We never expected churches and schools to become places of danger, but it’s come to that. On Monday, the Kansas City Police Department held the first of five planned training sessions for church leaders. The first session was designated to serve Northland churches and was held at the KCPD Police Academy north of the river. The session title: “Active Shooter Response Training for Houses of Worship.”
No words heard on the news these days are more chilling than “active shooter.”
That such a threat is possible in churches, synagogues, mosques, or any place where people exercise faith is truly a horrible development in our time.
Churches have always been special places. They are the center of many people’s lives. Even if you are not a church member, when you enter one for a ceremony or special event, there is a feeling of peace and sanctuary. But now they have become magnets for emotionally disturbed humans to carry out violence in unthinkable ways. The commandment thou shall not kill is violated in a sacred place.
Sometimes we can look into the future and predict things. Leaders can look ahead and spot future problems with highways, water supplies and zoning issues. Accurately predicting what people will do in troubled times is more uncertain.
A shooting, bombing or knifing occurring anywhere is deplorable. An active shooter entering a school and taking innocent youth from this world is beyond terrible. But when religious leaders need to plan how to prepare their congregations for the possibility of an active shooter — that is profane.
We must not let ourselves be lulled into thinking that this new normal is okay. It is not okay. One of the great challenges of our times is defusing violence. We are hampered in this by the glorification of violence in video games, movies and television. A roadblock to peacefulness is an internet full of conflict and bad information. The hurdles are high when words used by society’s leaders fan flames. I am a firearms owner and hunter and I do not believe that non-specific gun control measures will solve all problems. But, I do not think the way firearms designed to kill humans are marketed today is helpful to reducing the active shooter threat.
There are several factors that create the bane of our times, the active shooter. Our own intolerance of violence, whether it’s an actual act or a glorified portrayal in media, will be critical to the cure.
We can become desensitized to violence. Back in the late 1980s, there was a rash of robberies at small, old country churches in rural northwest Missouri. Some churches were at a crossroads that once held a general store, but they alone remained standing. Others were atop hills and had always stood alone. Most were spare and Spartan. Many left doors unlocked so whoever passing by needing shelter or a place for prayer could step inside and avail themselves of God’s house. No one thought anyone would dare steal from a modest country church.
But thieves did figure out that they could easily rob these churches. They took whatever antique wooden furnishings they could find, old Bibles that also held community history, perhaps even heavy church pews, maybe even a cross. I visited some of those churches and wrote a news story about the thefts for The Kansas City Star. The story ran on the metro front of the Sunday paper. It was news because people were shocked that a church would be desecrated.
Now, country churches getting robbed seems small compared to the spilling of human blood in a house of worship by a person filled with hatred or mental instabilities. Our church leaders are being trained to help their congregations survive such violence.
I’ve been to an active shooter training session and it’s sobering. When you go into a public place, note where the exits are. If an active shooter appears, run if you can. If you are in a hallway get into a room, lock the doors, barricade the doors, turn off any radios or computers. Hide. If trapped, as a last resort, your best chance of surviving is to fight back.
Those are things they did not teach me in the Methodist Sunday school classes of my youth. Our job now is to work on tenor, tone and attitudes in modern living that will make those lessons unneeded in the future.