Burnette Chapel Church of Christ

Wedgwood Baptist flashback: A clock started ticking on a new era of attacks on religious believers

Wedgwood Baptist flashback: A clock started ticking on a new era of attacks on religious believers

Day after day, I get waves of promotional emails from groups that I have covered during my 30 years as a religion-beat columnist.

Some of them I merely glance at. Others I fill away for future use.

One email this morning stood out, for obvious reasons. It was from the team of church-security advisors with an organization that calls itself the Sheepdog Seminars (as in workers who fight the wolves that prey on "sheep" in a church flock). One member of the team, Jimmy Meeks, is a Hurst, Texas, police officer who is also a Southern Baptist preacher. I've been corresponding with him for years (click here for a column from five years ago).

The email was from Sutherland Springs, Texas. Here's what it said:

This newsletter is short. Quite frankly, I don't know what to tell you this time. I do know this: we have now set a new "record" for the number of people killed on church and faith-based property this year: 92 so far.

The old "record" was 77 lives in 2015. This violence is not going to stop. You had better prepare your church. 

As our own Bobby Ross, Jr., noted at midweek, journalists have been all over the church-security angle of this latest tragedy -- with good cause. The fact that there are multiple companies and networks dedicated to this kind of work is evidence of the validity of this story.

The common theme is not that church pews need to be packed with people who have concealed weapons. The bottom line is that religious institutions need some kind of plan for security and, tragically, this now means preparing to stop or slow down a gunman, with worshipers briefed on evacuation plans, etc.

This is not a new story, of course. Thus, I appreciated that The Fort Worth Star-Tribune team dug into its own local angle on this latest massacre in a church. I am talking about the attack nearly two decades ago at that city's Wedgwood Baptist Church, which was the tragedy that -- for security experts -- started the clock ticking on a bloody new era.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

After #TexasChurchMassacre, it's an obvious must-cover story — and major news orgs are doing so

After #TexasChurchMassacre, it's an obvious must-cover story — and major news orgs are doing so

"How can we be safe?" asked a minister I interviewed after Sunday's mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

With the death toll at 26, countless church leaders — all eager to protect their flocks — are posing the same question.

Again.

Just six weeks ago, a separate mass shooting at a church — this one at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn. — raised the church security issue, as I pointed out in a GetReligion post:

Sadly, in America in 2017, a mass shooting in which one person dies is not going to dominate the news cycle for long. Such tragedies have become too common. Even then, I noticed a national Associated Press piece just today on houses of worship addressing security in the wake of the Tennessee shooting.

Two years ago, church security made a bunch of headlines after nine people were killed at a Wednesday night Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. I remember writing a front-page story for The Christian Chronicle with the headline "God, guns and keeping churches safe."

And no, the issue of church safety didn't start with Emanuel. 

Sadly, here we go again.

Given the magnitude of Sunday's tragedy, church security is an obvious must-cover story for journalists across the nation. Already, some major news organizations are doing so, including Time magazine.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A motive in Nashville church shooting? Associated Press report cites possible retaliation for Charleston

A motive in Nashville church shooting? Associated Press report cites possible retaliation for Charleston

Earlier this week, I addressed the question of whether the news media underplayed the Tennessee church shooting story.

I quoted a few critics who made that claim.

But I disagreed, maintaining that the level of coverage — which I pointed out was not insignificant — would have been higher if more church members had died:

Sadly, in America in 2017, a mass shooting in which one person dies is not going to dominate the news cycle for long. Such tragedies have become too common.

One reader — who dubbed himself/herself "TooMuchDarkness" — responded to that post with this complaint:

I haven't seen one shred of investigative journalism delving into the background of the shooter, interviewing friend, family, coworkers and classmates trying understand what drove him to commit such a crime. Who are his parents and why are they spared the exposure most murderer's parents get. I'd like to know more but journalists don't seem to care.

Well, actually ...

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Did the news media underplay the Tennessee church shooting? Not so fast with that criticism

Did the news media underplay the Tennessee church shooting? Not so fast with that criticism

Did the news media underplay the Tennessee church shooting?

Certainly, some folks think so. But hold on a moment, and I'll explain why I don't necessarily agree.

Among the critics: The Blaze columnist Matt Walsh, who wrote a piece complaining that "a terrorist shot up a church but the media's too busy talking about NFL players kneeling."

A journalist friend sent me the link to Walsh's column. "Matt Walsh is tiresome and extremely wordy," my friend suggested.  "But his point is valid."

A relevant chunk of what Walsh wrote:

A Sudanese immigrant named Emanuel Kidega Samson murdered someone in the parking lot and then walked into Burnette Chapel Church of Christ and started shooting indiscriminately. The victim who died was a 39-year-old woman and mother of two named Melanie Smith. According to her family members, she was a Godly and compassionate woman. She was killed for committing the crime of attending church on a Sunday morning.
Samson wounded six other people, including the pastor before an usher stopped him. The hero, 22-year-old Caleb Engle, was pistol-whipped in the face during the confrontation. He struggled with Samson until the terrorist, by the grace of God, accidentally shot himself. Engle then went out to his car to grab his own firearm, and stood guard over the wounded shooter until police arrived.
Perhaps I’m giving you details you already know. Maybe you read about this story on page 14 of the newspaper. I’m not exaggerating, either. The New York Times put this mass shooting on page 14. The front page was dominated by athletes kneeling. Or perhaps you heard it mentioned in a 12-second blurb at the end of a cable newscast last night. I flipped through a few different channels and didn’t hear it even mentioned one time, but maybe they got around to it. Of course, in a 60-minute broadcast they had to allot at least 59 minutes to cataloging the posture of NFL players. If you managed to sit through all of that, you may have heard the “P.S. There was a mass shooting at a church today okay that’s all goodnight” at the end. I don’t know.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Breaking news, meet expert religion reporting: Inside the Tennessee church shooting coverage

Breaking news, meet expert religion reporting: Inside the Tennessee church shooting coverage

Holly Meyer, religion writer for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, immediately headed to the office when she heard about Sunday's mass shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ.

The paper already had dispatched a reporter to the scene, as other staff members pieced together details of the shooting that claimed the life of church member Melanie Crow and wounded seven others.

"For me, a lot of my background is in breaking news," Meyer told me. "I always joke that religion and breaking news don’t necessarily go together. But you’d be amazed how often those breaking news skills really come in handy. They certainly do in situations such as this."

They do indeed — as do Meyer's expert religion reporting skills — which she has demonstrated in expert fashion this week.

Early in its reporting, The Tennessean team learned that minister Joey Spann was one of the shooting victims.

"I really wanted to find out more about the minister," Meyer said.

And she did, with the help of sports department colleagues who were familiar with the vocational minister's work as a Christian school coach. And with archive background that revealed this was not Spann's first near-death experience.

The result: an excellent first-day profile of Spann that appeared in Monday's newspaper:

Please respect our Commenting Policy