Securing the churches — THISDAY Editorial

Posted by News Express | 27 June 2022 | 297 times

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•Saint Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State.


The June 5 attack on a catholic church in Owo, Ondo State, has quickened what was already a growing national anxiety. Barely a week after the attack which claimed over 40 lives of innocent worshippers, there was another on a catholic church in Kaduna State which claimed two lives. While the federal government has stated that the Owo attack may have been perpetrated by operatives of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the Ondo State government has disputed the claim. But the controversy is needless. Irrespective of the identity of the culprits, what remains at issue is the security of worshippers in churches across the nation.

In every religion, the object of worship is a willful surrender of the self to the protection of the higher power of the divine. In peaceful climes, places of worship hardly ever need earthly human physical protection. Footage and images from recent church scenes especially in the wake of the Owo killings have shown clerics and worshippers clutching weapons. These images are blatant signs of the times in which Nigerians now live. They are also unfortunate violations of the code that enables religious worship. Besides, they undermine the object of religious supplication and the ultimate surrender to the protection of the Almighty. The quest for physical security and protection for places of worship in any society or nation is therefore one clear sign that all is not well in the land.

When metal detectors become essential requirements of security or churches begin to seek armed combat soldiers and police protection for times of worship, the very end of religion is undermined if not totally destroyed. If those who head to church every Sunday are unsure that they will return home in one piece and not in body bags, then something fundamental that binds society together is shattered.

The freedom of worship in an atmosphere devoid of fear of injury or death is a pillar of democracy. When and where that freedom is under threat, the state has an urgent bounden duty, indeed an obligation, to provide that protection to all those who have to be in places of worship as part of normal life. In our present national context, the security of places of worship, especially the churches, have become the favorite targets of sectarian zealots and deranged terrorists. Yet, the state hardly has enough personnel to physically police and man every church.

The challenge is first one of intelligence-based security. The vulnerability indices of certain states and locations ought to be part of available national security data and profiling. That profile needs to be constantly updated in the light of current threats and the mobility of troublemakers and terrorists. It may also help for churches to provide metal detectors and beepers at entrances as an early warning precaution. After all, during the highpoint of the Covid-19 health emergency, churches installed fixed sanitizers and other devices to protect their congregants.

However, the more elaborate the gamut of preventive security measures in churches, the farther away they drift from the spiritual essence of divine protection. On a long-term basis, therefore, it ought to trouble our political leaders that the spiritual foundations of the nation are being gradually eroded by the insecurity that now haunts our land. A nation that is already fractured along many fault lines risks falling apart completely when innocent citizens can no longer take recourse to divine protection from a growing army of dark forces and agents of the devil.

Yet bad times dictate unusual precautions. An essential responsibility of the state is the protection of the lives of citizens as they undertake the rituals of daily living. When citizens are invaded in their homes or accosted on the highways, their places of worship remain where they can reinforce their armour of divine protection. When evil forces invade those same places, the sense of utter defenselessness becomes total and unforgiving. That perhaps is the greatest threat to national security properly defined. But the soothing balm of church hymns and the tranquility of the moments of prayer should not be replaced with anguish and the trail of blood.

Source: News Express

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