the public church and violent crimes – what is our role?

May 19, 2008

I’m currently a student in Public Theology. Can’t say I know a great deal about it, but I do think about it from time to time at least. Public Theology ask the question what the public role of the church and/or theology is in society. I guess Public Theology do not ask the question if the church and/or theology has a public role, maybe it do ask whether the role lies with the church, theology, or with individual Christian.

Our community is currently experiencing a lot of violence. Well, you might say that all of South Africa is experiencing this, but in our case it seems a littlebit worse that usual. When a friend asked my earlier when the last attack was, I started laughing… it was last night. This morning we buried someone who was shot last week. I know of another attack that happened on Friday, not someone in the congregation. And I could go on and on, and I probably don’t even know about everything.

So, how do the church react in a situation like this? Now, I guess a very common approach would be simply to not think about it in this way. Simply going on, preaching about the love of God, maybe being available if someone need some counseling, but generally leaving things for the politicians and the police. When we do start thinking about this, there is a number of appraoches. Should the church be actively involved with crime? Whould we promote something like neighbourhood watch programs from the pulpit? Should we give our facilities to be used in self-defence training? For information sessions? What is the role of the church?

We had a meeting tonight with people in the congregation who has been touched by violent crimes and who are starting to think about an appropriate reaction from the church. One guy sitting there has skills in training people in self-defence (not as in hand-to-hand combat type of thing, more in being aware, what to look for, what to keep in mind to keep yourself safe) at one point told the pastor, when he asked, after we’ve talked a lot about neighbourhood watch, training people, raising awareness etc, “what the church should do”: “These things we have been talking about, this is the church doing it, because all of it is being done by the people in the church”.

There is something to say for this I think. And in spite of all the nice theories of what the role of the church should be, hoe the Public Church should function etc, we need to notice that people within the church are doing things, and they are doing it as Christians, and in all of this we are writing a Public Theology for our local congregation.

But the question kept on nagging at me: What should be destinctive about the church? Now, I think pasifism is a great ideal, and I more and more like the alternative community idea (Tony Jones blogged on Hauerwas a while ago, might wanna take a look at that), but within this broken world, I think sometimes the church maybe cannot but take part in fighting crime on a day to day basis. But there must be something more.

The something more has, I think, to do with how we see the big picture. If our only task is chasing criminals, then, as a church, we’ve already lost. If a display of power is neccesary, for example through having more patrols or neighbourhood watch programs, then the church, as not only an alternative community, but as part of a suffering community together with many who are not in church, should take part, I think. But what about the big picture? Are we also pointing the way to a community where neighbourhood watch programs isn’t neccesary? Where it’s not neccesary to think about violent crimes? Where our kids do not need to lie awake at night worrying that they might be next? Are we actively working to create this type of community? To not only fight reactively against crime, not even only to proactively prevent crime, important as this might be, but to work for a different society.

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One Response to “the public church and violent crimes – what is our role?”

  1. Dan Morehead Says:

    Thanks for writing…


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