Churches: Sitting Ducks for Those with Wicked Motives



Charleston, South Carolina: An angry young man attends a church prayer meeting. He guns down attendees before fleeing. Gunman, early reports suggest, sees black people as a threat.


This young man knew when and where to find his victims.


East Falls, Philadelphia: 2×2 Foundation, a multiracial organization, works to open its first local program since 2009. Like the church in Charleston, our hours of operation are public. It is very likely that the people we serve will represent many racial and ethnic backgrounds. As director, I am hiring young people, a multiracial staff. As part of the hiring process, we have all had criminal history clearance, sexual abuse clearance, and been fingerprinted into “the system” — an unforgiving system with a very long memory. The new normal.


The new normal goes against the grain of “church think.” We are supposed to forgive the past. We believe in second chances, dramatic turnarounds! Such stories define some of the greatest and favorite saints—like St. Francis!


What does this horrific incident in South Carolina mean to our faith community? We have been multi-racial for a long time, and predominantly black for the last decade.


Twenty years ago, our workers would have all been volunteers from our community. We would have relied on our knowledge of our neighbors, family and friends. We would have invited and welcomed strangers who showed the slightest interest. Now we check everyone.


Madness has a way of exploiting every weakness. News stories used to report how lack of security resulted in tragedy. Now, it seems, the stories are how tragedy occurred despite safety measures!


I experienced no problems finding help. All participants in our fledgling program willingly complied with the new rules of church life. It helps that most of them are under 25 and don’t remember how it used to be.


Churches today are challenged to find volunteers who might be willing to donate a few hours for a church cause and will go to the trouble and expense of getting the mandated clearances (about $50 each) and a few hours to travel to a fingerprinting center—none of them convenient and surprisingly busy.


No matter how careful we are, churches cannot control the behavior of all with whom we come in contact. Even carefully screened, authorized family members of those we serve or our own trusted members can come to us on a bad day and do horrific things for reasons that may be nonsense or may be very real.


Churches choosing to exist in welcoming love are sitting ducks for people who are confused or for those with well-crafted ulterior motives.


Our congregation experienced this. People we trusted used their knowledge of our church to harm us. On one occasion, they used our council meeting time (posted online) to have court representatives serve members with notice of litigation. On another occasion, they used a meeting announced for one purpose to bring a group of supporters and a locksmith to seize our property. The weapon of choice, in our case, was court. The tactic was similar.


There is a temptation in times like this, to react with suspicion of any outsider—to isolate and protect—to lock doors and install security systems. Isolation plays right into the hands of those with evil intent. Isolation works against mission.


Ministry cannot be done in that atmosphere.


It never could.