Churches Targeted 420 Times Since 2018: Homeland Security Warns of New Threats to Houses of Worship
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A new report reveals that American churches have seen a steady rise in acts of hostility in recent years. Now the Department of Homeland Security is pushing to keep houses of worship safe, given deadly attacks already this year and warnings that more could come.
It has named 25 faith leaders to a new Faith-Based Advisory Council to better coordinate timely information about threat concerns.
Just weeks ago, the DHS National Terrorism Advisory System warned that threat actors could exploit the holiday season and large gatherings as well as the Jan. 6th Capitol attack anniversary to justify or commit acts of violence.
Potential targets include faith-based institutions as well as the LGBTQI+ community, schools and racial and religious minorities.
Such concerns are underscored by a new report from the Family Research Council (FRC), showing an increase in acts of hostility against U.S. churches in the last five years, as evidenced by media reports and government data.
The FRC's "Hostility Against Churches" report documents 420 acts between January 2018 and September 2022. They include vandalism, arson, bomb threats, gun-related incidents, and more.
"Criminal acts of vandalism and destruction of church property are symptomatic of a collapse in societal reverence and respect for houses of worship and religion – in this case, churches and Christianity," the report states.
"Americans appear increasingly comfortable lashing out against church buildings, pointing to a larger societal problem of marginalizing core Christian beliefs, including those that touch on hot-button political issues related to human dignity and sexuality," the FRC explains.
The report also cites FBI data that shows 240 anti-Christian "hate crimes" in 2021, compared to 213 in 2020 and 217 in 2019. In 2018, it documented 172 such crimes.
Rev. Gabriel Salguero, an Orlando pastor and head of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, is one of the faith leaders named to the DHS security council.
He told CBN News that the need for real-time communication about threats to churches and faith-based institutions is key.
"We know that regrettably there are bad actors who act against people of faith and we want to be conduits of credible information and receive that information in a timely manner," he said.
Just last month, the FBI warned of threats against New Jersey and New York synagogues, later arresting suspects who called online for attacks.
Earlier this year, shootings led to the deaths of three seniors at an Alabama church potluck and one man at a church lunch in California.
In addition to Salguero, the new DHS security council includes faith leaders from the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and other faiths.
Along with sharing threat information, DHS is calling attention to resources like government grants to help houses of worship establish security plans.
For many pastors, providing that security brings a challenge: how best to welcome the community while keeping people safe.
"That's always a tension," said Salguero. "It's not easy to do but it's regrettably an additional task that now pastors and security personnel and ushers have to take seriously."
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