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How Should Churches Respond to Mass Shootings?

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An interview with former FEMA Chief W. Craig Fugate in light of the Tree of Life Synagogue Tragedy.

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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 ...

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