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Church too busy navel-gazing to take the lead over crime
by Graeme J. Davidson
12 July 2008

Where is the reference to Jesus teaching us to look at our own mistakes before we condemn others, the need to forgive and love those who wrong us, or how we should visit those in prison? Where are the prayer vigils and Church-sponsored meetings dealing with our national preoccupation with crime and punishment?

... In the early 80s, I lived for over four years in Santa Monica, California. During that time, there were six murders on our block and over a third of my neighbours had been attacked or raped. I remember one man arriving at a church meeting, bloodied and dishevelled. “Sorry I’m late. I’ve just been mugged and pistol-whipped”, he explained. The crime-wary group treated his apology as if he’d had a flat tyre and soon went back to the hot topics of debate – women clergy and gays. Nothing seems to have changed.
....Meanwhile, the terrified community resorted to electronic burglar systems and guard dogs, private security patrols and firearms. Local anti-crime groups clamoured for more police, tougher sentences and the death penalty. The result: despite increased policing and tough sentences, violent crime continued unabated, casualties rose through firearm misuse, and, sadly, people lost trust and became isolated from one another.
....Much the same is happening in New Zealand. Mainstream churches seem to be navel-gazing while others organise anti-crime marches with victims demanding revenge as their right. Has the Church handed the leadership on crime and justice issues to diehard reactionaries like the group with the paradoxical name: the Sensible Sentencing Trust? The Trust believes in tough sentences, that life imprisonment should mean life, that juries recommend sentences to judges, and that multiple offenders serve sentences consecutively. That means some burglars could do time for 120-plus years.
....Where is the reference to Jesus teaching us to look at our own mistakes before we condemn others, the need to forgive and love those who wrong us, or how we should visit those in prison? Where are the prayer vigils and Church-sponsored meetings dealing with our national preoccupation with crime and punishment?
....Rosemary McLeod asked this question of the Church in the June 22 Sunday Star-Times: “Where is any confident outspoken leadership on right and wrong?” The days when we sat in pews absorbing moralising sermons have gone the way of the moa. But, when St Mary’s Church, Karori, set about removing its Victorian-style pews – that give a good view of backs of heads – in order to provide more options for worship and to encourage youth participation, McLeod complained in her 3 July The Dominion Post column that it was sacrificing its history. Is outspoken church leadership on right and wrong about keeping pews rather than being innovative in welcoming and leading young people?
....The Church may appear to lack “confident outspoken leadership” because it doesn’t front anti-crime marches or back simplistic “more police” and “lock ’em up and throw away the key” solutions. Nevertheless, it’s a quiet and effective leader in the fight against crime. It helps young and old learn the principles of living with others, including the importance of doing good, seeking justice and being loving and forgiving.
.... It offers professional drug rehabilitation, counselling and special programmes for youth at risk and their families, helps victims of crime, and makes informed representation on crime and justice issues to government. Christians attend court and visit prisons to help those of us who have fallen. There are police and prison chaplains and the Prison Fellowship provides opportunities for restorative justice for criminals and their victims, faith-based rehabilitation programmes and support for prisoners’ families and for prisoners when they are released. The Church should be proud of what it does. But it needs to be more assertive in offering a Christian perspective.
....I survived my time in Santa Monica to face the trauma of a knife-wielding burglar back in New Zealand. I recognised my assailant from police photos but his friends provided an alibi. My natural response was to seek revenge. But I didn’t. I talked with elders of the local iwi and they exerted moral pressure on him. I also prayed that I could forgive him and that he would change his ways. I don’t know whether he did, but I’m not bitter and I definitely didn’t become a member of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.


 

 

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