Authors say churches need to be proactive in response to violence
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)--Fifteen die in Littleton, Colo., high school incident. Ethnic cleansing sends thousands flowing out of Kosovo. New York police officers open fire on unarmed street vendor. Religious, ethnic conflict in Indonesia results in hundreds of deaths. Estranged husband kills wife in front of children.
Violence. It fills the airwaves and presses of the nation and world, and often is done in the name of religion. How should a Christian respond? What should be the response of a church?
In the face of a crisis, churches often take the lead in ministering to the community. In Colorado, for example, Southern Baptist pastors were among those ministering to students and families traumatized by an April 20 school melee. Promise of prayer support also came from outside the community.
Robert Norris, director of missions for the Denver Association of Southern Baptist Churches and interim pastor of Littleton's Ken Caryl Baptist Church, told Baptist Press the day after the tragedy, "We have had a tremendous outpouring of support of people praying for us here in Denver. The Christian community has come together in this crisis."
While this response is appropriate, what can churches do beforehand to prepare for such tragedies? Ann Putnam-Grelling, one of 18 contributing writers to “Create a Safer World: Ideas for Reducing Violence in Your Community” (WMU, $11.95), says education is a good place to start.
“Being informed helps us deal with the fear that situations like this [Colorado] create,” said Grelling, who wrote about ministering to gangs in the WMU release. “Of course, making the effort to learn about gangs and how to minister to them indicates that a church has accepted that a problem exists in their community. Unfortunately, denial often keeps Christians in general and churches in specific from becoming informed.”
Once informed, the next step is ministry, and that hinges upon relationship, added Ken Goode, church and community ministry consultant of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico and author of the chapter on nurturing and equipping youth in Create a Safer World.
Acknowledging the emotional and spiritual isolation experienced by many youth, Goode said churches need to penetrate that isolation.
“If the Christian community is going to impact the lives of these young people, they need to make the effort to get into their lives,” he said. “You can have the best programming in the world, but if it in itself does not create a component for relationships, it will have limited success. And the reverse is true as well: You can have poor programming, but if you create relationships, you are going to accomplish something.”
Of course, if churches truly want to make an impact in children’s lives, they must attempt to change the environment in which they grow up, according to Susan Field, who with her husband, Taylor, wrote “Peace in a Violent World: A Look into the Garden from the City” (WMU, $5.99). The couple serves in New York City as missionaries with the North American Mission Board.
“American society doesn’t value children very much,” Field charged. “Until we value them as part of the family unit, we’re going to see the kind of alienation and separation that these boys [in Colorado] must have felt.”
Field said churches can teach parents about building a home where peacemaking is modeled and children are valued. Doing so can “help change the environment that leads to violence,” she said.
Create a Safer World and Peace in a Violent World are two components of Project HELP: Violence, Woman's Missionary Union’s current social issue emphasis for 1998-2000. Create a Safer World contains essays on 18 issues related to violence. Each essay contains a Bible study, ministry models and guiding principles for ministry on the respective topic. Peace in a Violent World is a Bible study guide that focuses on living a life of peace in a violent world.
Trudy Johnson, special projects manager for WMU, noted the timeliness of Project HELP: Violence.
“Woman's Missionary Union has sought throughout its history to prepare her members through projects, education and prayer to face unforeseen events both nationally and internationally,” she said. “Now in the midst of a two-year emphasis calling for Christian believers to PAVE (people against violence everywhere) the way to peace, the tragedies in our world, like the one in Littleton, Colo., point to the timeliness of Project HELP: Violence.
“Being a peacemaker in a violent world is a lofty goal,” she said, referring to Matthew 5:9. “Our prayer is that Christians everywhere will act on the reality that there is something everyone can do to be a peacemaker.”
In addition to these books, WMU has a variety of other books and products that would be helpful to individuals and churches. They include:
-- “Project HELP: Violence Resource Kit,” available in English and Spanish. The kit includes a sermon outline, reproducible bulletin insert, conference outline, community needs assessment tour outline, and a variety of other items ($6).
-- “PAVE the Way to Peace” video ($6.50).
-- “You Can Make a Difference,” by Betty Bock. A handbook for those who minister to individuals who are disabled, AIDS victims, abuse and rape survivors, etc. ($6.95).
-- “In Search of Peace, Discovering God's Plan for Happiness and Hope,” by Margarita C. Trevino. A self-help book that will lead the reader to a balanced lifestyle ($8.99).
-- “Making Wise Choices.” A guide for teaching children in grades one through six about race relations, illiteracy, poverty and more. ($6.95).
WMU resources are available from the WMU Internet bookstore (www.wmustore.com); by email at email@example.com; or by calling 1-800-968-7301.
*Name changed for security concerns.