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Recently, Jerry McAfee, pastor of the New Salem Mission Baptist Church in Minneapolis, conducted the funeral for a 19-year-old man who was shot in the head in a dispute over tire rims. Several of the young man's friends who attended cried unashamedly.
The next day, the pastor happened by these same youth. They were smiling and laughing as if nothing had happened.
"These young men have been conditioned to accept this kind of violence as normal," observes McAfee. "Many of us take for granted the things we learned from our parents. We assume these young people know the difference between right and wrong. But for many who have experienced trauma, the wrong becomes right. The society opposes them, punishes them: 'Three strikes and you're out … ' But we've made little attempt to try to understand them."
In recent years, some gang leaders have cried out to be understood and helped. And they have directed their cries toward the church, apparently sensing, at some level, the spiritual dimension of their struggle.
In 1992, Crips and Bloods, two rival Los Angeles gangs, approached the church, asking it to intervene in their bloody feuding. That event helped spark a 1993 summit in Kansas City, which McAfee took part in convening. The summit brought together gang and church leaders from all over the nation who share a commitment to stopping the insanity of violence. From that summit has emerged a dynamic network of churches, denominational groups, and Christian organizations.
Says Daniel Buttry, director of the American Baptist Churches Peace Program, "The folks who are doing the most to work for peace on the streets of our cities don't have time or interest in forming organizations or promoting their work. So they end up being unknown. We're trying to discover those people so that others can benefit from their knowledge and experiences."
Antiviolence initiatives arising from the network's brainstorming include churches offering themselves up as sanctuaries wherein youth can work ...