LIMA — Churches are meant to be safe places of edification and divine communion. However, recent shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee, and, most recently, Sutherland Springs, Texas, have shattered the notion that violence cannot enter these houses of worship.
As churches wrestle with how to respond to these tragic acts of violence, two Lima ministers have a unique perspective on these events, with both also serving in law enforcement.
Allen County Sheriff Deputy Damian Tibbs is also the pastor of New Life Christian Ministries in Lima, and for him, concerns about church safety is an outgrowth of the changing culture.
“Although we want to portray the church as a safe environment, we have to be able to relate to the times that we’re in,” he said. “Even myself, as a police officer that’s stationed in the schools, that says a lot right there. Years ago, that would have never been necessary, but that’s the times we’re living in now.”
Maj. Jim Baker of the Lima Police Department is also the pastor of North Park Community Church in Lima. For him, while emphasizing the sovereignty of God and the capacity for divine protection, it is still incumbent upon the church to look into measures to protect itself in uncertain times.
“We know that God’s sovereign and in control, but at the same time, he wants us to use our good common sense,” he said.
In the wake of these shootings, Tibbs said he has begun to receive calls and has been to some churches to conduct ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) active shooter training for congregations. Other measures include security cameras, locking doors after services begin, training ushers to look for warning signs or permitting congregants with concealed handgun licenses to carry firearms into churches. While Tibbs said he does not endorse one plan over another, having concealed weapons in church could be a double-edged sword, a sentiment echoed by Baker.
“It could lead to crossfire issues,” Tibbs said. “Casualties could be church members instead of the armed intruder.”
“If your church allows people to come in carrying conceal, that’s one thing, but if you ask them specifically to take any action, then you have this huge shift in liability,” Baker said. “Some insurance carriers will cancel your insurance policy for the church.”
As churches decide how to address safety issues, Tibbs said the first step would be to take stock of the church building.
“Where are our weak spots?” he said. “How can we play better defense?”
The Lima Police Department can help with that, Baker said, with safety assessments offered at no charge to houses of worship.
“Our crime prevention aides do a complete study survey for churches to let them know about things they can do to increase their security,” he said. “It’s specifically designed for houses of worship.”