Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Church Safety

I was extremely disappointed in Time magazine for its November 30, 2009 article about church safety and crime. This article was two pages long, which is two too many. It is just more media shock sensationalism, preying on people's irrational fears and lack of understanding of prevalence and probability to get attention. Here is some perspective and context for the numbers that the magazine so irresponsibly presented as "a flurry of violent crimes".

# of murders in churches since 2008 as reported: 5
# of murders in 2006 (most recent year for complete data, CDC): 18,573
# of violent crimes in churches in 2009 (10 months): 40
# of violent crimes in 2006 in USA (DoJ): 5,858,840

If the average church visit lasts about an hour and a half (~1/6000 of a year), we see that the murder rate is about average, and the violent crime rate in churches is minuscule. When you factor in that many people staff and visit church beyond the weekly services, the relative rates of violence are even smaller. When we further examine the murders that did happen, two were going to happen regardless of the church setting (spurning wife and abortion provider), and the church was just convenient. The situation with the stabbed priest is a mystery, but the other shootout was some ignorant redneck who wanted revenge on liberals for his unemployment and targeted a Unitarian Universalist church. Bizarrely, Time doesn't specify the type of church, and continues on to say that a conservative Christian group reacted with polls of church security measures. As I discuss elsewhere, conservatives tend to be overly fearful and less able to usefully evaluate information. "Security experts" go on to talk about churches' vulnerability, but they stand to make money off of scared congregations, so their biased comments should be taken cautiously.

The article includes an anecdotal church in Houston that experienced many burglaries. Far, far from being representative of all churches, this story probably serves more as a warning for churches that sit in bad neighborhoods. If you're in an area riddled with drug addicts, you're going to get robbed whether you're a church or not.

This pathetic fear-mongering is shameful. There is no crime epidemic among churches, and churches are not at high risk for violence. I expected better from Time.

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