There were at least 1,237 crimes committed against Christian churches and ministries in the United States this past year, according to a report released Monday.
Included among the crimes are 12 homicides and 38 other violent incidents – including three sexual assaults and three kidnappings – 98 arsons and over 700 burglaries, according to the 2009 "Crimes Against Christian Organizations in the United States" report published by the Christian Security Network.
The network said the church burglaries resulted in an estimated $24 million in property loss.
"It is disheartening to see all these incidents and loss of life in churches in 2009 and even sadder because we know 2010 isn't going to be any different unless the status-quo changes," said Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network, in announcing the release of the report.
Hawkins, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and security, went on to say that criminals do not care that they are targeting a church, but see them as "soft targets."
The crime report, the first of its kind, specifically tracks incidents against Christian organizations, mostly churches, in the entire year of 2009. It highlighted the difficulty in determining exactly how many incidents occur because there is no mandatory reporting of these crimes to any government agency or organizations.
Though the FBI has established Hate Crimes statistics and the agency reports on crimes against churches and religious organizations, very few crimes against churches and Christian organizations are classified as hate crimes because it is difficult to determine the motive for the crime, the report explains.
What further makes it difficult to determine the number of crimes against Christian organizations is the fact that many of the crimes go unreported. Churches and ministries, for various reasons including forgiveness of the offender to fear of bad publicity, do not always report crimes.
"Certain crimes like homicides or arsons, are easier to document; property crimes are much more difficult and most likely the rates are much higher than contained in this report, conservatively five to six times higher, making total incidents and dollar loss much greater," Hawkins commented.
Despite the difficulties, the Christian Security Network said it tried to collect as many incidents as possible from a variety of sources, including the FBI's Uniformed Crime Report and the National Fire Protection Association, over the past 12 months with the hope to show a "statistical sampling" of what happened in 2009 and compare it to future reports.
The network said it approached the collection of data in a conservative manner, only counting criminal incidents where the church or ministry building, staff, volunteers, or guests were the actual target or victim. It did not, for instance, count a death on church property if the church was closed at the time or if the death had no connection to the church.
"These are not just numbers, these are people who have been killed or seriously injured serving their church," said Hawkins. "The church is supposed to be a place of peace and protection. Many of these incidents just didn't have to happen. With a few precautions, changes in operations, and training of staff and volunteers, they may have been averted.
"The church has to start taking responsibility for the safety of their staff, volunteers, and congregation and good stewards of the gifts God has provided," he added.
Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, Christian Security Network provides Christian churches and organizations with training, information and resources to create a safer work or worship environment.