Toward stopping violence in Chicago: why there is hope

A Christian Science perspective: Increased gang violence in Chicago has moved this writer to pray ever more earnestly for her city.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new efforts to curtail gang warfare in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods have been controversial. The strike teams of the past have been replaced with extra beat cops. A million-dollar contract has been signed with CeaseFire, a group of former gang members who have a talent for preventing violence before it happens. The Nation of Islam has been welcomed to teach young men higher values.

What isn’t controversial is the outrage over the fact that the most fundamental values of civilization are being mocked in urban neighborhoods plagued by gangs fighting for turf and exacting revenge. The Chicago Tribune reported that over half the spike in the murder rate in the first half of this year is due to retaliatory gang strikes. Our hearts rebel against innocent children being killed in random gunfire, the swelling of markets for illegal drugs, and young people continuing to be duped into acquiescence to a lifestyle that does little to develop their potential.

What is the basis of hope that any new efforts can succeed? I find these points helpful reminders in my prayer for my city:

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1. God is not more present in some neighborhoods than in others.

God’s presence is known in goodness. In urban wastelands of empty lots, boarded-up houses, and streets deserted because people feel trapped in their homes for fear of violence, the defense of God’s goodness may seem bizarre. But having come to know a family from a neighborhood like that, I have felt with them the great reality of God’s presence. Their aspirations for their children, their commitment to find resources to support them, and the vigorous rejection of drugs and alcohol as a center for their lives all speak to the courage that is evidence of God’s presence.

Goodness is the foundation of solutions, of creative ideas that break through repetitive thought patterns. For example, the Monitor reported recently on the efforts of some veterans back from war who have banded together to assist in revitalizing depressed communities by helping get rid of trash, plant trees, build playgrounds, and help homeowners with long-delayed repairs.

2. Violence is not power.

Those words are so startling; I have to reconsider them over and over again in order to digest them. But think of it this way: The whole premise of intimidation is based on the assumption that violence is power. And every time someone stops and says, “No! This hatred, this heinous act, this brutality and manipulation must stop,” thought shifts.

Earlier this summer when a 6-year-old girl was killed, caught between warring gangs in her neighborhood, Mayor Emanuel said boldly, “It’s not about crime. It’s about values.”

The Bible reinforces the values that uphold civilization. The first chapter of Genesis proclaims God’s children to be the image of the creative force of the universe. This endows each of us with a life purpose to bless each other, to sustain and support goodness, to enrich and prosper our communities.

To commit to a life purpose that blesses is no small effort. It means facing down the heartaches, the voices of worthlessness and hopelessness. The authority to do so is with our origin in goodness – God’s gift of dominion over all the earth. Dominion for a child of God is the authority to counteract the things that would deny our ability to think and act as God’s likeness.

3. God’s children have an instinctive desire to be God-like.

If there was one thing I could write in a letter to the gang leaders, it would be this: “Your goodness is needed. I don’t know how the natural love of goodness got overshadowed in your life, and I cannot even imagine what you’ve had to face. But this I do know: You have something to give. You have talents that are needed, and you are an essential part of God’s creation.”

It has been said that for some members, the gang provided the only sense of family they’d ever had. But true family is not built on control, domination, and a mentality that’s immediately at war with another family.

True family is based in a respect for individual progress. It is wonderful to be validated, supported, and defended when you’re feeling vulnerable. But to recognize that individuality is a gift from God, and is defended by God, prospers the kind of mental independence that makes great contributions to society.

The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, had to stand up to the forces that would have crushed out her life purpose and insisted she conform to the norms of her time. When urging mental independence in her students, she wrote: “We can rejoice that every germ of goodness will at last struggle into freedom and greatness, and every sin will so punish itself that it will bow down to the commandments of Christ, – Truth and Love” (“No and Yes,” p. 8).

The Apostle Paul in the Bible had a beginning that made him a type of urban terrorist, persecuting the early Christians because he saw them as a threat to his beloved sect. When he was awakened to his mistake on the road to Damascus, he heard a voice that pointed out in essence that he was hurting himself by resisting the good that was his own real nature (see Acts 9:1-22).

The saving power of Christ introduces each of us to our relationship to our Father-Mother, God. The Bible proclaims that this God has drawn us in lovingkindness. That verb “drawn” means in Hebrew to be pulled out of, to be seized. The power of the Creator is commanding His very own love to be known, expressed, acknowledged. And this is the hope of our cities.

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