Interfaith Collaboration May Be the Future of Security for Houses of Worship

A couple embrace near a growing memorial across the street from the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, Calif., on April 29, 2019. A gunman opened fire, killing one person, on April 27, 2019, as about 100 people were worshipping. The attack happened exactly six months after a mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue. (AP Photo/Greg Bull)

Last month, on the last day of Passover, a man armed with an AR-15-style rifle stormed into the Chabad of Poway synagogue in suburban San Diego and killed one worshipper and left three others injured. Later, the gunman reportedly confessed to burning a nearby mosque as well.

The attack came exactly six months to the day after 11 worshippers were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack America has ever seen.

But according to religious leaders, virtually no faith community has been spared violence – firebombings, mass shootings and more – over the past few years.

Poway and Pittsburgh were preceded by the 2017 attack on a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 people were killed. The same year in Quebec City, Canada, six worshippers were killed at a mosque. In 2015, in Charleston, S.C., nine people were left dead at a black church. Six more were killed at a Sikh gurdwara in 2012 in Oak Creek, Wis. And far too many more.

In response, faith leaders across the country are putting their heads together to help protect their congregations — and to do so, they’re increasingly crossing denominational lines.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. walks past the front doors where bullet holes were marked by police at the First Baptist Church on Nov. 7, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A man opened fire inside the church in the small South Texas community, killing more than two dozen and injuring others. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“It doesn’t matter what you call God or a higher power,” said Andy Jabbour, managing director of the Faith-Based Information Sharing and Analysis Organization in Leesburg, Va. “We all have a right to come together and worship, so we have to protect that right for all of us.”

Jabbour co-founded the nonprofit last year with the aim of forming a network of U.S. houses of worship and faith-based charities to equip them against security threats, from arson and active shooter situations to hacked emails.

“We’re a community, whether we’re one faith or another,” Jabbour said. “They might be targeting you today, but they might turn around and go to yours tomorrow. So we need to collaborate and exchange notes so we can share solutions.”

In Owings Mills, Md., more than 50 diverse faith leaders gathered this week to launch the new Interfaith Coalition of Greater Baltimore, which kicked off with a local summit on safety and security for faith-based organizations. There, civil rights advocates and local police offered bystander intervention training, advice on grant applications for security, and practical safety measures leaders can take to protect their organizations.

Within hours of the attack on the Poway synagogue, another alliance, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, launched a global effort to prepare synagogues for new threats of violence through interfaith cooperation.

“We want to make sure that every synagogue in the world is prepared to protect themselves against attacks like the ones we’ve seen recently,” said Yael Eckstein, president of the IFCJ. “We have been able to rely on our Christian friends again and again to step up and provide emergency assistance to Jews in need, including Holocaust survivors. Now we are asking them to help us in this effort to protect our communities from extremists who want to shatter our peace with their acts of terror.”

Because of grim historical realities, synagogues, African American churches and mosques have offered their experience to houses of worship that are just now beginning to wrestle with security issues.

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Source: Religion News Service