Churches are generally known as safe havens, spiritual buildings where congregations gather for prayer and bond together in their faith.
Inside their walls preachers, pastors and priests discuss the events happening outside of them.
So, as the words “mass murder” and “shooting” show up in headlines across the country, they also make their way through the front doors of churches and into church leader’s speeches and sermons.
As does the word “protection.”
Protection has become a topic of discussion in many of the southern Baptist churches within the New River Baptist Association, according to its director, Joe Capper.
“People have concerns for safety these days, for their own safety and safety of their families,” Capper said.
Congregations within the New River Baptist Association are discussing whether members with concealed carry permits should be allowed to bring guns into the church, he continued. They look at situations like the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, that left nine dead.
Centerview Baptist Church Pastor Mark Thompson said he has his concealed carry permit, but he doesn’t carry his gun on him while he preaches.
He doesn’t need to, he said, because several members of his congregation have theirs.
Thompson served 28 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and said he does carry his gun on him in the church when he’s out of the pulpit, specifically during office hours.
“I like to provide some measure of protection,” he said.
While he said he has no issue with members carrying their guns in church, he does believe they should be properly trained. The responsibility of carrying a gun is heavy and the carrier needs to be trained in how to use it properly to prevent accidentally harming themselves or others.
It’s not just mass shootings that Thompson worries over, though. He cited examples like custody disputes and potential kidnappings.
Wayne Mixon, the chairman for First Baptist Church of Swansboro’s Safety and Security Council agreed custody disputes are a worry for churches. A mother can leave her child with the nursery while she attends the Sunday service. While she’s away, the father could come in and pick the child up.
It’s important to have a protocol for how to handle that situation, Mixon said. He mentioned having a buzzer or similar safeguard so that the person who drops a child off in the nursery is easy to identify as the person who picks the child up.
“Ultimately, we want to protect innocent human life whenever and wherever possible,” said Brian O’Day, the pastor of the Pillar Church of Jacksonville.
Carrying a gun is allowed according to the law of the land, O’Day said, and as a church they want to submit to that authority and allow their members the same freedom.
Carrying guns in the church is not an official topic at Pillar, O’Day said, and it doesn’t need to be.
About 90 percent of his congregation is active duty military and their families. Those among them carrying guns to Sunday services are highly trained and O’Day said he feels confident in their abilities to handle a “shoot or don’t shoot scenario.” O’Day declined to comment on whether he has his concealed carry permit.
The majority of his church members do carry guns; and unless there’s a future reason why he needs to, O’Day said he doesn’t want to strip them of their rights.
Concealed carry is one of the topics Mixon breached and said churches who have a security team should ensure they have the proper insurance to cover any incidents. Concealed carry permits cover protection of yourself, your family and your property, he said, and do not extend to cover the protection of a church’s congregation.
There are certificates a church security team can look into, Mixon said, including private investigator and private security team certifications.
For those questioning whether to allow their congregation to conceal carry within the church or not, Capper said there are legal and ethical issues, insurance and policies to consider.
“It’s not just a matter of saying we will allow concealed carry for our church and then if the bad guys know . . . they won’t try anything,” Capper said, adding that if they post a “no weapons” sign then they could be projecting the image that criminals could do what they want because there’s no threat.
It’s a different society than it used to be, Capper said, and all aspects need to be considered.