'Sheepdog' sessions prep churches for violence
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- Churches have long been considered safe havens for worship but, with 433 people killed on church property since 1999, they have become more dangerous than schools.
Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, knows such violence firsthand. A shooter entered a youth service in 1999, killed seven and wounded seven others.
Wedgewood hosted a "Sheepdog Seminar" this spring, providing training for 350 church representatives to prevent and respond to violent attacks. Seminar leaders referred to attendees as "sheepdogs" or protectors of their churches.
"I think there's something that God's people can do that we're not doing," Jimmy Meeks, seminar leader and a police veteran of more than 30 years, said of the need for church preparedness.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (retired), another speaker whose book "On Killing" was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, said denial of the occurrence of violence is a major enemy of the church.
"The church has sat and done nothing while our kids are desensitized," Grossman said, proffering that violent video games and movies are encouraging a generation of youth to use force against society's most vulnerable.
"They're gonna seek victims that can't fight back in places that guns aren't allowed," often at churches and schools, Grossman said.
Meeks encouraged churches to mobilize safety teams, training and licensing them to carry and use guns to the extent of the law. No church members should join solely for the purpose of hurting those who might seem to be "bad guys," Meeks said.
"It's not about how to hurt the shooter but to protect the sheep," he noted.
The seminar was not limited to gun violence. Attorney Greg Love of MinistrySafe said churches need to be on their guard against sexual predators.
"It starts with understanding it's even possible," Love said. He advised churches to conduct thorough background checks, educate their members and encourage them to report problems, even if reputations are at stake.
"We expect and desire that kids be safer at our program than any other," Love said of the church.
Churches also must rely on the power of God to fight against violence, Meeks said, encouraging prayer, fasting, wisdom, courage and love.
"It will take more than a good man with a gun to stop a bad man with a gun," Meeks said. "We need more than guns -- we're gonna need the power of God."
Seminar attendees heard from families who have lost members in church shootings and viewed the film "Faith Under Fire," based on the 1980 shooting at First Baptist Church in Dangerfield, Texas.
Each of the 13 speakers during the May 6-7 seminar noted the importance of churches preparing for violence physically, mentally or spiritually.
Host pastor Al Meredith said churches must tailor ministry to the times in which we live.
"I don't know if it's the best of times or the worst of times," Meredith said, "but it's the only times we've got."
Michelle Tyer is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Information on Sheepdog seminars is available at sheepdogseminarsforchurches.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).