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The black church must respond to disaffected youth

GUIDANCE: Churches are in a position to provide a much needed sense of direction to the youth

THE NATION has been on a roller coaster of emotions during the past nine days. Who would have thought that a peaceful protest outside Tottenham Police station about the shooting of Marc Duggan would have sparked full scale riots? They started in Tottenham and spread across the country, causing mayhem, fear and pounds worth of damage.

Postcode wars were forgotten as gangs, young people of all races, with nothing better to do, and some older people too, battled with police and took advantage of the disorder they caused on the streets to loot and steal. In the process businesses were destroyed, buildings burned to the ground and cars overturned out as young people went on the rampage. It was a sad, painful and terrifying sight.

Those of us who have watched as young people have been killing each other on the streets for the smallest slights should not really be surprised at what’s happened, because the signs have been there. And there’s no doubt that the heady mix of youth disaffection, anger, poverty, poor parenting, educational underachievement and a lack of godliness and morality combusted into a heady cocktail of public disorder.


CHALLENGE: Pastors are asking how they can help the young

The question now being asked is where do we go from here? And Christians are asking what can we do? How can we make a difference?

Thankfully the incidents of the past few days has encouraged Christians to join in unity and hold prayer meetings across the country asking God to help them bring about change and social transformation in their communities.

We also know that despite society’s attempt to sideline the church and religion, it still plays a very important role in black communities and has an important role to play in bringing about change.

EROSION

One thing that we should do is eschew this liberal agenda that has done no-one any favours. It’s helped encourage the erosion of authority in families and schools, a decline in morality, the lack of respect for others, selfishness and discouraged personal responsibility which has helped produce a generation of young people who have a sense of entitlement without putting in the hard work. The legitimisation of greed and materialism through music, our celebrity culture and the banks, has not helped either.

Many people would be surprised to know that the black community is one that believes strongly in God, parental authority, education, hard work, community, self respect, respect for others, social order and social aspiration. These were the values the generation that emigrated to the UK in the 1950s and 60s had in their droves. These days though, too many parents are frightened to discipline their kids, for fear of being reprimanded by the police or investigated by social services. And the influence of the wider society has caused many to lose faith in God, which has been the source of strength for black people over the years.

FAITH

Whether society wants to accept it or not, faith and the church plays an important role in black life. Although more and more black people are climbing the ladder of success, and occupying positions of influence and power, the Black Church remains the most influential institution within Britain’s black communities.

The people who pass through its doors, embrace its message and live out the values it espouses tend to have better life outcomes than those who don’t.

AMBITION

Go to any church, and you’ll find it filled with aspiring and ambitious educated professionals who want to make an impact on the world. Some of those professionals were formerly disaffected men and women who, as a result of embracing Christianity are now living transformed, fulfilled and purposeful lives. Furthermore, unlike many community leaders, church leaders have a mandate to lead and a constituency that they serve.

With the pain of our black youth, so evidently displayed during the past few days, church leaders must ask themselves (i) how can they encourage more people to embrace its message and ethos because of the life transforming impact it will have? (ii) how can they continue to positively impact the lives of disaffected young people? and (iii) how can they address the black community’s concerns about social and political injustice?

ANTITHESIS

In answer to question (i) churches need to continue doing what they have always done - preach the gospel and be the antithesis to those values that counter godly living and justice. This means they must continue to espouse family values, encourage marriage, discourage societal greed, materialism and the worship of wealth and instead reiterate God’s love for humanity, the importance of hope and the need to create a just society. They must also seek to address the fatherless in our community – an issue they seem too ready to ignore.

In answer to question (ii) churches need to spend more resources on youth services that meet the needs of young people both within and outside the church. Very few black churches employ full time youth workers. In light of the social disorder that has just occurred churches need to do so. Considering the amount of money people donate to the church, they owe it to members to spend the money on young people. That’s what members would want.

They should also consider giving both prayer and financial support to Christian charities like Word4weapons, Gangsline, Street Pastor, Black Boys Can and others that have been especially set up to address key societal concerns such as gangs, youth disaffection, and educational underachievement.

And in answer to question (iii) the churches need to live out the biblical imperative to fight for justice. Our community has, at times being treated very unjustly. Churches provide one part of the answer - spiritual resources to counter injustice. But they need to work with others to provide the other part, a political strategy.

ENGAGEMENT

One major development in recent years has been churches encouraging their members to be part of Britain’s democratic process and push for change by joining political parties, becoming councillors, and seeking election as MPs.

They have also encouraged their members to be school governors, magistrates, and join public bodies and such like. In being part of our power structures, public bodies and institutions Christians can help bring about change from the inside out, and help to bring about the change we desperately need to see.

Whilst the church is not perfect, it does get a lot of things right and it is a great tool for personal and social transformation.

We’ve been aware of the pain of our young people for ages. Let the events of the past few days spur us into greater action, and help create the conditions that young people need to grow, flourish and be the great men and women God has called them to be.

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