The 14th Annual National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management National Church Security Conference is a wrap. Three of the four members of our church security collaborative inquiry team attended the conference at Grace Church in Frisco, Texas.
I was invited into this project because of my long history of work in the sociology of religion, and my more recent work in the sociology of guns and familiarity with gun culture. At this conference, much of the content was familiar to me from my immersion in the world of self-defense gun training.
We heard about Van Horne and Riley’s “Left of Bang,” about situational awareness and responses to life-threatening events, about mindset and other “tools of the trade” (baton, taser, OC spray, lights, optics, handguns). We even rehashed various debates over ballistics like 9mm vs. .45, +P loads, handguns vs. rifles, and wound cavities.
Many of the presenters, as in gun training more generally, came from military backgrounds. Although there is nothing wrong with that per se, models of engagement in civilian contexts can be quite different than in other “theaters of operation.”
But when you are forming “security teams” to “harden your perimeter” and protect important “assets” (children, congregants, the “package,” i.e., pastor), it is easy to see why a paramilitary orientation can slide in quite easily. (This is similar to what Harel Shapria found when studying the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps patrolling for undocumented migrants on the Southern Arizona border, as reported in his book, Waiting for Jose: The Minutemen’s Pursuit of America.)
After the conference, I asked the social media hive mind about the origins of a phrase I was surprised to hear invoked a couple of times at this church security conference. I had heard this before in gun settings before, but it seemed somewhat out of place in talking about church security:
Turns out this was originally spoken/written by Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis to Marines deploying overseas.
I could help but wonder whether this sentiment is also applicable when houses of worship are your primary “theater of engagement”?
In fact, I often found myself wondering what, if anything, was different about church security than other forms of armed self-defense? There was (surprisingly?) very little theology at the conference, and only one speaker really set his comments in the (unique?) context of religious organizations.
Further reflections on this point are forthcoming.