Street crime and the community
With all the recent national media spotlight on youth and street crime, one might ask, ‘What approach should the Christian take on these matters?’
The Bible – our basis for all instruction and guidance – clearly encourages us to participate actively as opportunist ‘good Samaritans’ and impact communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ and his message of love. However, one might be forgiven for cautiously walking by on the other side of the road for fear of being attacked.
The media have recently reported how members of the public have been seriously wounded or even killed for confronting anti-social behaviour, and this is a tragic reflection on the age in which we live – truly, a ‘sign of the times’. Equally, there are those who choose to put aside their personal safety and have received commendations for unselfish acts of bravery. Perhaps we too, as Christians, should be known for our bravery and courage – after all, the Word of God tells us not to fear those ‘who can destroy the body’ but rather to fear God. We are promised protection in the Scriptures, and this (backed up with prayerful wisdom) should be kept in mind when confronting these situations.
I believe, though, that there are much deeper underlying issues – things that ideas like David Cameron’s ‘hug a hoody’ campaign do not address. The notorious crime- and drug-ridden housing estates that receive so much negative press are plagued by poverty and this, along with drug and alcohol misuse, is a proven factor in the cause of crime. Of course, this is a vicious circle, since drugs and alcohol cost money and deepen poverty.
Also, kids are bored; parents don’t know how to handle them, the schools have been stripped of their disciplinary powers, and the politicians are confused as to how to deal with these issues.
Our local mission field
The easiest way to please the public and brush these matters under the carpet is to lock up offenders for longer, but is this really the answer? Of course, individuals who break the law should face the consequences and a custodial sentence can be effective in reforming a character in some cases; but not all.
I am much more interested in the rehabilitation and education of individuals and the implementation of more effective community establishments and projects – something that the Government has largely overlooked.
This is where, I believe, the churches should step in and play a more active role. The ‘body of Christ’ has a clear commission to ‘go into all the world’ with the gospel of Christ. We relate this scripture to ministering to the masses and to foreign lands, but fail to identify our ‘world’ as having a local perspective – for example, our workplace, schools and communities.
We need more positive role models for our young people, perhaps people who have been where they have been. We need more supervised projects where people can come and find support and encouragement to seek a new way of life that offers hope and purpose.
The modern-day church is in danger of becoming nothing more than an exclusive weekly Sunday Club for its members. My argument and challenge is to ask what are we doing, if anything, to impact and change our communities? We should be setting examples – concerning which the Government and the public, looking on, can say, ‘That really works!’ Until we climb out of our cosy comfort zones and ask the Lord in prayer for fresh ideas and new methods of community outreach, we cannot expect him to do great things.
Do we believe that our faith and message can reach out and change lives, our communities and even the world? If so, are we willing to act upon that belief?
The author is founder of Prison Reach Out Ministries (1a Forum Buildings, St James Parade, Bath, BA1 1UG), a non-profit organisation that ministers to prison inmates with the saving and life-changing message of the gospel.