Nov 29, 2017 | Spirituality in the World

A Response Regarding Domestic Violence and Shooting in Churches

Rev Dr Petra Weldes

November 29, 2017

The shooting at the church in south Texas is the most recent of a number of acts of violence committed in houses of worship across the United States. Centers for Spiritual Living actively encourages ministers and communities to reach out with compassion and support to spiritual communities affected by violence. Knowing that every tradition and spiritual community is part of the ONE and part of the Divine, let us reach out as a reminder that we truly are all in this together. Please send your cards and letters to:

Rev Frank Pomeroy, Pastor
First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs
216 4th St, Sutherland Springs, TX 78161

These types of events often leave our communities feeling shattered, fearful, and wondering if it can happen to us. Centers for Spiritual Living encourages leadership to have significant conversations with each community regarding both domestic violence and the possibility of having an active shooter come into your sanctuary. We are taking this very seriously here in Dallas as we are two very out married women ministers in an alternative spiritual tradition. We neither want to approach the issue from fear nor from ignorance.

The Texas shooting was domestic violence-related. The perpetrator was not a member of the church but his target was. Domestic violence includes such things as spousal abuse, partner abuse, child abuse, neglect and endangerment, and threats to other familial or nonfamilial persons. Research has linked males who commit acts of domestic violence to other acts of violence, including mass shootings.

This linkage between domestic violence and other kinds of violence, including mass shootings, is established. This makes it important for those in spiritual leadership to be aware of actual and potential domestic violence situations in their membership. This is true for several reasons:

  1.  So that spiritual counseling and support can be offered and provided.
  2. So that an awareness of the potential for expanded violence can be developed.
  3. For the overall well being of the spiritual community.

Other acts of violence in churches have originated for a number of reasons, including religious,  racial, LGBTQ hate-based; and rare cases where mental illness leads to violence.  As The Science of MInd™ teaches us, we approach such issues and situations without succumbing to an overall sense of fear. How do we prepare ourselves for the possibility of disruptive and violent incidents and still maintain our sense of spiritual poise? It creates a need for a “double vision,” or an ability to balance our responsible planning with our ongoing sense of spiritual well being.

It is similar to the need to purchase insurance for your spiritual community. A good and necessary insurance policy will cover against losses from fire, storms, floods, and criminal activities. Modern policies also include terrorism clauses. Yet, spiritual leaders realize the need to have such coverage – not as an invitation to such eventualities, but as a responsible protection for the community and its assets.

How do we move forward with this double vision? What are the practical steps your leadership and community can take, from an empowered principled stance?

Regarding domestic violence, there are things you can do locally:

  1. Make contact with your local domestic violence shelter(s).
  2. Some offer training for your leadership on how to identify and work with domestic violence situations.
  3. Your spiritual community can become a conduit for volunteers at the shelter.
  4. Create an ongoing partnership between your spiritual community and the shelter.
  5. Create a referral list for members of your community who need support in this area.
  6. Post hotline phone numbers and websites prominently in your center.

Just like here in Texas we know what to do when the tornado sirens go off, it’s important for leadership, and perhaps the whole community, to have some idea what to do if there is a potentially or actually violent person(s) in your building or campus. Once again, not from fear, but from a place of personal responsibility and a deep belief that knowledge helps to undergird our intentions and actions and dispels doubt and fear.

Regarding an active shooter incident: a recent article by Huffington Post suggests the following preparations be taken:

1 – ALERT – Start yelling and keep yelling “man with a gun” and call 911

2 – Try not to freeze but have everyone grab the handiest things and throw them at the shooter.

3 – Evacuate as quickly as possible while the shooter is off balance from being bombarded by flying Science of Mind textbooks and chairs and purses

4 – Lock or barricade doors to keep someone from moving into other areas of the Center

5 – Make continually updated community announcements in the building.

In Texas, and other states, we have the additional issues of open carry laws for licensed gun owners.  We have had men visiting us, in our sanctuary, with their holster openly showing. We also know that a somewhere between 20-30% of our women are carrying guns concealed in their purses and of course we have many men carrying in their vehicles. We are seriously discussing whether or not we want to post “no gun” signs on our doors.

UNDERSTANDING WHAT IS LEGAL IN YOUR STATE AND LOCAL AREA IS IMPORTANT. For example, in Texas we have two options 1) no guns openly or 2) no guns period. It has been brought to our attention that if we post sign number 2 and we have a situation in which a member draws a gun on our premises in defense of our community and its members, they will still be charged and go to jail. We will be making this decision by mid-January after inviting first responders to speak to our leadership. In the meantime, we join with all of you in prayers for safety, sanity, and spiritual protection for us all.

Centers for Spiritual Living is exploring resources from various sources and will disseminate information as it becomes available. In the meantime, I suggest that you do what we are doing here in Dallas – connect with local resources such as public safety (police & fire), domestic violence shelters, mental health professionals, interfaith organizations, and your insurance carrier. Through these sources, you can create the necessary plans to prepare your community for these kinds of events.