The Rev. Chris Hill, senior pastor of The Potter's House of Denver in Colorado, has shared that members of his congregation who were once critical of the presence of armed guards in the sanctuary now understand the necessity of such security measures in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.
The Charleston shooting was certainly not the first time a church had been targeted by a gunman. The Christian Post reported in 2012 that a former employee of Creflo Dollar's World Changers Church International in College Park, Georgia, had walked into an early morning Bible study and shot a member point blank while he prayed. In 2009, late-term abortion Dr. George Tiller was murdered while serving as an usher at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. In fact, Carl Chinn, a former Focus on the Family safety manager and a church security expert, tracks "deadly force incidents" at faith-based organizations. According to Chinn's data, there have been 971 such incidents between Jan. 1, 1999 and Feb. 15 of this year.
"You are not safe on a plane. You are not safe in an elementary school. You are not safe in a high school. You are not safe in a movie theater. Guess what? You are not safe in a church," Hill told The New York Times in a "Protecting the Sanctuary" video feature on The Potter's House of Denver published this week.
Hill shared that the church he grew up in did not have a safety team, and did not need one. Times are different now, he said, "We need safety."
"This is a pastor who is doing Bible study on Wednesday night. I do Bible study on Wednesday night, for the last 25 years," Hill said at another point. "For someone in my calling and in profession, that just hits home."
Hill was referencing the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator and pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Pinckney, along with eight members of his congregation, were murdered in cold blood by a white supremacist during a Bible study at the church on June 17. Dylann Storm Roof, the alleged confessed 21-year-old gunman, was charged for the murders, reportedly inspired by his desire to simply kill black Americans.
The Colorado pastor was not the only church leader considering, perhaps again, the security of his congregation since the Emanuel A.M.E. mass shooting, although Hill installed safety measures for The Potter's House of Denver years ago. In June, The Wall Street Journal spoke with several black pastors who said they were seriously considering for the first time incorporating armed guards in their churches' safety measures.
Hill said some members who were previously critical of his desire for a semi-armed security team called him after the Charleston shooting and said, "Now I get it. Now I understand."
The Times video gives an inside look at how Hill's 25-member security team does its job in protecting the congregation and its pastor. Hill also gives insight into the makeup of the 7,000-member congregation, which he shared was about 50 percent black and 35 percent white, with the remaining members being Latino and of other ethnicities.
Watch the "Protecting the Sanctuary" video below:
The Potter's House of Denver is located less than five miles from the Aurora movie theater where gunman James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others. Hill cited the 2012 case in a Christian Post op-ed last week, in which he explained learning about the tragedy while on a family vacation.
"I was literally shaking with emotion. Had my family and I stayed home for vacation, we would have been in that same theatre, at that same time, on that night," Hill wrote.
He added: "Violence is no longer confined to the 'inner city.' We know, first hand, that it can creep into your quiet suburban mall and interrupt your favorite movie. It now comes to church."
Hill shared in his op-ed comparing the two cases that it was also during "first real break since the Aurora shooting" that he learned of the massacre at Emanuel A.M.E. Church.
"The intent of these shooters was simple — they sought to terrorize us in our safe places. They bring their imagined battlefields to our places of community peace," Hill wrote of Holmes and Roof.
These two men, he claimed, were "undeterred by the innocence of children in the movie theatre or the sanctity of the open arms of the church" and shared the same identity as "thieves coming to steal our sense of safety, to destroy our feeling of community, and to kill our public peace."
"In Aurora, we had to decide to not allow the shooter to win. We had to decide to still take our children to the movies, and to the mall, and to church. We choose, daily, to take a stand against fear," Hill added.
"This is my word to Charleston — live your life fearlessly. This is how you will defeat this terrorist and disarm this killer of the beloved community," he concluded.
The Potter's House of Denver, previously the Heritage Christian Center, came under Hill's leadership in 2010. The nondenominational megachurch is an expansion of The Potter's House of Dallas founded by Bishop T.D. Jakes but operates independently.