Responding to violence in our city

The last weeks have seen a spike in violent crime in Midtown Indianapolis. A number of our members who live in the midtown area – south of Broad Ripple, particularly – have shared fear and concern: it’s one thing to hear that violent crime is high for a second year running in Indy, and another to hear that a murder occurred a few blocks from your house.

This is why people who can afford to leave the city, isn’t it?

I feel turmoil over this in my own heart. As a husband and father, I want to protect my wife and young children from harm. As a citizen of Indianapolis, I want to see violent crime disappear from my city. And as a Christian, I want to show compassion not only to the victims of violent crime, but even for the perpetrators of it, as God has had compassion on my sinful self.

What do I do? What do I do with my fear? With my longing for justice? My desire for redemption? And what can we do as a church to see our homes, our city, and our neighbors? What good can we do in the face of violent crime?

1. We can seek comfort and healing for its victims.

The victims of violent crime – family members, friends – are grieving the loss of their loved ones. If we can find a way to touch them personally, as groups like the Ten Point Coalition try to do, we can grieve with them. We can walk with people through this inconceivable loss, shouldering their burdens with them.

If we can’t touch their lives personally, we can pray for them. We can pray that others would be there for them. And we can pray that the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), who knows loss personally, would carry them through grief to trust in his power.

2. We can seek justice and order in our city.

Second, we can work to see our city become more just and civically ordered. God cares for justice, to the point of calling city magistrates – even non-Christian ones – his ministers and servants (Romans 13:4). We can support our government and police force in their efforts to establish justice in the city. God has ordained them for that purpose, and it is good.

We can also work to make the places where we live more orderly and peaceful. Strong neighborhood relationships have been linked with reduced crime; so building friendships with our neighbors can promote order. We can work with other institutions – churches, nonprofits, etc. – to combat crime. Civic order isn’t the ultimate good for Christians, but it is a good we can pursue.

3. We can seek to change violence-nourishing systems.

Violent crime is a personal decision; but when a person lives in a system that makes them desperate, they’re more likely to turn to extreme means. Poverty, unemployment, and broken families are all correlated with the greater potential for violent crime. Each of them reflects the absence of a safety net to catch people in crisis.

We can work to strengthen these institutions alongside nonprofits like Shepherd Community Center so that the next generation will have a thicker net to fall back on in times of trouble. Strengthening these systems will lead to a reduction in violent crime.

And if there are social or economic systems that actually nourish violent crime –gang activity, police racism, or anything else – we can work to see those transformed.

4. We can seek to see individuals reconciled to God and to others.

Ultimately, the problems of violence will end only through the transformation of individual hearts. Violence will only stop when one human being who wants to hurt another human being decides not to do it. There has to be a personal decision not to commit violent crime.

If we’re going to see that personal decision change, we have to see an individual heart change. We believe heart change comes when a person meets a just God – a God who hates sin – who loves sinners so much that he’s willing to bear injustice for us. A God who forgives, and teaches his people to forgive. A God who reconciles people to himself and to one another not through fear, but through love.

And if we’re going to see people meet that God, we have to be willing to bring the love of God to them personally. We have to get to know the people who are violent or who might one day choose violence. We have to befriend them, to listen to them, to walk with them. (God forbid, we may have to forgive them.)

But as Paul said, “How can they know unless someone tells them?” If we’re to see violent crime end in Indianapolis, we’ll have to help people meet the Christ who broke down all dividing walls in his flesh.