In a display that shows politicians in Detroit can entangle religion and government just as well as any in the south, officials held a “day of prayer” at all 13 of Detroit’s police precincts yesterday. Violent homicides are on the rise in Detroit with over 102 in the first three months of this year compared to 68 for the same period last year and the only solution the Mayor and other officials can come up with to combat the problem is to bring in the Bible thumpers to hold an hour-long session of sermons and praying in hopes that God will suddenly make everyone in Detroit stop killing each other for no apparent reason.
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings participated at the 11th (Davison) Precinct, which patrols the neighborhood where four children and their mother were battered to death Thursday.
Their message: There was nothing that police could have done to prevent the deaths—or the deaths of the three people at a party on the city’s west side Sunday. The change, the mayor and chief said, must come from the community and with God’s help.
It depends on everyone to call “on the power of God,” Kilpatrick said.
The mayor, police chief and about 200 participants were led in prayers by seven religious leaders.
“We are assembling to raise our city,” said Chief Police Chaplin Robert Holt.
On Monday, many people found the prayer experience so uplifting that the department is considering holding them again, said Tara Dunlop, third deputy chief for the Office of Public Information.
But not everyone greeted the event with praise.
“That sounds like a police agency that’s thrown its hands in the air,” said Lance Smith, the director of community policing at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Issues of church and state aside, I have to say that’s exactly what this sounds like. What’s next? Bringing in an ‘expert’ in Feng-Shui to rearrange the city to be more conducive to positive energy flow? Perhaps a tribal shaman to do a little dance and scare away the evil spirits plaguing the city? Give me a break.
On the good side there’s at least one local official who understands the reality of the situation:
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said that while the police could not have prevented last week’s homicides, they can prevent similar crime in the future by changing the public’s attitude.
“All we can really do is educate,” Worthy said.
Values are taught, not delivered from on high. Children emulate the adults around them and then they grow up to pass those values (or the lack of them) onto their own children. It doesn’t take a belief in God to teach a child right from wrong. What it does take are adults who not only care enough to teach kids what values they should hold, but who practice those values themselves. If you want your kids to respect you then you have to act in a manner that is worthy of their respect. If you want them to understand right from wrong, then you need to lead by example. Words alone are not enough. Belief in a higher power is not enough. There are plenty of people out there who believe in God and are still some of the most immoral and corrupt people you are ever likely to encounter.
The thing that gets me though, is the belief among some Christians that large numbers of people making sincere appeals to their God will bring about change through divine intervention. If you’re a Christian and you believe your God is real and you accept the rules on how things are supposed to work under that belief system then you should realize that praying for God to open someone’s heart to his existence and make them a better person should be completely futile. The Bible makes it clear that believing in God and accepting him as your savior has to be a completely voluntary act on the part of the person doing so. God reaching down and tampering with someone to make them “see the light” would be a violation of the free will God supposedly granted everyone and values so much. God suddenly imbuing someone with a value system they didn’t have before would make the whole free-will thing kinda pointless. At best you might hope that God will be motivated to protect someone from harm, perhaps by nudging a bullet a little off course or causing a flat tire that requires stopping which avoids an accident they would have gotten into otherwise, but tampering directly with the individual would seem to be a no-no God won’t engage in. If you really believe in him, that is. Which is part of why I always find it amusing when some Christian tells me he or she will pray for me. Go ahead, but according to the rules that won’t make any difference.
All of that said, I will concede that religious belief can be very useful for imparting good values to not only your children, but yourself and other adults. There’s plenty of good advice on how to behave in just about every religion out there, but none of that matters if folks don’t care enough about themselves or others to want to try and be better people. The conditions in many urban settings being what they are it can be easy to grow apathetic and disillusioned. Why should someone care about the value of life if their lives aren’t worth living in the first place? Grinding poverty and other social problems that go along with it part of what results in the violence inner cities are known for. A lot of these problems are tied together and the chain can be tough to break, but humans can inspire each other to care even in the worst of situations and therein lies our best hope of breaking the cycle. People have to help each other to develop a reason to care and to hope. Hoping your God will intervene is hoping for a solution that doesn’t involve any real work on your part and according to the rules laid down in your Bible, it don’t work that way.