Stop a mass gunman by throwing your Bible at him?
Yes, an expert quoted by The Associated Press actually recommended that. More details in a moment.
But first, I'll share my overall impression of this year-end AP rundown of security measures taking place at houses of worship nationwide.
My reaction is this: There is such a thing as trying to do too much. The amount of information the wire service packs into this all-encompassing lede seems to be a case in point:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — In Alabama, a Presbyterian church wanted to be able to hire its own police for protection. Mosque leaders around the country are meeting with law enforcement officials as an anti-Muslim furor fuels arson attacks and vandalism. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been holding specialized training for congregations for "all hazards, including active shooter incidents."
Religious congregations across the United States are concentrating on safety like never before following a season of violence, from the slaughter unleashed in June by a white shooter at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, to the killings this month in San Bernardino, California.
Concentrating on safety like never before. Is that a verifiable fact? Or journalistic hyperbole?
Certainly, the Charleston and San Bernardino shootings were two of the biggest religion news stories of 2015. After nine people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, I wrote a Christian Chronicle story on "God, guns and keeping Christians safe." More recently, I spent time in San Bernardino, where 14 died in a massacre linked to a radicalized husband and wife, and explored the debate over jihadist theology vs. mainstream Islam.
So I definitely understand what the AP is trying to do by melding these attacks together under the broad heading of security in churches, mosques and synagogues.
I'm just not certain this story's rapid-fire recitation of incidents, statistics and security measures really works:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said 2015 is shaping up as the worst year ever for U.S. mosques, amid the backlash to the Islamic-extremist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and the intensifying anti-Muslim rhetoric from Donald Trump and others seeking the GOP presidential nomination. Preliminary 2015 data collected by the civil rights organization found 71 reported cases of vandalism, harassment and threats, with 29 of those incidents occurring since the Nov. 13 assaults in France.
The Anti-Defamation League, which works to secure Jewish sites, has been organizing safety training around the country with other faith groups, including an Austin, Texas, event with local police and the African Methodist Episcopal Churches of Greater Austin that drew participants from 35 churches and three mosques. The Charleston church attacked in June, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, is part of the national African Methodist Episcopal denomination.
Christian churches have been refining their security plans ahead of receiving some of their largest crowds of the year for Christmas. On a FEMA webinar last Wednesday on protecting houses of worship, the chief security executive at The Potter's House, the Rev. T.D. Jakes' megachurch in Dallas, gave tips about behavior that should raise concern, such as a congregant arriving in a long coat in hot weather. If needed, church greeters could give a hug and feel for weapons, said the executive, Sean Smith.
"I call it the Holy Ghost pat-down," Smith said.
I love that last quote, but the story overall left my head spinning.
Of course, there's a chance I'm being overly critical because I personally prefer stories with a less broad approach. Maybe you'll have a different reaction. If so, feel free to comment below or tweet us.
Meanwhile, the AP saved the most astonishing part of this story for the end:
On the FEMA webinar, officials emphasized the need for heightened security for all houses of worship. Katherine Schweit, chief of the active-shooter section in the FBI's Office of Partner Engagement, explained how congregants could create confusion to distract shooters.
"You can fight by everyone throwing a Bible at them," Schweit said, "and I mean that in a very respectful way because I am a Bible-fearing person."
Please tell me more. That little nugget seems to demand a story of its own.
And in the follow-up, I'd love some direction on the kind of Bible to throw: Must it be a printed version with a leather cover? Or will the YouVersion app on my iPhone work?
Bible image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net