In the wake of this morning’s mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, faith leaders across the country are once again asking what they can do to keep something similar from happening at their place of worship.
At the same time, the national conversation about gun laws has resurfaced with a renewed sense of urgency both inside and outside these sacred spaces. Dr. Jamie D. Aten had the opportunity to talk about these important issues with W. Craig Fugate, who served under both Democratic and Republican administrations as the head FEMA administrator from 2009-2017 and as Florida’s Emergency Management Director from 2001-2009. During his time at FEMA, he led responses to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, SC (2015) and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT (2012).
Below, Fugate shares with Aten his perspective on how churches and houses of worship can have a better conversation about how to move forward and prepare for possible events without compromising their core identity or community responsibility.
Aten: What is your reaction to the national conversation that has sprung up about churches and houses of worship taking precautions against mass shootings?
Fugate: The minute we start talking about security in churches and houses of worship, we’re admitting we have a much bigger problem. Places of worship by their very design are to be open and welcoming, not restrictive and exclusive to keep people out. I think that’s going to be a fundamental challenge for faith-based houses of worship: what does security look like while you’re trying to be a welcoming center for people to come?
That’s going to be a hard question. It’s one thing when you’re talking about an airport, but houses of worship by their very nature are designed to be open. They’re designed to be welcoming. That’s going to be a challenge.
So the conversation really needs to be, how do we balance the relative risk against the very nature and the purpose of a house of worship? We can make our house of worship secure, but does that compromise our primary mission? It’s not going to be an easy debate, and people are going to have to take into account that these are still relatively rare events.
To what degree must we deal with this at the front door of a house of worship, versus looking at this more holistically across the community?
Aten: What do you mean when you say that this is part of a bigger problem?
Fugate: I think the problem is that we’re not willing to talk about what makes sense on gun safety; everybody says that the Second Amendment is sanctified and you can’t touch it, but I think too often we use that to stop talking about the issue. Moments of silence are great, but they’re not changing anything. We need to have a conversation about guns and gun safety.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that we have seen anything involving research on this get shut down for fear that it may give us answers that Second Amendment proponents wouldn’t like.
We need to have an honest debate about the role of guns, how they get out there, who can have them, and what makes sense. We need to have a discussion that doesn’t start out with “we can’t do something” or “we must do something.” We should start asking the questions: “What is the role of guns in our society, and how are we going to deal with it?”
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Source: Christianity Today