that he also understood that. . . .
It isn’t enough to act alone. Church security is a matter of resolving the Pastor’s Paradox. This is the tension between creating a church that is safe for the flock***** while still open to the very troubled people who need to be there the most. Mr. Wilson was the leader of a team. I am, too. These demand sacrificial commitment from their members – to train, to show up, to do what has to be done. Such teams demand systemic integration into the entire matrix of church security, from the congregants themselves, greeters handing out programs to the uniformed security guards in the marked cars. They demand customized tactics, techniques and protocols fit for your unique place of worship. And events like those in Texas or New York -- confrontation of a revealed threat -- are a vanishingly rare departure from a far less dramatic routine; they are outlier events that most, blessedly, will never encounter. So your TTPs and training need to be about confronting shooters, but, also about more esoteric practices like threat recognition and verbal deescalation. You will – and thank heaven for this – talk down seven times seventy congregants irritated about the parking, or peeved about the use of handbells during the worship, or vexed about the coffee running out in the fellowship hall before you ever encounter a “real threat.” But if you have a team in place,****** then, by the grace of God and to His glory, you will have a prayer that your own Mr. Wilson is in the right place at the right time. Because, in the end. . . .
We are commanded to go forth among the wolves.******* And wisdom demands we learn the lessons we are given to learn.
* We know who carried out the Monsey attack, and why, and how they gained entry. Details of the West Highway Church attacker aren’t out yet, and we don’t know how a man dressed as he was, concealing a long gun, evidently wearing a fake beard and wig, gained entry in the first place. [And let’s be clear from the jump: Neither this, nor anything below, is gratuitous criticism. This isn’t “Monday Morning Quarterbacking.” We simply must be unflinchingly honest with ourselves about events like these, ruthless in our assessments of the events and ourselves. We do the dead and injured no honor to ignore even the hardest truths about what happened.]
** “The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental.” John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
*** He was also blessed with something one will rarely encounter in a crowded sanctuary – a clear, solid and unoccupied backstop. The Four Rules always apply.
**** Tragically, another congregant did not. He stood up close to the shooter and – having pulled the shooter’s attention – attempted a draw he couldn’t win against an already drawn shotgun. This man paid with his life. His actions were heroic. He stood in the gap. And that may well have been efficacious in that it distracted the shooter from harming some other congregant. But he had other choices he could have made (a surreptitious draw, a shot while seated) that might have better availed him. [As above, I mean this as no judgment on a man who, my faith tells me, I will one day joyfully meet in heaven. But his death has lessons to teach. Shame on us if we diminish it by ignoring them.]
***** That is easy to do. The result is a church that looks like a prison.
****** Those interested in this topic in a practical way should feel free to contact me via email. Besides the links provided here to some excellent resources, I can offer other advice and materials.
******* Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Matt. 10:16