If scientists, engineers and technicians can come together to land man on the moon and accomplish many other technological feats, then why they cannot come together to solve crime in our communities? Unlike crime, these feats are primarily scientific matters. Segregation laws were changed because civil rights organizations and leaders, demonstrators, protestors, and political and judicial systems came together. Why would these same groups not come together and eradicate crime?
Unlike crime, segregation laws are primarily civil rights issues. Crime is basically a moral and spiritual problem that requires a moral and spiritual solution. When it comes to solving our crime problem, the hearts of the people have to be changed. Contrary to the beliefs of many, the gun control legislation without change of hearts cannot by and large reduce gun violence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prophetically saw the need to concentrate on the ethical and spiritual realm in regard to crime, when he stated in the late 1950s that over 95 percent of prisoners did not attend Sunday school.
Evidently, Dr. King saw the correlation or the link between Sunday school attendance and crime. In other words, he conceived that crime was an ethical and spiritual issue that requires an ethical and spiritual solution. In referring to the Sunday School, he was implying that the church has the solution to crime. However, can the church of today meet such a need when it is increasingly becoming merely a refuge for the release of emotional pain?
Dr. King preached that some churches have more religion in their feet and hands than in their hearts. Moreover, the church is becoming a mere social center for preaching the gospel of prosperity and elevators to success. To uproot crime, the Body of Christ has to recapture its true mission — transform the hearts of humanity through the power of Jesus Christ.
Dr. King linked the Sunday school with crime because he was aware that the best strategy to combat crime was to begin with children. By the time a child reaches his or her teens, the child has been heavily influenced by his or her environment. This is why the church has to begin reaching children at a very early age. If each church in Dougherty County transported at least 60 or more children to a weekly Bible study and Sunday school, we will see a sharp decline in crime in a few years. There is no overnight solution; we must have long-range goals. If 50 churches picked up 60 unchurched children, there would be about 3,000 additional children attending church. However, churches need to provide incentives to maintain attendance.
Some of us may not agree with the politics of Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University, but he must be commended for his extraordinary success in reaching inner-city children. Rev. Falwell’s church purchased over 40 old buses to pick up children for Sunday school. He instructed his bus drivers to go as far as to assist children in getting ready for Sunday school because many parents were not preparing or encouraging their children to attend church. He did not use the lack of parental support as an excuse for not reaching the children.
Through his diligent efforts, his Sunday school grew to over 10,000 in attendance. Due to the success with the bus ministry, he was able to affect changes in the moral and spiritual sphere, not only in Lynchburg, Va., but in the nation. If every pastor adopted Rev. Falwell’s priority of children, inspiration and compassionate method, crime will dramatically decline in our communities in a few years.
Just attending church is not sufficient to stop crime, children must be morally and spiritually trained. According to the Bible, we (including the church) should: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22: 6) The concept “train” involves more than just sharing knowledge; it entails molding character. If we train our children on a large scale, we are transforming our culture of violence and immorality. Unfortunately, our culture has a little sense of what is morally right or wrong. As a former high school teacher, I encountered a number of students who would sincerely declare, “what’s wrong with stealing if you don’t get caught.” No wonder crime is rampant in many of our communities.
We must reach our children before they fully embrace an 11th commandment — Thou shalt not get caught. The church’s instruction should be composed of at least five basic ingredients, such as: 1. Self-esteem, 2. moral conscience against stealing, 3. respect for human life, 4. motivation to achieve excellence in school and 5. abstinence from alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs and sex. With regular teaching of these five ingredients, Dr. King’s insight of the link between Sunday school attendance and crime, and Rev. Falwell’s commitment to the transportation of children to Sunday school, Chicago, Albany or any other city will never be the same. This is our moment for an all-out holy war against crime.
The Rev. Rufus Phillips resides in Albany. He is the pastor of Union Baptist Church, Camilla; a retired math teacher from the Dougherty County School System, and the author of “Teaching the World to Shell Peas.” His email address is Rufus.firstname.lastname@example.org.