Heal the wounds of crime

Everybody is talking about it. People are becoming increasingly worried about it. The temperature in our communities is rising, reaching boiling point here and there. The frustration levels in communities are crossed; emotions of helpless rage are running riot; people are attacked by feelings of insecurity and even fear – we are forced to flee behind high walls and security fences, while some even escape to other countries. Most people, however, have no other place to go, for their ramshackle “makukus” offer no shelter whatsoever.

It is the increase in brutal and senseless violence and the crime affecting more and more people personally, that makes victims of us all. There are the daily murders, the rapes, the violence against defenceless children, women and old people, the burglaries, the robberies, the domestic violence, the corruption . . . The appalling statistics on crime and violence do not even make the headlines any more; they have become such a part of our everyday existence. But crime and violence are having a devastating effect on our communities; they are leaving painful wounds and ugly scars.

Violence and crime are like a big pot that is threatening to boil over!

The solution is not to try to keep the lid on the pot, but to extinguish or turn down the fire that is making the pot boil. The reasons for the problem must be removed. Crime and violence are complex phenomena with many causes. They need to be addressed on different levels and by all sections of the community. We expect the state or police to take the sole responsibility for preventing the violence and crime, while they are in a sense simply struggling to keep the lid on the pot.

However, the real causes of violence, the most profound reasons for it, are issues that can only be removed by the community itself, by each one of us. It is often said that “each community gets the number and kind of criminals it deserves”. Just look at the kind of violence that is shown on TV and in cinemas and to which our people have become addicted. So the real issue here is that our communities have become sick and are in desperate need of healing and transformation.

Causes

Here are some of the main reasons for crime and violence in our community:

The decay of moral values – we all decide for ourselves what is good or right, and often it is our own, selfish urges and promiscuous or addicted way of life that are the deciding factor.

The destruction of family values – families break up, parents lose their authority, they are absent, they do not set an example, in many homes there are no more love and warmth left.

Crime starts there where people, in the small areas of life, no longer obey the country’s laws. The single biggest cause of violent road deaths is the (delibe-rate) breaking of traffic regulations.

There is an intrinsic lack of respect for others, for their lives and their property. A life has no value any more; a person gets murdered for a cellphone or R100.

There is a lack of sincere compassion, a caring for others, especially those who are weak and defenseless. We are all living for ourselves most of the time.

It is all about materialism and greed – people strive for more power, more possessions, using more… at any cost.

It is about poverty and unemployment, the inability to care for your family.

Alcoholism and addiction play an enormous role. In 60% of crimes of violence the reason is the abuse of alcohol. Alcohol is the cause of approximately 25 000 deaths each year.

It is about complex social and cultural phenomena. We are a society in transformation, for example, the negative effects of apartheid and the scars that it has caused, will have a negative influence on our society for a long time to come.

Racial tension and prejudice are still playing a role, unfortunately – sometimes it even seems as if racial conflict is on the increase.

Psychological factors also play a very important role. Children who have been hurt or rejected and who have never been helped to deal with these feelings, often become people who injure others. People of violence have often been the victims of violence themselves.

Fundamentally, however, it is about a society and people who are drifting further and further away from God and his Word. And it is then that violence and crime gain the upper hand, like an evil force holding the reigns over society.

What we can do

As Christians and congregations we cannot simply wash our hands in innocence. It is often the members of our own congregations that commit the crimes. We as Christians do not always set the example that the Word of God expects from us (1 Pet 2:11-17 – “live such good lives among the pagans that… they may see your good deeds”, “submit… to every authority instituted among men”, “do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil”, “show proper respect to everyone”…). We often live such uninvolved lives. We more often than not have to admit to ourselves that our own efforts as churches in helping to combat the crime are far from adequate. Churches are not succeeding in making themselves heard loudly and clearly and with one voice. Just like the broken society the churches too are in need of healing and transformation. Without it the church cannot spread a credible testimony about the deliverance and hope in Christ.

The churches will only be able to stop the flow of crime when they start treating it as a communal problem and acting in unison. We as Christians have to take hands. We have to understand what the fundamental causes of violence are, stop working with false perceptions, stop talking about violence, stop complaining about it or running away from it. We can make a difference. For we are called to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the peacemakers, the merciful and those thirsting for righteousness (cf Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5).

As Christians and as congregations we have the following calling:

To build Christian (Biblical) values in our own families and our own communities. The example that believers show through their lives in this respect is of the utmost importance. (Cf Phil 2:12-18, where we are called upon to shine like stars in a crooked and depraved generation.)

To take the responsibility for each other’s safety. To be watchful, not expose ourselves and our children to violent situations unnecessarily, cooperate with the police, etc. It could, for example, mean a lot if neighbours were to become involved with each other again.

To oppose the perception that crime and violence are a problem that is only limited to certain groups in our society, or is simply racially motivated. The churches can make a huge contribution in promoting real reconciliation and understanding among racial groups in our communities.

By reaching out to the victims of crime and violence by means of care-giving ministries. More can be done to listen to the stories of victims in our church services, to pray for them and to physically and pastorally care for them within the community of believers.

By reaching out to criminals even more purposefully with the message of the Bible, for example by visiting them in prison, corresponding with them, helping them to fit into society again after they have been released, and by praying for them.

By reaching out to members of the police service, correctional services and other sectors of the security corps – people who often work under extremely stressful and dangerous circumstances.

By helping to build a community of people who care for each other, respect each other, take responsibility for each other and bridge the barriers by working together on projects that relief the suffering and bring hope.

To distinguish in prayerful dependence what it is that God wants the church to do, to obey these commands and to interceed faithfully on behalf of the community and the authorities (1 Tim 2:1-7).

The role that the state plays in combatting crime and violence, according to Rom 13, should be taken seriously. That is why an effective police service and penal system are vital. In the light of the pot that is on the verge of boiling over, it is sometimes necessary to take special and even drastic emergency measures. The churches can discuss this issue with the authorities on all levels. We as Christians and churches have a prophetic calling to take a stand in public against injustice and violence.

There is hope

It is very important for our society not to lapse into what psychologists call a Learned Helplessness Syndrome. Once people start believing that things will never change, that there is nothing we can do about it any more, that there is no hope left, then our whole society can shatter violently around us. As Christians and as churches we are called upon to spread the hope of healing and renewal in Christ to a world that has lost hope. We have to testify about this hope with our words, but even more so with our deeds.

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