Churches should send a strong message to youth that carrying a gun or knife is “totally unacceptable,” a speaker told about 100 Christians packed into a British Baptist church last weekend.”
Not a week goes by without there being some story in the media about a young person being stabbed or shot,” said Les Isaac, founder of Street Pastors, an anti-crime ministry that reaches out to disaffected youth. “Our urban communities are becoming very violent places, and it is important that churches take seriously what is happening and learn how they can make a difference in the lives of young people and communities affected by this culture of violence.”
The Baptist Union of Great Britain co-sponsored, along with Street Pastors, the Bite the Bullet Conference at Brixton Baptist Church in south London to discuss the causes and effects of street violence.
“The huge escalation of gun and knife crime in recent years must be a concern to everyone, and we as Christians have a special responsibility,” said Jonathan Edwards, general secretary of the Baptist union. “I am delighted that the Bite the Bullet conference is being held. We need to learn more so that we can be more effective in showing God’s love in a situation of brokenness and pain.”
Speaking at the Saturday event, Isaac said churches, the community and police must work together to empower young people and help them feel wanted and loved.
“Young people are angry, young people are confused and young people feel a tremendous sense of ‘nobody cares,'” Isaac said, according to the Christian Post. “There is in many of these young people a sense of hopelessness.”
A former gang member and leader, Isaac founded Street Pastors five years ago in response to gun crime plaguing Britain’s inner cities. Saturday’s conference came two days after a series of stabbings in London left four men dead in less than 24 hours, bringing the number of teenagers to die violent deaths in the capital so far this year to 20.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown termed the stabbings “shocking and tragic,” while Scotland Yard warned there is no quick fix to the problem.
“I didn’t go out to really hurt people,” Isaac reflected on his own experience as a gang member. “It started with a laugh, but then everyone around me is pushing me to go on, and you go on and do it, because you don’t want to lose face. So there was this big pressure on me.”
Isaac attributed his own transformation from gang member to a committed Christian and minister “unequivocally to my faith.”
“I can remember that point in my life when my faith in Jesus had a profound impact on the way I think, my actions, my values, and that really helped me to realize, number one, that there is hope,” he said.
“I say to young people there is hope, your life can be changed, because from my experience the Gospel, Jesus Christ, had a big impact in saying to me actually you do not have to become a victim of your circumstances.”
Planners of the conference welcomed recent comments by the Archbishop of York that the Church of England should be reaching out to young people involved in knife crime.
Archbishop John Sentamu said “Jesus Christ is in the street weeping” over knife crime while Anglican leaders argued over internal matters.
Wale Hudson-Roberts, racial-justice coordinator for the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said those comments should be taken to heart by all Christians.
“Finding a solution to gun and knife crime is not only the responsibility of the Church of England, the Baptist Union or any particular denomination,” he said. “It is the responsibility of all Christians to engage with young people, to listen to their needs and show viable alternatives to gang culture and violence, that there is another, more positive way to live.”
Hudson-Roberts called for collaboration between government and church on knife and gun crime.
“The bottom line is that it is our problem,” he said. “Theologically speaking it’s God’s problem, but He has given us the mandate to work together and to seek to address these concerns. And I feel that if we do not rise up as a society and as a Christian community assume our moral responsibility for tackling violent crime then not only do we let God down, but we let our young people down as well.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.