Pistol-packing US bishop: 'We're not going to turn the other cheek while you shoot us'

A police officer checks the purse of a parishioner as she arrives for the morning service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 21, 2015.Reuters

A church in Jackson, Michigan, has chosen to guard its congregation by deploying a secret armed security team embedded among the parishioners following the June 17 shootings in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed the church pastor and eight parishioners.

"If they had security, the assailant would not have been able to reload," said Bishop Ira Combs of the Greater Bible Way Temple. "All of us here are not going to turn the other cheek while you shoot us."

Members of the church security team would be spread out, with congregants not knowing who is armed and who is not, Combs said.

Combs himself is armed with a handgun beneath his suit coats and is surrounded by one armed man on each side of the pulpit.

"We aren't looking to engage people in violence, but we are going to practice law enforcement," Combs said. "And we are going to interdict if someone comes in with a weapon."

John Ojeisekhoba—who heads a security consulting company in California that works with churches, schools, and camps—said many churches do not take security seriously.

In 2013, a pastor in Lake Charles, Louisiana, named Ronald Harris was shot by a gunman while the former was preaching a sermon.

"Church is supposed to be a sacred place. Telling your congregation that we need to have armed security during the service, it's not something that is easy to do," Ojeisekhoba said.

Earlier, six people died at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, after a gunman entered the temple's premises. In 2009, Fred Winters, a pastor, was shot during a morning service in Maryville, Illinois.

Theron Wiggins, a pastor in Flint, Michigan, who worked as a police detective, is trying to change the situation.

"They believe the angels will protect us," Wiggins said, referring to his congregation. "Well, I'm one of the angels."

Greater Grace Temple in Detroit has employed a 25-man security force nicknamed "The Ministers of Defense," some of whom mix with the crowd while others have been assigned visibly on stage.

"Nobody should have to worship in fear or be looking over their shoulder," said Charles Ellis, pastor of the Temple.

But not everyone is upbeat about the tightening security in churches, particularly about bringing guns in a holy place.

A Catholic priest in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been criticised by church leaders for urging parishioners to arm themselves for protection and even offered a class teaching how to get a concealed carry permit. The said class was cancelled after the local diocese said it had no place on church property.

CrossPointe Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, is reconsidering its use of armed security guards after a flood of angry emails from church members.

"The criticism came from people who thought guns, even concealed by church security, were a mockery of people who claimed faith in God to meet all their needs in life," Franklin Pounders, a minister at the church, said.

"My philosophy is a bit different. The Bible says, 'In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.'"