The pastor of a Colorado megachurch which uses armed guards in its services has spoken of how his congregation understands the need for them following the Charleston church shooting.
Speaking in a New York Times video feature, Rev Chris Hill, senior pastor of The Potter's House in Denver, said: "After Charleston, I had phone calls from members who had issues with our safety systems before, saying 'Now I understand.'"
The Potter's House, which attracts around 7,000 people to its services, has a team of 25 security personnel from police or military backgrounds, some of whom are armed. Its director of safety Marcus Ferrell says in the video that they check the buildings for anything out of place such as backpacks or packages, monitor the congregation in what he described as "aggressive friendliness" and and that he is responsible for the "executive protection" of the pastor.
Hill says of the Charleston shooting: "As a black man in America, what's new? We've never been safe in our churches – not an African-American man, not in America. You come to church and you just suspend that feeling of vigilance, and we now live in an America where you must be vigilant. You're not safe on a plane, you're not safe in an elementary school, you're not safe in a high school, you're not safe in a movie theatre. And guess what, you're not safe in a church."
While the use of armed guards in a church is highly controversial, Ferrell says that it makes sense in their Colorado context in which a "huge proportion" of people are hunters who stand by their constitutional right to bear arms.
In a recent op-ed piece for the Christian Post, Hill compared the Charleston shooting in which nine people died to the 2012 Aurora shooting in which James Egan Holmes killed and wounded 70 people in a crowded cinema. He wrote: "The church offers a solace for the soul. The movies offer a sanctuary for the imagination. We feel safe to take our children and our elders to both places, believing that in moments of worship or entertainment, nothing really can go wrong.
"The intent of these shooters was simple — they sought to terrorize us in our safe places. They bring their imagined battlefields to our places of community peace."