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Black America hostage to kids: churches share blame for lack of leadership.

Churches share blame for lack of leadership

WASHINGTON - "Black America is in the middle of a civil war," a black pastor said. "Adults have let two or three generations go down, and now the country is held hostage to a group of kids." Their violence, he said, is symptomatic of a deeper issue - the moral obligations of the black churches.

The Rev. Eugene Rivers of Dorchester, Mass., said that black churches must mobilize to combat violence, especially in urban areas.

More than 300 church leaders and members nationwide agreed. They were at Howard University School of Divinity Oct. 25 and 26 to figure how to stop the crime, killings and drugs destroying today's youth. University psychologist Hope Hill said the psychological effect of children witnessing homicides, shootings and violence can be as traumatic as that experienced by the victims.

Since 1989, Howard University has provided intervention programs for teachers, parent networking, and counseling for children. "What is missing," Hope said, "is moral guidance. We are talking to a generation that has had no contact with God."

Rivers, a panelist at several of the 50 workshop sessions, said that because the "black church has failed to take its message to the streets, the violence on the street is coming to the church."

Rivers told of the disruption of a funeral service for a young man killed in a drive-by shooting. As family and friends gathered in the Boston church, a bullet was fired through the church doorway and young men dressed in black chased a friend of the victim down the aisle. The man was beaten and stabbed 10 times as frightened mourners fled the church or hid under chairs.

The theological dimension to this incident and to much of the violence, Rivers said, is that an entire generation of black youth has been abandoned, rejected, orphaned by their own and left on the streets to die.

The clergy of Boston, in dialogue with Protestants, Catholics and Jews, has responded with a Ten-Point Coalition that includes Friday night street ministry, a Father's Day march and a sisterhood program for single mothers.

Program panels explored ways to develop church programs for youth in AIDS education, drug use prevention, teenage pregnancy prevention and mentoring.

Attendees from across the country summarized the gathering's concerns:

* James E. Golden, assistant pastor at the First Baptist Church, Newport News, Va., said violence is increasing. A recent stabbing in a cafeteria closed his local school for a day. "I came to find a way to open the church doors to young people and help them with their problems."

* Mae Harper Camp, founder of a self-financed daycare center in Philadelphia, provides care for 68 preschool children and 10 teenage mothers. "I came to learn about ways to prevent violence," Camp said. "Today's babies are tomorrow's youth."

* Rance Pettibone, pastor of the First African Baptist Church, Brunswick, Ga., said drugs and crime are coming to this small, affluent city. He said, "We want information to help us stop the flow of violence before it becomes an epidemic."

Washington, D.C., knows all about that epidemic. While the conference was underway, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly asked President Bill Clinton to give her the power to call out the National Guard to help the city fight crime and violence. Clinton refused the request but directed administration officials to review with Kelly additional federal action to assist the district in combating crime.
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Author:Vidulich, Dorothy
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Nov 5, 1993
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