On April 24, 2016 I sent out an email about a shooting that had happened at Keystone Fellowship Church in North Wales, PA. First reports of this shooting was that a member of the church had started a disturbance and during this disturbance another member pulled a gun and shot the victim in self-defense. Later on, as the investigation progressed the real horror of this situation became apparent, a person who had a Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) made a horrible decision that left a person dead and now the shooter has been charged with manslaughter. Now we have multiple families suffering over two individuals’ horribly bad behavior. Let me be perfectly clear here, even though the victim was acting badly, it does not justify someone taking his life.
As the events of that day started to unfold several things that I have been saying from the beginning of our ministry needs to be reiterated to protect you as a Safety Team Member (STM) from walking into a situation like this. This is why you must train; this is why you must have a Safety Team in place and this is why you need to network to share best practices to not only protect the flock but also protect you and the watchmen or watchwoman for falling prey into these types of incidents.
The latest reports show that the victim came into Keystone Fellowship Church with something very wrong in his life. We may never know why he acted the way he did but the report states that after he came into the church he sat down in a seat that had been reserved by other members of the church. When another member sitting behind him reached up and touched the victim's shoulder to advise him of the seats being saved, the victim turned to the other member and cursed him about touching him. Several reports state that the victim dropped the f-bomb multiple times. Church staff and volunteers confronted the victim in reference to his actions. It is not clear what was said but later some witnesses said the victim cursed out the staff that talked to him and others would state that it appeared that the victim started to calm down. After church staff walked away leaving the victim alone the shooter approached the victim, without consulting with anyone in the church, and asked the victim to step outside while flashing a concealed weapon badge and also showing the victim his gun. This escalated the situation again where the victim punched the shooter in the face at which time the shooter fired two shots hitting the victim in the chest. The victim would later die of the wound.
We could write a book on all the wrong things that happened on April 24, 2016 at Keystone Fellowship Church. For one I have said this over and over again that STMs should stay out of what is going on between staff members and a disruptive attendee unless it goes south and there is a real threat. Only then the STMs steps in to defend the one being attacked.
Once the staff moves away from a disruptive attendee the Safety Team Leader should go to the staff member and discuss the next step. If staff decides that the person needs to be trespassed my suggestion would be to get law enforcement on the way and wait for the perfect time to remove the disruptive attendee. If the disruptive attendee calms down and yet you attempt to remove him during the church service, you are going to look bad, especially if the disruptive attendee who was calm now decides he doesn’t want to leave. Who knows maybe he is really enjoying the sermon. The service may cause the disruptive attendee to be moved and realize the err of their ways and look up the people that he has offended and apologize (this happened in our church). Remember folks we are in church. If the disruptive attendee seems to calm down it is best to wait till the service is over before attempting to approach him again.
Now if the disruptive attendee continues to disrupt the service you should have church staff ask him to leave. If this person becomes violent the STMs should step in. If he refuses to leave I would advise you now, do NOT put your hands on him. This is no different than being in a restaurant and a person becomes disruptive. As long as no one is in danger, stay out of it. If the disruptive attendee becomes violent and starts to hurt someone then let your conscious be your guide. I know what I would do in that scenario, but you had better be prepared to go the distance and the consequences afterwards. If you put your hands on someone it is not over when the police arrive, in fact it has only begun. Let me state this one more time, you have better be prepared to go the distance. This incident is not over when the cavalry arrives, it has only begun and that is if it is a peaceful outcome. If it goes horribly wrong like this one did you will be dealing with this for the rest of your life. After law enforcement arrives there are reports to file, court dates and more court dates and the possibility that the judge may not see it your way. That’s a whole other topic to be discussed another day.
Another thing to think about; if you lose you temper and someone is videotaping the event and you are manhandling the disruptive attendee you are going to look bad. If the witness say you started the fight, it is not going to be a good night when law enforcement arrives. I hope that I am getting into your head right now. Unless you have handled a family disturbance or a domestic fight where all hell has broken loose this can and will be a nasty incident that will test your faith in God and your calling. I know I have been there.
A couple of more things I what to point out and then I will get off my soapbox and let you speak. Right after the shooting at Keystone Fellowship Church the shooter was interviewed. NBC out of Philadelphia wrote “He told the police that he showed his concealed carry badge with hopes of defusing the situation. He said, according to court documents, he had done that in the past and that man “walked away””. I hope and pray that this incident did not happen at Keystone and the church knew about it and didn’t do anything to prevent this from happening again. Say the church knew about this and commended him for his “acts of valor” or even if they knew about it and didn’t say anything hoping it would go away, they are going to have some explaining to do if the family of the victim finds out.
Now let’s bring it home; in reading some of your policies and procedures I want to advise you that you need to make sure that you follow the letter of the law without deviation. Several policies and procedures that I have read would put you in serious civil trouble if followed the way they are written. If you train that way every one of your STMs are in danger of being sued. I would tell you right now unless a person has hit the pastor, the pastor’s wife, a child or some other person worshiping at your church I would be hard pressed to touch them. Unless I found his actions on the verge of causing a riot in the church or endangering a person in the congregation I would let church staff handle it; with STMs staying in the area. Now if church staff takes the disruptive attendee by the arm and that person jerks away and acts in a threatening manner I would say we have a situation that needs to be addressed and whatever steps are necessary to protect the flock you take.
Now some of you are going to do the “But Jim “what if” a disruptive attendee makes his way up on the stage with the pastor and “what if”…….” There are always going to be “what ifs”, always, that is why training is so important to walk through some of the these but I can promise you every time I think I have seen it all another “what if” pops its ugly head up and I realize I still have a lot of work to do.
We have worked very hard to get our churches to understand the need of a Safety Team. Some of your pastors are right there alongside of you wanting to make sure we protect the flock. However, the wolves had started circling this situation pointing out that guns are not needed in a house of worship and this is another reason why stricter gun laws need to be in place to protect those that only show up at church armed with a Bible only to be shot down by an over zealot, gun touting, NRA member and all around crazy person. Don’t believe me? Go here and see for yourselves. Believe me this is only the start. Keep your eyes and ears open and soon we will hear about the Mississippi Church Protection Act being a bad thing. The rhetoric will be something like “don’t go to Mississippi and disagree with someone in church because you may get shot.” Think this is farfetched? Remember when Florida passed the “Stand Your Ground” law anti-gun activist was passing out flyers to people heading to Florida warning them to be careful that if you argue with a Floridian you are likely to get shot.
You have worked really hard to get where you are right now. One horrible mistake like the one that happened in Keystone Fellowship Church and the work you have done to protect your flock will be brought to a screeching halt. The leaders of your church may be supportive, however the congregation will decide. If you take the guns away from the ones that really want to protect the flock the right way, that church opens the door to those that want to harm the ones in the church without fear of being challenged. Remember we do not pick this ministry, God picks us. Search your heart and make sure you and your safety team members are right with God and understand your calling. We are servants of the Lord and our number one responsibility is to serve. We do not go into this position to cause war but to create a peaceful environment. Just as the Shepherd and His flock we must remember we are also there to protect the congregation at all cost.
We at Trinity Security Allies are here to assist you in putting together the best practices in protecting your flock. Please leave your pride at the door. We have dedicated our lives to working with all of you and all you have to do is call. I study what trends are out here and know that it is only going to get worse. I am not trying to put fear in your churches I am just telling you we need to be wise and prepared. Proverbs 2:12-15 says “Wisdom will save you from evil people, from those whose words are twisted. These men turn from the right way to walk down dark paths. They take pleasure in doing wrong, and they enjoy the twisted ways of evil. Their actions are crooked, and their ways are wrong.” And trust me they are coming to church near you soon.
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Jim has many years of law enforcement experience and has run the safety team at his church for several years. TSA was formed after he realized God's calling when multiple churches reached out and asked him to present at their church.