LoM MarkelLegion of Michael: Defending the Flock

By Paul G. Markel

Independently published, 128 pages, Paperback $10.99 or $3.99 eBook

ISBN-13 979-8649331784

Reviewed by Gila Hayes

Paul Markel, a life-long Christian, writes a compelling introduction to his book about church security in which he relates his experience as a young man choosing a use-of-force profession while staying true to his faith. In the Marine Corps, he encountered many who misunderstood the Biblical injunction to turn the other cheek, and the sixth commandment, which, if translated from the Hebrew correctly, should actually read “thou shall not commit murder.”

Some are blessed, he posits, with the ability and willingness to use force in defense of those who cannot defend themselves. In the context of worship and assuring the safety and defense of fellow congregants, Markel dubs these protectors “the Legion of Michael,” sketching out the Biblical account of the war in heaven in which the archangel Michael led an army of angels to force Lucifer to leave heaven. Armed forces, law enforcement professionals, church safety teams and armed citizens may stay within the bounds of their faith and use force in defense of the innocent, he explains.

Parishioners who carry guns are “not an effective security strategy” alone, Markel writes, noting that the level of training and practice is woefully inadequate amongst many civilian gun owners. He details the many considerations present when choosing the security team. Abandon “childish notions of ‘fair’ or ‘equal’” when choosing team members, he advises. Physical and mental attributes are important, including stamina. Hearing and vision are necessary, despite our sympathy for older or disabled believers who want to serve. A desire to serve and willingness to make the sacrifices that may attach are also important characteristics.

Poor team member choices include church members who “spend all of their time telling you about how many and what kinds of guns they own,” he adds. To avoid appearing arbitrary, those leading church security teams should maintain written records of why a team member is or is not chosen, he advises. In a later chapter, Markel discusses professionalism, explaining that having a written standard operating procedure document is in no way “overkill” even for two or three volunteers protecting a small-town congregations. He offers examples of mission statements, incident reports, organizational and assignments including who is authorized to give statements on behalf of the church after an incident, training and ongoing qualification requirements, suggested courses of fire for qualifications, some of which needs to be reviewed by the church attorney, he specifies. He also stresses the importance of teaching justified use of force, providing models, but noting that policies must be appropriate to laws where the church is located. Returning to the topic of professionalism, he later also explains the importance of name tags, and the value of keeping a daily log any time security is provided.

Even if a team member comes to the mission with an exceptionally high level of skill, Markel recommends requiring participation in the team’s training sessions. Training builds camaraderie, he explains. Training goes beyond marksmanship, includes gun safety, and must also cover trauma medicine. Likewise, a safety team needs to have physical capacity and people skills to handle “disorderly, argumentative or unbalanced” people who may enter the church. In addition to grappling skills, he suggests TASER®s and pepper foam. One chapter discusses firearms, and other communications equipment.

Markel dedicates a chapter to explaining justifiable use of force, introducing his topic with the observation that the subject is “not as complicated or complex as many would have you believe,” then describing circumstances under which it is reasonable to fear the death or “permanent or prolonged disability” to an innocent person at the hands of a violent attacker. He goes on to discuss the means of injury that are considered deadly force and the actions that demonstrate intent to cause harm.

Markel’s lessons about awareness and that mindset’s application to the security mission are of equal importance to his use of force introduction. I was pleased when he echoed a sentiment I saw first some years ago when I read What They Don’t Tell You About Church Safety that clearly defines the preferred motivation and the resultant demeanor of security volunteers. Markel describes it thus: “It is important that the members of the Legion of Michael never come across to the congregation as stern, sour, or standoffish. Always offer members a smile and a nod to acknowledge them. You want them to be glad you are there and not feel intimidated by your presence.”

He continues with a warning that church security team members must never consider themselves elite or better than the rest of the congregation, some of whom may already be opposed to church defense preparations. Build bridges, Markel recommends, suggesting that church security volunteers might host a spaghetti dinner for the congregation to meet with the safety team. The team leader could offer a preview of training, or offer a short course like a Stop the Bleed demonstration, which he adds, creates a positive, “warm, fuzzy, feeling” that is much more productive than promoting the need for church security by invoking fear as would result from showing “a PowerPoint on church shootings,” he observes.

Take care, also, not to alienate congregants who carry guns, Markel continues. A joint session for the safety team as well as armed congregants who don’t volunteer for the team might present a guest speaker teaching about justifiable use of force or trauma medical care and first aid, he suggests.

Markel’s chapter on the aftermath of self defense considers the physical, emotional, and legal well-being of the volunteers who have shouldered the church safety mission. He tackles issues including summoning law enforcement and medical help, what to tell police when they arrive and who should speak on behalf of the church, as well as the difficult and dangerous question of rendering first aid to an attacker, explained through the lens of Christianity.

Additional chapters include a good discussion of how much public access is really needed for the church building, addressing concerns about creating a welcoming atmosphere to draw in those with whom the church wants to share the Christian message. If the structure has side doors or back doors through which an attacker could enter unobserved, secure those doors, he recommends. While surveying access, also verify quick access to fire extinguishers,automated external defibrillators, and other aspects of safety for congregations, he adds.

Markel’s book is written in an easy-to-read conversational style, blending his background, skills, knowledge and training into a distilled, no-nonsense briefing. If you volunteer or attend a church served by a security team, I recommend this book.

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