No more church arsons have been reported since the arrest of Jason Robert Bourque and Daniel McAllister who are charged with the East Texas fires. However, the string of attacks caused many religious leaders to rethink the security of their church facilities.
Tom Robbins, senior pastor of First United Methodist in Temple, Texas, has brought a much higher level of security to his church, which stands across the street from the rubble of Temple’s First Baptist sanctuary. It was torched Jan. 19.
He claims the need for protection is not limited to places of worship.
“Unfortunately, I just think it’s the world all together,” he said, “especially in a place where you have children. My wife is a teacher, and I have to present my driver’s license and get a guest pass to go see her.”
However, even across the street at First Baptist, leadership is wary of too
James Roberts, minister of students, thinks more security during threatening times is important, but the church should be cautious about adding too much. Even with his church falling victim to crime, he emphasizes the need to be open to visitors.
“We have alarms on the doors and cameras just to be able to catch people who are coming and going,” he said. “Other than that, church is a place where everyone is welcome.”
Religious institutions are generally slower to accept new security standards because they want to be accessible. Robbins insists the measures taken at First United Methodist are only helping people.
“Ultimately each faith body is accountable to God. While there is always a balance to ministering in love, there is also a tremendous pressure to keep people safe,” he said.
“Nowhere does the Bible say, ‘Be stupid.’ Jesus said to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Companies like Congregational Security Inc. out of Dallas, Texas, are in the business of providing wisdom to religious centers. David Shapiro, senior director of logistics and intelligence, helped build the company with founder Dwayne Bishop. Many churches contacted the company for security assistance after the fires.
“This industry is very new. We were one of the first companies to do this,” Shapiro said.
CSI offers security services, consulting, support and training to its clients who, like Robbins, are more concerned than ever. They have offices all over the globe.
“Interest is up because of what is happening out there,” Shapiro said. “Churches are soft targets for terrorism and burglary.”
Recently, a new demand has arisen in personal security for clergy.
“On our staff, we have former Secret Service, ATF, Shin Bet, Mossad and the Scotland Yard. We take them from people body guards to protection agents,” he said.
“Bodyguards are trained to be reactive. We train them to be proactive − act and feel like and do everything the Secret Service does. At the end of the course, you get state certified.”
Shapiro warns of internal dangers as well. The arson suspects themselves attended one of the churches that burned. He stressed the need for background checks for volunteers.
“Over the years we’ve been collecting information and are starting to look for trends,” he said. “As of right now, there is a lot of embezzlement. The volunteer treasurer or volunteer secretary… are always trusted, but they are not always looked at.”
Martin Knox, pastor of First Baptist, feels that by having a team of people who oversee finances provides enough checks and balances to prevent embezzlement. He admits, however, that security and openness is a difficult thing to balance.
“We had cameras at our church, and we did that for the safety of those who worked at the church,” he said, “but also, we didn’t want to just lock the door. You have to be open, but you have to control access.”