Urban America has problems. And on several fronts, those problems appear to be getting worse instead of better.

Statistics that provided the backdrop for last month’s Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA)-sponsored conference, “Preaching Hope and Promoting Change: Obedience to the Gospel in an Urban Context,” seemed to bear that out. Among the figures: 35 million people live in poverty, and there is an infant mortality rate in the nation’s capital as high as that in Bangladesh.

ESA has sought to address the problem by attempting to influence public policy and encouraging biblically informed social activism on a grassroots level. ESA executive director Ron Sider asserted at last month’s Chicago gathering that the dramatically different living conditions that typify the predominantly white suburbs reflect “structural injustice.” He cited education as perhaps the fundamental element in bringing about urban reform. “For equality of economic opportunity,” he said, “everyone needs to have the same chance at education.”

Conference speaker Raleigh Washington, pastor of the racially integrated Rock of Our Salvation Evangelical Free Church on the west side of Chicago, observed that 78 percent of the high-school-age youth in his neighborhood drop out, and that even many of those still in school are functionally illiterate.

Gabriela Caballero of the Humboldt Community Christian School in Chicago said that teachers in urban public-school systems are overworked. She added, “Christian schools have traditionally been for those who can afford them—not the poor.” Her school has attempted to change that by accepting students who cannot pay.

Despite the Philadelphia-based ...

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