Americans are experiencing the best of times and the worst of times. All data and general information about world reports on violence and public health suggest that the broad spectrum of violence including child abuse, and neglect, youth violence, violence by intimate partners, sexual violence, and suicide is a major spiritual health program worldwide. Each year millions of innocent people die as a result of injuries due to violence.
A faith based spiritual health approach focused on prevention can and will contribute to reduction in violent acts. Faith leaders have an important role to play in establishing national plans and policies for violence prevention. Faith leaders are called to preach and serve a society where:
- There is rampant and uncontrolled school and community violence. The number of youth killed as a result of gun violence is increasing nationwide (as of June 2007, The Chicago Sun Times newspaper reported thirty-four youth this school year alone) has been killed.
- In a recent study the average costs for treating unintentional shootings is $22,000.00 each. (1)
- In 2004, 1804 children and teenagers were murdered in gun homicides, 846 committed suicide with guns and 143 died in unintentional shootings. One young person died as a result of firearms every three hours in 2004. (2)
- In a study of inner city 7-year olds and their exposure to violence 75 percent of them reported hearing gunshots. (3)
- There is disproportionate access to health care and housing for many of America’s citizens.
- According to Bureau of Justice statistics in 2002 and subsequent years, firearm homicide was the number one cause of death for 15-34 year old African Americans. (4)
- Unlicensed vendors at gun shows who are private individuals who legally buy and sell guns claiming to be occasional sellers and collectors make up to 25-50 percent of all gun vendors at gun shows. These persons are unlicensed vendors and individuals who are able to purchase and sell firearms in the more than 4000 gun shows held annually in the U.S. without being required to submit to the restrictive regulatory identification requirements of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Standards. (5)
- African American women account for 50 percent of the people in the US infected with the HIV virus between 1999-2002 according to the Center for Disease Control.
- 92 percent of all female offenders have been abused (sexually, physically and/or emotionally) prior to committing the crime charged. (6)
- The estimated total cost of gun violence reaches $100 billion dollars. (7)
CLERGY COMMUNITY CRISIS INTERVENTION INITIATIVE
The faith leaders in America are challenged to preach and serve in a country founded on the Judeo Christian ethic in a climate where faith is distorted in public life. There is a growing push among some to create a faith neutral and color blind society, which continues to promote and benefit the interests of less than 5 percent of the population.
God has sent the local church to the city to provide “shalom” to the residents of the city by doing what the Bible scholar, Dr. Robert Linthicum calls being God’s presence, proclamation, prayer and security. American children live in a war-like environment where violence is an every day reality.
The long-term occupation of many communities by rival gangs mirrors the guerrilla warfare children experience in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and other countries in the world. The ethnic cleansing in Burma, the genital mutilation on the continent of Africa all demonstrates the world’s treatment of children as disposable commodities and not as treasures given by God.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left with us the vision and a dream for the beloved community. The universal faith community is the beloved community of God. Faith leaders must make political and corporate leaders uncomfortable with a society, which treats its children and elderly as garbage.
The recent rash of violence against youth perpetrated by youth throughout every major city in America results in the need for what I call a Clergy Community Crisis Intervention Initiative. We have discussed and read the statistics until we are full of data, but appear devoid of solutions. Clergy can implement the following action plan as an immediate response to the violence that is affecting our communities and families:
- First, every local church can commit to become involved in the local school located within five square blocks of the church facility each Monday and Friday by simply greeting students at arrival and dismissal.
- Second, local pastors and/or youth leaders can meet once per week with teens that live within a five square block area of the church facility. The meeting is designed to give the teens an opportunity to voice their personal concerns, receive counseling and be guided to available resources as needs indicate.
- Third, pastors can open the church’s community hall, technology center, and gymnasium to youth in the community during the week after school and in the evenings and provide youth with adult supervised activities.
- Fourth, pastors can organize a mobile neighborhood invasion team comprised of the youth of the church to go throughout the community and distribute resource information to youth and adults who they meet on the street or in the homes they visit who need jobs, housing, utility assistance, drug or substance counseling, domestic violence referrals, health care, etc. The church vans or buses can become mobile community resource centers that move throughout the streets during the evening hours when drug dealers and others are pushing their wares.
- Fifth, churches can partner with Local Park Districts and community facilities to ensure that there are daily recreational activities available for youth in the church’s community.
- Finally, all congregations can host monthly Youth Talk Back Town Hall meetings where youth are invited to present their views, concerns and solutions to parents, pastors and community leaders in a public forum.
WHAT THE FAITH COMMUNITY CAN DO NATIONALLY
In addition to responding to neighborhood violence faith leaders are challenged to respond to the national and international disasters by:
- Establishing interfaith networks throughout America that result in real connections across lines of faith and denomination to provide spiritual support to persons in times of crisis through trained grief and crises counselors.
- Forming an active and current national database of its members and their respective resources.
- Urging national, and local denominational organizations to inventory the assets of its members so that in times of disaster replacement and reconstruction needs can be easily assessed.
- Identifying and training a national group of grief and crises counselors who can serve as a part of the local, state and federal emergency response teams.
- Providing training and orientation of members attending national conferences in emergency response and crisis intervention.
- Developing and sharing emergency management and evacuation plans for local faith organizations, churches, mosques, temples etc, which include developing emergency management teams within individual congregations who can initiate phone trees and contact procedures when a disaster strikes.
These are just a few of the things people of faith can and should do in times of crisis and when violence occurs.
(1) Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, Gun Violence: The Real Costs. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
(2) WISQARS, Injury Mortality Reports, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Centers for Disease Control, 2004, data.
(3) Hallam Hurt, MD; Elsa Malmud, PhD; Nancy L. Brodsky, PhD; Joan Ginnetta, BA, “Exposure to Violence: Psychological and Academic Correlates in Child Witnesses” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, December 2001, Vol.55, No.12pp.1351-1356.
(4) Bureau of Justice Statistics, Key Facts at a Glance: Crimes committed with firearms (1973-2003, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
(5) Garen J. Wintemute, “Gun Shows across a multi-state American gun market: observational evidence of the effects of regulatory policies” Injury Prevention 2007:Volume 13 pp 15-155.
(6) Juvenile Justice Journal Volume VI Number 1” Investing in Girls, A 21st Century Strategy” OJJ & DP 1999.
(7) Gun Violence, the Real Costs, Phillip Cook and Jens Ludwig.
Rev. Dr. Janette C. Wilson serves as the Project Manager for Crisis Management and School Climate for the Chicago Public Schools. Active in many civic organizations and a strong advocate for civil rights, Rev. Wilson also serves as volunteer Director of Legal affairs for Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and previously served as Executive Director of Operation PUSH. Ordained into the ministry by Rev. Clay Evans, pastor emeritus of Fellowship Baptist Church, she currently serves as the Associate Pastor for Family Ministry for the First Baptist Congregational United Church of Christ in Chicago. Rev. Dr. Wilson received a Juris Doctorate from John Marshall Law School and a Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary. She is also the Executive Producer and Host of the International Sunday School Broadcast program. Contact Rev. Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright© 2007 Janette C. Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission BlackandChristian.com.