Your devotion should be peaceful, but sadly, that is not always the case. From lunatic killers to terrorists to run-of-the-mill criminals, churches and synagogues are simply not the secure, tranquil places they once were. Fortunately, some religious institutions and individuals have awakened to this reality and are taking proactive steps to ensure the safety of parishioners.
"We have 105-pound women teaching Sunday School classes," said Cedar Creek Baptist Church Campus Pastor Wes Holbrook, a former FBI Special Agent. "When a 260-pound man under a restraining order shows up looking for his kids, who will protect her and her students?" In recent years, the church organized security teams made up of parishioners to ensure the security of those seeking a safe place to worship. The teams meet regularly for training events. "Our founding pastor, who is now retired, has a concealed-carry permit and sometimes joins us," Holbrook added. "We also allow parishioners who have valid concealed-carry permits to carry in the sanctuary provided we are notified in advance."
Rabbi Dovid Bendory, an NRA Certified Instructor, also encourages self-defense for his congregants. "Jews have been disarmed through millennia of history. This has made us vulnerable—both to the violence of the masses and to state-sponsored anti-Semitism," he said. "Throughout the world today, Jews and Jewish institutions are targets of terrorist and anti-Semitic violence. I ask my fellow Jews a simple and obvious question: Why should we rely on government and police to protect us? Is that realistic? Why not train to protect and defend ourselves?"
But beyond practical concerns, many people have spiritual qualms with carrying a gun in a house of worship, even in those states where it is legal to do so. While those issues are understandable given societal pressure, Bendory and Holbrook both noted the religious duty to defend oneself against an aggressor. "In Jewish Law, we learn that it is not only permissible but a sacred obligation to defend yourself and the innocent against attack. The Talmud—the earliest commentary on Jewish Law...states very clearly (Sanhedrin 72a): 'If a murderer seeks to kill you, strike him down first,'" said Bendory. "The sanctity of life is paramount in the eyes of God," agreed Holbrook. "We have a moral obligation to defend ourselves and our fellow parishioners."
Both Bendory and Holbrook have carried firearms while conducting religious services. "I believe the Second Amendment extends to all individuals, no matter what they are doing or where they are doing it," Holbrook said. Bendory added that while an armed religious leader may seem odd in parts of the U.S., "In Israel, it is common to see soldiers in synagogue with M16s and Uzis and civilians with sidearms. In Constitutionally oriented states like Texas and Arizona, you will find more than a few Jews discreetly carrying in any synagogue."
This trend seems likely to accelerate. In Virginia, it is generally illegal to carry a firearm to a religious service unless the bearer has a "good and sufficient reason" to do so. State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli released an opinion earlier this year stating self-defense legally constitutes a good and sufficient reason to carry a firearm, assuming the citizen has a valid permit.