Magazine article The Christian Century

Black Churches Debate Forms of Protection after Fires, Deaths

Magazine article The Christian Century

Black Churches Debate Forms of Protection after Fires, Deaths

Article excerpt

The leader of the National Baptist Convention, USA, says churches should "do everything that is humanly possible" to protect themselves--even if it means hiring armed guards.

But the head of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination would rather churches call 911 if necessary.

After nine people were fatally shot at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, and several black churches have burned, officials of mostly black denominations are taking different approaches to safety issues.

More than 1,000 people took part in a Department of Homeland Security webinar July 1 that emphasized measures to prepare for a range of crises.

Barbara Williams-Skinner, cochair of the National African American Clergy Network, tuned in to the webinar and heard advice on how congregations should connect with first responders.

"Some churches are doing that," she said. "Others had not been, and I think the Charleston church massacre helped people to understand that houses of worship that welcome strangers also have to be ready for strangers that mean harm." Leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church said the denomination is preparing congregations to "set up safety watches and take preventative measures to protect human life and physical assets."

Jerry Young, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, said he will advise members of his predominantly black denomination to take new measures, from installing interior and exterior video cameras to having office security systems buzz in visitors.

"We are in consultation even now with the experts to assist us in making sure we get to all of our constituent churches instruction, advice, and suggestions as to how they can actually beef up security around the worship centers," he said.

In his opinion, that can include armed guards. But George Battle Jr., the senior bishop of the AME Zion Church, doesn't think guns should be an option.

"We're not going to have any guns on our property," he said. …

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