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Protecting Faith: A Guide for Churches to Safeguard Against Armed Protests
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I. Send me! Isaiah 6:8
In the West end of Boise, Idaho, a small church found itself at the center of a deeply troubling conflict. For six months, the Shield of Faith Baptist Church endured online threats and harassment, culminating in a chilling incident on the first Sunday sermon of December 2022. Led by a figure known within Idaho's Satanist community, a group of protesters, some armed with firearms such as an AK-47 and a Bolt-Action rifle, gathered outside the church. Dressed in demonic costumes and allegedly consuming alcohol, these protesters presented a surreal and menacing presence.
This incident, captured in a YouTube video, highlights a boiling point reached after months of perceived inaction by the Boise Police Department. Concerned citizens, alarmed by the lack of investigation into the violent threats, took it upon themselves to stand outside the sermons in response to the ongoing conflict.
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Such protests, while alarming, are not necessarily illegal in Idaho, a state where open carry of firearms is permitted, and the First Amendment protects the right to protest. The complex interplay between these rights and the safety of churchgoers creates a legal and ethical dilemma that many communities may face.
The purpose of this article is to delve into this incident as a case study, exploring the legal, social, and spiritual dimensions of armed protests targeting churches. By examining the Boise incident and offering practical guidance, we aim to equip churches with the knowledge and tools they need to safeguard their congregations from potential threats. In a world where the lines between expression, intimidation, and violence can blur, understanding how to navigate these challenges is vital for faith communities everywhere.
Understanding the Rights and Laws
In the wake of the alarming incident at the Shield of Faith Baptist Church in Boise, many questions arise about the legal rights and responsibilities that shaped the event. How could such a protest occur, and what were the limitations faced by law enforcement? To understand these complexities, we must delve into the constitutional rights at play and the challenges they present.
Freedom of Expression: The First Amendment
At the heart of the Boise incident lies the First Amendment, which protects the freedom of speech, assembly, and the right to petition the government. These rights allowed the protesters to assemble outside the church and express their views, regardless of how controversial or offensive they may have been to others. But the First Amendment is not without boundaries, and the line between free expression and intimidation can be thin and fraught with tension.
As an example, if a protestor were to blurt out, "We are going to shoot you and kill everyone in your church," this would be a violation of law. The protestors are armed and if you feel that the threat is viable and will be carried out without intervention by police, an arrest can be made. In some states, this is even elevated to a "terrorist threat." The officer at the scene may not be able to make an arrest unless he views the violation, so you may need to make a citizen's arrest (often called a "CA"). As a retired 30 year cop, I have accepted hundreds of CA's. I often encouraged people to make a CA when the circumstances were right. The key here is that you feel threatened and you feel they will carry out the threat. If you don't feel threatened, then there is no crime.
The Right to Bear Arms: The Second Amendment
Complicating matters further is Idaho's open carry laws, rooted in the Second Amendment's protection of the right to keep and bear arms. The presence of firearms at the protest was legal, however, the alleged irresponsible behavior, such as the consumption of alcohol, raises serious questions about the balance between individual rights and community safety. There are laws prohibiting alcohol consumption and openly displaying firearms. I am a firm believer of the second amendment (check out my youtube channel, 2A Cops). Even though I don't agree with armed protestors at a church, it is their right. I have attended protests armed before. It is our right as Americans.
The Challenges Faced by Law Enforcement
The Boise Police Department found itself in a difficult position, constrained by the very laws designed to protect our freedoms. While the threats against the church were deeply concerning, the legality of the protest and the open carry of firearms limited the actions they could take. This situation underscores the complex challenges law enforcement faces in balancing the rights of protesters with the safety and concerns of the community.
Expert Insights and the Path Forward
As we reflect on the Boise incident, we are reminded of the intricate interplay between individual rights and community well-being. The situation serves as a stark illustration of the multifaceted challenges that arise when freedom of expression meets the right to bear arms, all within the context of a deeply divided society. Understanding this legal landscape is not just an academic exercise; it's essential for communities and faith organizations seeking to navigate these complex waters in an increasingly polarized world.
Protecting your parishioners begins with intelligence gathering and planning. Here, the church knew that they were in the sights (literally) of the Idaho Satanic Church. In previous articles, I have outlined the need for an intelligence analyst on a church security team. This analyst should be following the satanic church and other groups to safeguard and prevent any attack upon their church.
Recognizing the Threat
The incident at the Shield of Faith Baptist Church in Boise is not an isolated occurrence but a manifestation of a broader trend that poses real risks to communities and faith organizations. Recognizing the threat, understanding its nature, and knowing how to respond are crucial for safety and peace of mind.
Potential Risks and Concerns
Armed protests, especially those targeting places of worship, raise a host of concerns. The presence of firearms, as seen in Boise, can escalate tensions and create a volatile environment. The risk of accidental discharge (which occurred at a protest once before in downtown Boise), intentional violence, or a situation spiraling out of control is ever-present. Additionally, the psychological impact on the congregation, particularly children and vulnerable individuals, cannot be underestimated.
Profile of Typical Protestors and Warning Signs
Understanding the motivations and behaviors of protestors is key to assessing the threat. In the Boise incident, the protestors were linked to a local Satanist group, and their actions were characterized by a mix of political expression and theatrical provocation. Warning signs of escalation might include increased online threats, aggressive language, or the presence of known agitators. Recognizing these signs early can provide valuable time to prepare and respond.
In this incident, it is clear that there were warning signs of potential violence. You had aggressive language, known agitators and online threats. This event should have been anticipated and a plan drawn up by the church to protect the congregation. You cannot count on the police to intercede, since there had not been an arrestable offense...yet. With that said, Security Teams at the church could have taken measures to protect everyone if something were to have happen (action plans will be covered below).
The Importance of Non-Confrontation and De-Escalation
Facing an armed protest is a deeply unsettling experience, and the natural inclination might be to confront or challenge the protestors. However, experts in conflict resolution emphasize the importance of non-confrontation and de-escalation. Engaging with protestors, especially in a heated or emotional manner, can exacerbate the situation.
Instead, the focus should be on ensuring the safety of the congregation, cooperating with law enforcement, and seeking professional guidance if needed. Training church staff and volunteers in de-escalation techniques, maintaining clear communication, and having a well-thought-out emergency plan can make a significant difference in managing a tense situation. As a backup, the church could and should have a "react team" in case violence starts.
React team is short for "Reactionary Team." In essence, it is a group of armed people ready to stop violence if it starts. If your church is the type of church that can bring protestors (because you aren't afraid to speak up, you preach by the bible which may offend others, etc) then you should plan for that eventuality. Pick a team of people from within your security team. My church is a church that is ripe for protests. We aren't political by any means, but we are one of the biggest churches in Idaho in an urban area and we teach FROM the bible. Many people disagree with this and would love to protest us. Our security team has many people, like myself, who have prior law enforcement experience including those that have lead SWAT Teams, Gang Teams, and Narcotics Units that can serve as react team members.
Even if you don't have these resources, you may have people with a heart to serve and can learn and train. You will need to make sure that everyone on your react team is mature and is willing to spend money on training. You will need to take courses on tactical pistol and tactical rifle. Then you will need to train as a team at least 8 hours every month. Your drills will consist of reacting to active shooters and reacting to armed crowds at your church. Do not rely on someone because they have "been in combat" or they have a law enforcement background. Do your homework on them and go to the outside if need be. In most churches, you will need to seek outside help to train your people.
Once you have that react team and you have armed people at your church, you can deploy them to provide overwatch of the armed crowd in case one of them decides to stop protesting and take action against your church. In all cases, YOU MUST WORK WITH LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT WHEN THESE INCIDENTS ARISE.
The Boise incident serves as a sobering reminder of the complex and multifaceted threats that communities may face. Recognizing the potential risks, understanding the profile of typical protestors, and emphasizing non-confrontation and de-escalation are essential steps in preparing for and responding to such challenges. In a world where faith and freedom can become flashpoints for conflict, wisdom, vigilance, and compassion must guide our actions.
Preparing the Church
The incident in Boise underscores the need for churches to be proactive in preparing for potential threats. While the hope is that such an event never occurs, having a well-thought-out plan can make all the difference in ensuring safety and peace of mind.
Creating an Emergency Response Plan
An emergency response plan is a foundational step in preparing for any potential threat. Here's a step-by-step guide to creating one:
Assess the Risks: Identify potential threats, such as protests, natural disasters, or medical emergencies.
Define Roles and Responsibilities: Assign specific tasks to staff and volunteers, such as monitoring entrances or providing first aid.
Develop Procedures: Outline clear procedures for evacuation, lockdown, or sheltering in place.
Coordinate with Local Authorities: Establish communication lines with law enforcement and emergency services.
Train and Practice: Regularly train staff and volunteers and conduct drills to ensure readiness.
Communication with the Congregation
Transparent and compassionate communication with the congregation is vital. Keeping members informed about safety measures, emergency plans, and any potential threats fosters trust and cooperation. Utilizing newsletters, social media, or community meetings can facilitate ongoing dialogue and ensure that everyone knows what to do in an emergency.
Exploring Alternative Worship Locations
In some situations, relocating worship services may be the safest option. Whether it's a temporary move to a different part of the building or a more substantial relocation to another venue, having a plan in place allows for a smooth transition. Consider accessibility, capacity, and the emotional comfort of the congregation when selecting alternative locations.
Collaboration with Local Law Enforcement and Security Experts
Building relationships with local law enforcement and security experts can provide valuable insights and support. Collaborating on risk assessments, security measures, and emergency planning enhances overall preparedness. Regular communication and coordination ensure that both the church and local authorities are on the same page.
The Boise incident serves as a call to action for churches to take proactive steps in preparing for potential threats. From creating a robust emergency response plan to fostering open communication with the congregation and collaborating with local authorities, these measures are not just about physical safety but also about preserving the sense of community and spiritual sanctuary that churches provide. In a world where uncertainty is a constant, preparation, empathy, and resilience are the keys to navigating challenges with grace and wisdom.
Implementing Security Measures
The incident in Boise highlights the importance of not only planning but also implementing effective security measures. Whether it's forming a volunteer security team or hiring professionals, employing surveillance, or preparing for escalated situations, these measures are vital in safeguarding the congregation.
Setting Up a Security Team or Hiring Professional Security
Volunteer Security Team: Forming a volunteer security team from within the congregation can be an effective and community-centered approach. Training in conflict resolution, first aid, and emergency response is essential.
Recruitment: Identify and recruit individuals with relevant skills or willingness to learn.
Training: Provide regular training sessions, possibly in collaboration with local law enforcement.
Coordination: Establish clear roles, responsibilities, and communication channels.
Professional Security Services: For larger congregations or higher-risk situations, hiring professional security may be appropriate.
Assessment: Work with a security consultant to assess the specific needs and risks.
Selection: Choose a reputable security firm with experience in community or faith-based settings.
Integration: Ensure that professional security personnel understand the values and culture of the congregation.
The Role of Surveillance and Overwatch
Surveillance Systems: Installing cameras and monitoring entrances can enhance security and provide valuable information in case of an incident.
Overwatch Team: An overwatch team, either volunteers or professionals, can monitor the surroundings during services or events, providing an extra layer of protection. See our section on having a react team above.
Community Engagement: Encourage congregation members to be vigilant and report any suspicious activities. A community-centered approach fosters a sense of shared responsibility.
Guidelines for Handling an Escalated Situation
Stay Calm: Emphasize the importance of remaining calm and following the established emergency plan.
Communicate Effectively: Maintain clear communication with the congregation, security team, and law enforcement.
Avoid Confrontation: If a situation escalates, prioritize safety and avoid direct confrontation with aggressors.
Cooperate with Authorities: In the event of a serious incident, cooperate fully with law enforcement and emergency services.
The Boise incident reminds us that security is not a passive endeavor but an active commitment to the well-being of the congregation. Implementing security measures requires careful planning, collaboration, and a balance between vigilance and openness. Whether through a dedicated security team, surveillance, or community engagement, these measures reinforce the sense of sanctuary that is at the heart of every place of worship.
Spiritual and Community Considerations
The incident in Boise, while deeply unsettling, also offers an opportunity to reflect on the broader spiritual and community dimensions of such challenges. Beyond the practical and legal aspects, how do we maintain the essence of faith, community, and resilience in the face of adversity?
The Role of Faith and Community
In times of uncertainty and threat, faith and community become vital sources of strength and solace. The very values that may be targeted by protestors—compassion, forgiveness, unity—are the ones that can guide us through these challenges. Emphasizing these values, both in worship and daily life, reinforces the sense of purpose and connection that sustains us.
Encouraging Dialogue and Understanding
Open and empathetic dialogue within the community fosters understanding and healing. Encourage congregation members to share their feelings, fears, and hopes. Facilitate discussions that explore different perspectives and seek common ground. In a world where divisions can be deep, the church can be a space for reconciliation and growth.
Pastoral Guidance on Fear, Faith, and Resilience
Pastoral care plays a crucial role in guiding the congregation through fear and uncertainty. Consider offering sermons, workshops, or counseling that focus on:
Facing Fear: Acknowledging fear and anxiety, and exploring how faith can provide comfort and courage.
Strengthening Faith: Reflecting on biblical teachings and spiritual practices that reinforce faith and trust.
Building Resilience: Cultivating resilience through community support, prayer, and a focus on hope and positive action.
The Boise incident, while a stark reminder of the challenges we face, also calls us to a deeper reflection on what it means to be a community of faith in a complex world. Security measures, legal considerations, and emergency planning are essential, but so too are the spiritual and communal bonds that define us. In navigating these turbulent waters, the church's role as a beacon of faith, compassion, and resilience is more vital than ever.
The incident at the Shield of Faith Baptist Church in Boise, Idaho, serves as a poignant reminder of the multifaceted challenges that churches and faith communities may face in today's complex world. From understanding the legal rights that shape protests to recognizing the potential threats, preparing the church, implementing security measures, and nurturing the spiritual and community bonds, this article has explored a comprehensive approach to safeguarding congregations.
Legal Rights: The interplay between the First and Second Amendments, state laws, and law enforcement's role creates a nuanced legal landscape that requires careful navigation.
Recognizing Threats: Understanding the risks, the profile of typical protestors, and the importance of non-confrontation and de-escalation is vital in assessing and managing potential threats.
Preparing the Church: Creating an emergency response plan, communicating with the congregation, exploring alternative worship locations, and collaborating with local authorities are essential proactive steps.
Implementing Security Measures: Whether through a dedicated security team, surveillance, or community engagement, implementing security measures is an active commitment to the well-being of the congregation.
Create a React Team: Creating a team of well trained and equipped people to provide overwatch and emergency coverage can help in severe incidents like the Boise incident.
Spiritual and Community Considerations: Beyond practical measures, the essence of faith, dialogue, understanding, and pastoral guidance must guide our actions and sustain our communities.
In a world where uncertainty and division can seem overwhelming, the importance of preparation, communication, and community cannot be overstated. The church's role as a sanctuary of faith, compassion, and resilience is more vital than ever.
Let us move forward with a renewed commitment to safeguarding our places of worship, not merely as physical spaces but as vibrant communities of hope, love, and unity. Together, we can navigate these challenges with wisdom, grace, and a steadfast belief in the enduring power of faith.