Author: Bobby Ross Jr.

God and guns: Texas pastors undergo security training a month after Sutherland Springs massacre

God and guns: Texas pastors undergo security training a month after Sutherland Springs massacre

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

PLANO, Texas — Shooting holes in a “paper bad guy” during target practice? That’s easy.

Defending a house of worship against a real gunman? That’s a whole different story.

As he led a security training on Tuesday (Dec. 5) at a Dallas-area megachurch, Sgt. Mike Gurley warned against thinking that worshippers licensed to carry handguns can offer reliable protection.

“To assume they’re going to be effective in an active-shooter situation is comparable to giving me a set of golf clubs and expecting me to win the Masters,” the retired Dallas policeman told the crowd of 650 pastors and other church leaders.

The event, titled “Church Security in the 21st Century,” was held at the 42,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church exactly a month after the worst church shooting in American history.

That mass shooting occurred about 300 miles south of Plano at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5. Twenty-five members ages 1 to 77, including a pregnant woman, were killed.

Gurley, principal of the security firm Teamworks Consulting Inc., said even people licensed to carry firearms need specialized training to be able to respond to active-shooter situations.

He urged churches to develop policies for minimum training and qualifications for anyone armed with a gun and to consider involving members with law enforcement and military experience. Helping with the security team requires just as strong a calling and “God-given talent” as any other service, he said.

“Sutherland Springs was not a gun control issue,” he added. “It was a sin issue. We have to safeguard the body of believers.”

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

The guy in the red apron: How a Salvation Army bell ringer brings heart to the job

The guy in the red apron: How a Salvation Army bell ringer brings heart to the job

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas — To hear Bruce Bachman tell it, he’s just a guy with a bell, a red apron and a heart to serve who gives a little of his time during the holiday season.

He’s just one of the thousands of volunteer bell ringers who keep alive a 127-year tradition that the Salvation Army traces to Capt. Joseph McFee, who set out a large, iron kettle in 1891 to collect funds for a Christmas dinner in San Francisco.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the change, bills and occasional large checks and gold coins that Americans drop into about 25,000 kettles from coast to coast amount to roughly $150 million, said Lt. Col. Ron Busroe, the Salvation Army’s national community relations and development secretary.

Some bell ringers wish passers-by a heartfelt “Merry Christmas” and hope the kettle fills. But many others, like Bachman, have honed strategies and routines to make the most of the uncompensated work — for the Salvation Army and for all who come within earshot.

Just before 10 a.m. on a busy shopping day, the 61-year-old consulting engineer arrives at a Hobby Lobby arts and crafts store with a mailbox-sized stereo, a box of Christmas CDs and a plastic baggie full of hard candy.

“I bring the candy to suck on so I don’t have to drink as much water,” Bachman explains. He knows he won’t have time for meals or bathroom breaks, so he tries to be prepared (eating a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns ahead of time).

He’ll stand outside for eight hours and — as a mix of Bing Crosby, Mannheim Steamroller and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” tunes plays — invite customers to donate to the Salvation Army’s red kettle campaign.

“God bless you!” he tells a woman who pulls money out of her purse. “You have a very merry Christmas!”

“Hello, cutie!” he says in his best Donald Duck voice as 3-year-old Jubilee Longoria approaches the kettle with a handful of coins.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

 

Closing doors: Small religious colleges struggle for survival

Closing doors: Small religious colleges struggle for survival

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

SHAWNEE, Okla. — Duncan Tiemeyer chose St. Gregory’s University because he wanted a faith-based education that would teach him more than how to succeed in a career.

The 550-student Catholic liberal arts college in Oklahoma traces its roots to French monks who moved to Indian Territory in 1875, intent on developing the bodies, minds and souls of Native American and settler children.

“Here, we are taught not only to focus on our five-year plan but also our 100-year plan and our 500-year plan,” said Tiemeyer, 22, a senior business and theology major from Houston. “What are we preparing for? Are we living our lives in a way that is getting us to the next life? Are we going to be able to go to heaven?”

However, the brand of education offered by St. Gregory’s — where Benedictine monks still pray multiple times daily in a chapel beside a cemetery filled with the remains of their predecessors — will come to an abrupt halt at the fall semester’s end.

“It’s just a tragic and sad loss, and I’m grieving for our students and faculty and staff who are working through this loss,” said St. Gregory’s President Michael A. Scaperlanda.

The financially strapped Roman Catholic institution, 40 miles east of Oklahoma City, is just the latest small religious college to close in an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

Texas hero risked life to save others

Texas hero risked life to save others

With the death toll at 26, Stephen Willeford confronted — and shot — the Sutherland Springs gunman.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

Heroes need prayers, too.

Stephen Willeford — the Texan who confronted and shot the gunman who killed 26 people at a rural Baptist church Sunday — could use a bunch of prayers, his close friend John Wood says.

To many, Willeford’s actions outside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs made him a hero.

But the hero, who is described as a faithful Christian, was distraught when he called Wood at his Ohio home right after confirming gunman Devin Patrick Kelley’s death.

“I talked to him immediately after it happened, basically before any of the law enforcement arrived,” Wood — a retired Church of Christ minister and Air Force chaplain — told The Christian Chronicle. “He called me and said, ‘I just killed a man.’”

Texas Department of Public Safety Cmdr. Freeman Martin told reporters that an armed citizen, identified as Willeford, shot Kelley in the leg and torso. However, an autopsy indicated that a third shot — a self-inflicted wound to the head — likely killed Kelley.

Wood had just gotten home from worship at the Xenia Church of Christ in the Buckeye State when his phone rang.

The longtime preacher said he relied on his training in counseling as he comforted Willeford, who has long ties to Churches of Christ.

Read the full story.

First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

 

After massacre, a prayer vigil

After massacre, a prayer vigil

In a community grieving 26 victims, a Church of Christ opens its doors for service.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

The Stockdale Church of Christ in rural South Texas was enjoying a monthly fellowship meal when the horrible news came Sunday afternoon.

Just a few miles away, a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in the neighboring town of Sutherland Springs had claimed 26 lives and left 20 others wounded.

“We were all eating when everybody’s Facebook and Twitter feeds started to blow up,” said Kenneth Clapp, minister for the Stockdale church.

A member who serves as the justice of the peace for Wilson County — where both Stockdale and Sutherland Springs are located — got a call to respond to the scene, as did several first responders in the congregation.

On Sunday night, the Stockdale Church of Christ hosted a prayer vigil to give its community a chance to pray and grieve together. About 150 people filled the pews.

Pastor Ray Perales from Christ United Methodist Church in Stockdale and pastor Noah Tillman-Young from Stockdale Assembly of God joined Clapp and other local residents in leading prayers at the hour-long vigil.

“A lot of it was praying for peace, comfort, to not let people lose hope or faith,” Clapp said. The shooting affected “people whose names and faces we know. It makes it very real.

“Part of it is, how can we be safe?” added the minister, whose church averages Sunday attendance of 175 to 180. “The answer is, we never truly will be, so we do the best we can. … It’s really shaken people here because there wasn’t anything anybody could do.”

Read the full story.

First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

 

Satanic Temple billboard protesting corporal punishment rankles Texas town

Satanic Temple billboard protesting corporal punishment rankles Texas town

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

Arther Culpepper, a sheet-metal mechanic and part-time pastor in the South Texas town of Three Rivers, first noticed the billboard out of the corner of his eye.

He was driving south on U.S. Highway 281 — near the local Dairy Queen — when the message caught his attention: “Our religion doesn’t believe in hitting children.”

The sign was paid for by the Satanic Temple, a national group whose Protect Children Project takes aim at paddling in public schools.

“I kind of thought it was funny,” said Culpepper, who pastors at the nondenominational River of Life Worship Center. “Everybody in America has the right to rent a billboard if you want to rent a billboard.”

Free speech or not, many others in the town of 1,900 — about 75 miles south of San Antonio — expressed shock and outrage at the group’s message, which targets the Three Rivers school district board of trustees’ 6-o vote in July to reinstitute corporal punishment.

“The community is upset, not happy,” said Kevin Mackey, minister of the Three Rivers Church of Christ, which responded on its own sign: “Satan doesn’t own all the signs in (Three Rivers) — don’t let him own you.”

Lyn Means, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Three Rivers, echoes Mackey’s concern.

“I’m very sorry that the billboard has been posted in our town, especially in a city park where families and our children congregate,” Means said. “There’s not really anything I can do about it personally except pray for those people responsible for putting something like that up in our town.”

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

After media swamp grieving Texas town, one journalist suggests: ‘We can do better’

After media swamp grieving Texas town, one journalist suggests: ‘We can do better’

By Bobby Ross Jr. | GetReligion

Coverage of Sunday’s mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, sparked a must-read opinion piece by Dallas Morning News journalist Lauren McGaughy.

“Dear Sutherland Springs, you deserve an apology from the news media” is the headline atop McGaughy’s viral column.

I want to highlight McGaughy’s powerful words as we dive into GetReligion weekend think-piece territory a little early.

But first, a bit of personal background: My first experience with the national news media descending on a community struck by tragedy came more than two decades ago when the unfathomable happened in Oklahoma City.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, I had just stepped off The Oklahoman’s eighth-floor newsroom elevator when we heard a giant boom and saw billowing black smoke in the distance. I was one of the reporters dispatched to the scene.

In all, 168 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building — the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil until 9/11 six years later.

When I arrived downtown, I parked with no problem. Hours later, I found my car surrounded by news vans and television satellite trucks. This was the biggest news story in the world — and would be for weeks.

Read the full column.

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All of my GetReligion columns (November 2017):

Continue reading “After media swamp grieving Texas town, one journalist suggests: ‘We can do better’”