CINCINNATI — More than 1,200 crimes were committed against Christian churches and ministries in 2009, according to an unofficial tally by a firm that specializes in church security.
The Christian Security Network report found 1,237 total incidents targeting churches in all 50 states, including 12 homicides, 38 other violent incidents and $24 million in estimated property loss.
“It is disheartening to see all these incidents and loss of life in churches in 2009 and even sadder because we know 2010 isn’t going to be any different unless the status quo changes,” said Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network.
The most common crime committed against churches is burglary. Sixty-two percent of the incidents in the CSN report — 779 in all — were burglaries.
The most expensive, however, is embezzling — internal theft committed over a period of time, usually years. Such incidents, according to the report, cost churches nearly $14 million in 2009.
Other 2009 incidents included three sexual assaults, three kidnappings and 98 arsons. The report said counting the number of crimes against churches is difficult for several reasons.
There is no mandatory reporting of such crimes to any government agency.
The FBI tracks hate crimes against religious organizations, but many of the crimes involving churches are not included in hate-crimes statistics because bias against Christians is not a motive in the crimes.
Many of the organizations cited in the report experienced multiple incidents.
One particular church in Cincinnati, for example, was burglarized 20 times during a six-month period. A veteran security specialist with nearly 30 years experience, Hawkins said criminals nowadays are less likely than in the past to avoid churches simply because they are sacred spaces.
Today, he said, criminals are more inclined to view houses of worship simply as “soft” targets.
Despite that, he added, 75 percent of churches polled in 2008 said they did not have any security or emergency plan.
Hawkins said with a few precautions and training, many crimes included in the report could have been averted. “The church has to start taking responsibility for the safety of their staff, volunteers, and congregation and [become] good stewards of the gifts God has provided,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)