When gun violence invades sacred spaces

Community members gathered in Pittsburgh to remember the victims of the Oct. 27 shooting at Tree of Life synagogue. Photo courtesy of the Office of Gov. Tom Wolf/ Creative Commons.

In the year since a gunman terrorized First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017, more faith communities have been violated by gun violence. Most recently, 11 men and women died at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27.

Like any mass shooting, these attacks are heartbreaking and overwhelming, prompting conversations about gun control and mental health. Because of their location, they also challenge shared assumptions about sacred spaces, raising the question of whether any place is truly safe.

Shootings at houses of worship are reshaping how faith communities approach their time together, increasing interest in security training and participation in gun policy debates. Here are some sources, research studies and articles that can help you cover these developments.

Background reading

National sources

  • Jamie Aten

    Jamie Aten is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College. He is an expert on religious responses to public emergencies, including hurricanes and mass shootings. Aten is also a founding signer of the Prayers and Action petition, which calls on the evangelical Christian community to do more to address gun violence.

  • James E. Atwood

    The Rev. James E. Atwood is a retired Presbyterian pastor who serves on the board of The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. He is the author of America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose and Gundamentalism and Where It Is Taking America.

  • William Chadwick

    William Chadwick is a senior instructor with the Christian Security Institute, which trains houses of worship on gun safety and other security issues. He has served as a security officer in large Christian churches.

  • Carl Chinn

    Carl Chinn offers security training for churches and other faith-based organizations. He is the author of Evil Invades Sanctuary: The Case for Security in Faith-based Organizations.

  • Dallas Drake

    Dallas Drake is co-founder of and senior researcher at the Center for Homicide Research, which compiled a database of church shootings that occurred between 1980 and 2005.

  • Balhair Singh Dulai

    Balhair Singh Dulai is the president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, the site of a 2012 shooting that left six people dead. The temple’s website still features a tribute to victims.

  • Beth Kissileff

    Beth Kissileff is an author and journalist based in Pittsburgh. She is a member of one of the congregations that meets at Tree of Life synagogue and, after the Oct. 27 shooting, shared stories about the religious lives of the victims she knew.

  • Dave LaRock

    Dave LaRock is a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates. In 2018, he sponsored HB1180, which would have repealed a prohibition on carrying dangerous weapons, such as guns and knives, into houses of worship.

  • Eric S.C. Manning

    The Rev. Eric S.C. Manning is the pastor of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the site of a 2015 mass shooting. He has served in this role since June 2016.

  • Mike Martin

    Mike Martin is founder and executive director of RAWtools, an organization that confronts gun violence by leading community dialogues and transforming guns into garden tools. He is also the co-author, along with Christian activist Shane Claiborne, of Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence.

  • Frank Pomeroy

    The Rev. Frank Pomeroy is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He was away from his congregation when a gunman entered the church and killed 25 people.

  • Karen Swallow Prior

    Karen Swallow Prior is an author and English professor at Liberty University. She has written about carrying a gun while running, arguing that gun ownership can support the Christian call to protect innocent life.

  • Erik J. Richtsteig

    The Rev. Erik J. Richtsteig is the pastor of St. James the Just Catholic Church in Ogden, Utah. He was leading Mass in June 2013 when a man with a gun entered his sanctuary and shot a parishioner.

  • Rob Schenck

    The Rev. Rob Schenck is an ordained evangelical Christian minister and president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington, D.C. In response to rising gun violence, he is working to challenge evangelical support for gun ownership.

  • Joey Spann

    The Rev. Joey Spann is the minister of Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn. He was shot twice during a Sept. 24, 2017, attack on his church.

  • Barry Young

    Barry Young is the vice president of operations for Strategos International, which provides safety training for businesses, schools, hospitals and churches. He previously served as director of security at two churches in Kansas City.

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