Halfway through 2015, I found myself running six months behind on the posting of deadly force incidents on religious property and haven’t been able to tighten that up much since. 2015 was the year that simply took my breath away, and I’ve yet to get it back. Mankind’s capacity for cruelty was demonstrated many times.
There were more violent incidents on religious property (or directly involving the senior pastor) in 2015 than I have ever seen in a single year, with the final count being 248. The number of violent deaths (homicides, suicides, and attackers killed in their action) tied the all-time record set in 2012: 76 deaths.
As I examined 2015’s violent incident news reports, I thought of the personal stories behind the cold and impersonal verbiage and metrics associated with reports and data. I thought of the very real and personal tragedies. Every announcement of death has an untold story we could never know by reading the words written by media and court reporters. Every story lives on in the hearts of the family and friends who lost loved ones.
I walked through Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina, just a few weeks after the senseless attack there when nine lives were taken by a callous individual. As with other scenes I have walked, I will never forget Mother Emmanuel as it takes its place on the wall with other tragic stories of carnage in faith-based environments.
In 2014 there were five multiple homicide events (where more than one victim was killed), while in 2015 there were only two. The Charleston shooting was one. The lesser known of those two 2015 events was the 19-year-old son of the priest of the Redeemer Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, who beat his father (the priest) and mother to death and fatally stabbed his 5-year-old brother.
Other attacks were just as senseless, but without multiple victims killed:
- A man took his 12-year-old special needs son to the 1st Baptist Church in Lilburn, Georgia, where he killed him with a knife.
- At the Anna Prayer Mountain Church Recreation Center in Urbana, Maryland, a 30-year-old recipient of their hospitality fatally stabbed a man over his cooking and gravely injured the man’s wife in the sanctuary. The killer had called 9-1-1 the day before to complain of their cooking.
- Brothers got into a fight at a wedding in the parking lot of the St. Rita Church in New Orleans, Louisiana. One pursued the other in his vehicle in a rage, hitting and killing a 75-year-old wedding attendee who attempted to get out of the way.
- Three people were killed at three separate funerals.
Church leadership was directly responsible for three deaths in 2015:
- The pastor of the Iglesia Internacional Jesus es el Rey in Balch Springs, Texas, ordered a 2-year-old boy to be starved because he was “possessed by demons.” After 25 days of starvation the little boy died in the home church. The church then attempted a “rising ceremony” to revive him. The pastor was arrested, and the parents fled to Mexico.
- In Bell County, Kentucky, a 60-year-old congregant of the Mossy Simpson Pentecostal Church was bitten during a snake-handling service. He died after refusing treatment.
- The family and church leaders of the Word of Life Church in Chadwicks, New York, brutally beat 17-year-old and 19-year-old brothers for “unconfessed sins” in a church service. The 19-year-old died from the beating.
A review of all 248 incidents reveals that:
- Of the homicide victims, 28 of the 48 (58.3%) were affiliated with the church. Of those 28, 5 were the priest or senior pastor. One senior pastor was killed by police as he threatened his estranged wife with a gun.
- Equal numbers (28) of domestic spillover and non-domestic conflicts made up 42.7 percent of the known incident triggers. That percentage is similar to the combined average for all the years I’ve tracked these categories (40.2%).
- Of the known incident triggers, 57 of the 131 were robberies.
- Of the known incident triggers, 113 of 131 were the same three primary sources of deadly force attacks as all other years: domestic spillover, non-domestic conflicts, and robberies. Of violent attacks on religious property, 86.3 percent were the result of one of those three causes.
- Among attackers, 57 of them (21.43%) were associated, past or present, with the church as a member, employee, or volunteer.
Were I to sum up the priorities for church safety for 2015, I would say we are at one of those critical times in church history that truly calls for prayer. I believe our churches are under attack in a way rarely seen in world history and never before seen in American history. As Nehemiah established our model in Nehemiah 4:9, we must pray as never before. Then post a guard.