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Protecting the Flock

ICC Note

“Many believers around the world are being killed, imprisoned or raped, not for committing crimes, but because they made a decision to follow Christ. Unless we hear about the persecuted, how can we feel their pain?”

By Matt Smith

03/30/2011 United States (Cleburne Times Review)-A Tuesday seminar focusing on church safety drew more than 400 law enforcement officers, as well as church and local officials from around the state to the Cleburne Conference Center.

Cpl. Jimmy Meeks, a detective with the Hurst Police Department as well as a minister, hosted the seminar. Meeks began conducting church safety seminars in 2009, having hosted more than 30 across the state so far.

The program included several other speakers who addressed topics ranging from persecution of Christians around the world to church violence and shootings to sexual abuse of children. The purpose of the seminars, Meeks said, is to educate church leaders and law enforcement officials on common-sense methods to protect church members.

After a prayer to open the day, the seminar got off to an emotional start as Meeks invited Brad Elliott to take the stage.

Elliott’s mother, Judy Elliott, an assistant at NorthPointe Baptist Church in Arlington was beaten on March 3 during an incident at the church in which the Rev. Clint Dobson was killed.

Elliott said his mother is doing better, that she is “up walking” and able to talk with the help of a voice box.

“The church is standing strong, standing together, and we’re going to get through this with the prayers from the rest of you,” Elliott said. “I can’t thank you guys enough for the prayers you’ve voiced for us. We can see those prayers being answered every day.”

Jeff Laster, minister to adults and mission at Wedgwood Baptist Church, spoke next, remembering the 1999 shooting at the Fort Worth church.

On Sept. 15 of that year, Larry Gene Ashbrook entered the church and opened fire, killing seven and injuring seven more, including Laster, before committing suicide.

The church was crowded as a youth prayer rally complete with music and other activities was underway, Laster said.

“There were a lot of people we didn’t know coming in and out,” Laster said.

Ashbrook entered the church smoking a cigarette, Laster said. When Laster walked up to greet Ashbrook and tell him smoking was not allowed in the church, Ashbrook pulled a gun and shot Laster twice, he said. Ashbrook then turned and opened fire on the six others standing in the church entryway, Laster said.

Laster said he still doesn’t know why God allowed the church shooting to occur, but added that the story went around the world and he has since ministered to many people.

Laster pointed out that tragic incidents like those at Wedgwood and NorthPointe help to bring people to Christ.

Meeks moved on to the topic of Christians persecuted around the world. More people have been killed because of their faith between 1900 and 1999 than during the previous 19 centuries combined, he said.

Jonathan Racho, a representative of International Christian Concern, drove that point home by sharing several stories of persecuted individuals from around the globe.

“Many believers around the world are being killed, imprisoned or raped,” Racho said. “Not for committing crimes, but because they made a decision to follow Christ. Unless we hear about the persecuted, how can we feel their pain?”

Racho urged attendees to become informed and get involved in the problem. A sentiment Meeks agreed with.

“God gave America all this freedom so we can speak up and fight for others,” Meeks said.

Greg Love, a Fort Worth attorney, addressed the problem of sexual abuse of children.

About 865,000 children are sexually molested in America each year, Love said. A problem that is becoming more widespread at churches, he said.

The problem exists for several reasons, Love said.

It’s not a topic most churches discuss, he said.

Many also don’t believe or realize how big of a problem sexual abuse is, or understand that it is a broad concept that isn’t limited strictly to intercourse, or even physical touching.

Conservative estimates show that there are about 60 million survivors of sexual abuse in the U.S. and that 66 percent of them don’t talk about the incident until adulthood, if at all, Love said.

The average male molester begins molesting by age 13 or 14, Love said. If he prefers boys, he has generally had about 150 victims before being prosecuted. If he prefers girls, about 52 victims before being prosecuted.

Another impediment, Love said, involves the inability by most people to understand a sexual attraction to children.

“Normally, we respond to a problem once we understand it,” Love said. “But this is a subject that will make no sense to us, hopefully ever.

The problem of sexual predators continues to grow in churches in part because of lack of information and education on the subject, and because offenders tend to go where they can most easily gain access. In many cases, it is easier for a predator to get a job in a church than in a school or the private sector, Love said.

“There’s also what I call security blankets,” Love said. “Thinking, ‘OK, we’re doing enough.’

“An example of that would be the background check, which just about everybody does. The problem is, less than 10 percent of abusers ever hit the justice system, so there are no records to find.

“Do the background checks certainly. They’re part of the system, but they’re not a silver bullet, not all we need to do.”

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