Many Peoria pastors and their representatives met Thursday night Feb.12th 2009 to discuss the current condition of the city as it pertains to gangs, drugs that currently proliferate within our city. We met to discuss the actions that the church must take in order to address the problem and the incluturation of our youth into what I call the "culture of death" that exists in many of our neighborhoods and among many of our youth. This is a very intense subject and a response must be equally as intense.
First, one should know there are no racial or color boundaries to the problem of gang inculturation and the proliferation of drugs which gives gangs fuel. This is not a "black thing" or a "white thing". This is a community problem and, at it's heart, a "sin" problem that has manifested itself through a disdain and disrespect for life and a completely new paradigm of morality and normalcy.
"We've always been considered a high-crime area for our population numbers," says Sgt. Jeff Adams, head of the Peoria Police Benevolent Association. Adams has been a Peoria policeman since 1978. The greatest change he's witnessed in that time has been the rise of street gangs, "an entire subculture that doesn't think the rules apply to them." ~ Salon.com 1/12/2009
Secondly, we need not establish another prayer partnership in order to address this problem. Such prayer partnerships currently exist in the form of transformation celebrations, prayer furnaces, 40 days of prayer and PUSH initiatives. We have prayed and God is saying we must ACT as HE has already acted and set the stage for us. We must be reminded of the scripture that says,
James 2:21-26~ "21-Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? 22-Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23-And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24-Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25-Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26-For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
The church must actively engage the individuals all across Peoria but particularly in the effected areas. That engagement must take place in the form of door to door campaigns and other initiatives which are currently being formulated. We need both the support of individuals physically and financially to get this done. I also ask that each of you challenge your pastor to be a part of this move...as we are not formulating another organization. This is a movement of churches and pastors who will not sit silently while community terrorists invade our streets, schools and community activities.
Should we be reminded of the "Steamboat Days 2008" or "Holy Family's Heritage Festival 2008"? I personally witnessed some of the most ridiculous behavior I've ever seen, at least publicly, in the City of Peoria and personally heard many people saying "somebody needs to do something about this" and others recant that those community events were no longer safe for their families to attend. Is that the condition that we want to leave things in in Peoria?
Well, I believe that I and we are that "somebody" and the time is NOW to act!
There are several criticism that must be overcome within the community of churches in order to do what must be done. One of the most prevalent criticisms surprisingly enough comes from the pastoral community:
Objection 1- If these individuals don't respect the church and are not willing to live under God's law, and have no respect for the law of the land, then what can we do to make people change against their will?
This question born out of frustration and underestimation of the power of God, is also an excuse for inaction, which, is the category that many of our churches fall into in Peoria. It should be noted that regardless of how it appears, if we believe the word of God we also believe that we have a commission to uphold:
Matt. 28:18- 20 ~ "18-And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19-Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20-Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
That commission does not entertain or even give rise for us to consider what "them" thinks or feels about us. In other words, the response of the individual is not our goal. The setting forth of the message is. That message is what changes lives and impacts hearts no matter how cold or deeply rooted in sin that heart is. Only God can change a mind and heart.
Secondly, there are not too many people that clamour to take medicine or do what's best for them under certain circumstances. Spiritually, the bible teaches that because sin exists, hearts have already been darkened by it,
Ephes. 4:17-19 ~ "17-This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18-Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: 19-Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness."
In short, freewill is only exercised when their is choice that has been offered. Free will without choice or commitment is only an illusion. I believe that the church is best situated to bring individuals to the status of truly exercising their freewill, and I believe that most want a better life's situation and safer surroundings.
In conclusion, the cost of doing nothing at ground level and not engaging individuals is far greater than engaging and seemingly receiving no results.
Individuals had similar sentiments regarding Peoria's first and only gun exchange. Many had no idea that even one gun would be taken in. In truth in every exchange people had to be turned away due to lack of funds. We don't know what type of intervention that an honest and sincere face will be until we do it. We must act. Failure to do so is dereliction of duty and church responsibility.
Objection 2- We should pray and allow the police and governmental agencies to do the job of clearing house.
This is not even a redemptive statement and has continued to disproportionately effect blacks, the poor and minorities within our communities. Locking up all the criminals in Peoria doesn't address or solve the fundamental problems that we face. Our problems are more deeply centered and more expansive than meets the eye.
Example: When we have a Police Chief, such as we have, feels and verbalizes that all of the crime problem in Peoria is centered around 200 criminals that need to leave the area...WE HAVE A PROBLEM. Peoria's problems are greater than 200 people. Many of those problems include individuals within city leadership and hierarchy. So in essence what must be addressed is a complete moral value system that currently does not honor or value life. This is why the church must be engaged both politically and socially.
Objection 3: Some of these people don't want church. We would just be more of an antagonist.
Similar to Objection 1, this is another excuse to for inaction, because one cannot effectively tell what someone wants unless one asks them. Therefore, having a stereotype of what someone looks like that "wants church" is a big problem when engaging the culture.
In addition, because someone does not want God or the church does not mean that they should be unsupported in their moral lives. Some people wish to live morally and can live upholding certain moral values outside of the church. I have done articles on this HERE In essence, I do not believe that a person must become subject to the church before the church engages and seeks to better lives. The whole purpose of feeding the hungry and visiting them in prison wasn't to necessarily evangelize them but to be there for them and add life to them. Peoria is a well churched city, the church must come out of it's walls and engage this city before more lives are lost due to a corrupted sense of morality in the streets.
These are just some of the questions that I have run into from time to time discussing this brand of community involvement on behalf of the church.
In summary, I believe that we have 2 options. 1-We can bury our heads and piously pretend that problems don't exist or that reductions in reported PPD numbers are ok, or 2- we can become actively involved in rescuing the lost and helping those who can't perceive life any other way than it currently is.
Pastor or church leader, you decide. All I know is, I will do everything possible to prevent another murder such as the one that happened to my Godson, Mario McGee.
Another Pastor's meeting has been scheduled for Thursday Feb. 26th in which we will unveil and outline a Church Community Action plan and encourage all individuals to participate. Location for this meeting will be announced at the beginning of next week. Thank You.
Pastor Harvey Burnett