An Open Letter to Summit Church on Security

By Stephen Bryen
Stephen Bryen
Stephen Bryen
Dr. Stephen Bryen is regarded as a thought leader on technology security policy, twice being awarded the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Public Service Medal. A Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Policy, Senior Fellow, Yorktown Institute, his most recent book is “Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers.”
September 27, 2020Updated: September 28, 2020


Dear Summit Church in Naples, Florida,

I want you to be safe. But I was alarmed when I read a recent story posted by Zach Barret of NBC Channel 2 in Fort Myers and Naples, Florida. Zach told the story of your pastor, Jeremiah Taylor, and someone trying to break into the church through a glass back door.

According to the story, Pastor Taylor got a call from the church’s security company reporting a potential break in. The security company advised the pastor to call the police. Instead, he decided to check the problem out himself.

Suppose Pastor Taylor came face to face with an armed man? Suppose he was physically attacked? Why would a church pastor expose himself unnecessarily to risk?

Today, houses of worship across the United States and Canada are under attack. The vast majority of cases are simple burglaries and the perpetrators are often drifters, drug addicts, or petty criminals. But some of these characters have knives, guns, and other objects—including sledgehammers and crow bars—that can also be lethal weapons.

COVID-19, the Wuhan virus, has meant that many churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples are not open regularly, or are supporting small, in-house religious services, or holding services outside, often in parking lots. The rest of the time the buildings are empty and are easy pickings for thieves.

Or worse. Many have also experienced unprecedented vandalism and desecration. Many holy places have been set on fire and arson in most of these cases is tied to hatred—of conservative churches, of liberal churches, of Jews and Moslems, of Blacks and other minorities. Arsonists have used fire bombs (Molotov Cocktails, bottles of gasoline with a gasoline-wetted cloth stuffed in them), and other incendiaries. Suppose Pastor Taylor had a fire bomb thrown at him?

In Toronto this month, 58-year-old Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a mosque caretaker, was stabbed just outside the Etobicoke mosque as he was checking on visitors entering for prayer. The man charged with the crime is known to have been associated with a satanic neo-Nazi hate group. Mohamed was unarmed and there were no security guards to protect him.

Because of the trouble in U.S. cities, churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples have been caught in the middle. Some have been attacked multiple times. Even here in my own hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, a grave marker at the Grace Episcopal Church where 17 Confederate soldiers who died in July, 1864 are buried, was desecrated with Black Lives Matter graffiti and toppled and destroyed. Incidents have happened in almost every state, from Florida, to Louisiana, to Texas, to Missouri, to Illinois, to New York, to California, to Portland and Seattle, and many more.

Such attacks are easier today because of COVID-19 restrictions and because donations to holy places are drying up. There are reports that as many as half the churches in the United States won’t reopen after the pandemic threat recedes.

According to the NBC-2 story, “Pastor Taylor didn’t find anyone inside the church, but he did find his glass back door shattered. Taylor called the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, and while he waited for deputies to arrive, he noticed a man riding near the church on his bike.”

Pastor Taylor approached the man and engaged in a conversation that was “nice” and “cordial.” The church’s CCTV cameras recorded him. The man lingered on the property and the deputies who responded to the Pastor’s call apprehended him. Pastor Taylor didn’t realize he was talking to the perpetrator until he later saw the CCTV video. Had the man been violent or hostile, Pastor Taylor could have been hurt.

Security should not be attempted by amateurs, no matter how dedicated or well-meaning. While it is laudatory that Pastor Taylor cared so much for his church that he was willing to take security into his own hands, that was a serious mistake.

While the Summit church seemed to have a good security service and its own camera system, as far as I can determine from the website of the Summit Church in Naples (and the two other Summit Churches, both in Fort Myers), there are no security officers on staff. More importantly, the Pastor clearly lacked training in how to deal with a security incident. There are better options than putting oneself in harm’s way. And pastor’s should not be expected to protect buildings or provide security cover.

Many religious and congregational leaders are largely untrained and can be blindsided when it comes to security and responding to any incident. Congregations, yours and others, should seek ways to address this issue before someone is hurt.

Stephen Bryen is the author of the new book, “Security for Holy Places: How to Build a Security Plan for your Church, Synagogue, Mosque or Temple” (Morgan James Publishing).

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.