Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

A Discussion on Faith and Culture

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Church and State vs. Young Men

January 7th, 2013 · 4 Comments

Although homicide statistics show that the United States is going off the murder binge that began in the 1960s and returning to the more peaceful levels of 1950 (still high by European standards), there is plenty of violence in the United States, and much of it done by young black and Hispanic men. Rod Dreher has a discuss on his blog of the situation at a mall in Baton Rouge. Baltimore has also seen shootings at upscale malls in Towson as one black thug attacks another black thug.

I have been struck at the resemblance between the violent culture of inner-city blacks and the violent culture of medieval European villages. In both situations young men feel they have to maintain their reputations by avenging any slight with violence, which often resulted in death.

For a long while homicides was not regarded as a serious criminal matter. It was an affair between two families (think Romeo and Juliet) and  the state did not take a serious interest in ending homicide until after the Renaissance. It then began executing killers to tell young men: you kill, you die.

A slow civilizing process also lessened opportunities for violence; but the duel did not end until the twentieth century in France and Germany.

The church was an important part of the civilizing process because the priest or minister was often the only official in a village. The clergy tried to end male homicide and rape by discouraging anything that might excite young men: sports, dancing, village festivals. This also helped alienate European men from church.

The growth of both religious and secular patriarchy after the Reformation also helped end male violence. A father did not like violence around his family and did not want young men tampering with his daughters. Also the role of head of household gave young men a clear masculine role at which to aim: keep your nose clean, young man, and you too can be recognized as a patriarch.

Patriarchy correlates strongly with lack of violence. The least violent groups in North America are the Amish, the Hutterites, and the Orthodox Jews, who have a homicide rate at just about zero.

How to subject the black and Hispanic underclass to the civilizing process? A concerted application of the death penalty is not politically possible. The coarse and violent popular culture may simply be a game for most white kids, but for too many blacks and Hispanics it is a way of life. A middies class white single mother may be able to raise a son in a community in which almost all families are intact, but the black single mother who lives in a neighborhood in which over 90% of the households have no resident father hasn’t a chance.

Resuming the cooperation of church and state, the police in Baltimore and other cities are turning to the churches for help in the civilizing process. Justin George reports in the Baltimore Sun:

When drug dealers and prostitutes camped outside Eastern United Methodist Church last fall, the Rev. Lena Marie Dennis met with Baltimore police Maj. Melvin Russell and other faith leaders and came up with a unique plan.

The congregation would march around the church seven times, carrying banners, praying and proclaiming that they were taking back the block. It worked, Dennis said. Soon the dealers and hookers moved on.

On Friday, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts and Russell announced an effort to build faith-based partnerships across the city, which organizers hope will embolden worshipers to reach out beyond their walls. Police believe the initiative will also help improve relationships in communities that sometimes see them as a foreign and threatening presence.

“Most of our churches have a tremendous amount of credibility,” Batts said.

n East Baltimore, Russell said he learned years ago that police can also help churches build community rapport.

An assistant pastor himself, Russell said he was taken aback by a drug dealer he spoke with who told him that many saw churches as no better than crack or heroin peddlers. The perception was that churches sucked up the community’s money through tithes and offerings but gave nothing back.

As relations between residents, religious leaders and police improved, Russell said, the difference was clear.

Home to 47 homicides in 2007, the Eastern District has historically been recognized as one of the city’s most violent. Russell took command of the district in 2008, and the homicide count dropped to 38. In 2011, it was down to 28.

Last year, Russell said, the total number of shootings declined for the third consecutive year, but the district saw 37 killings. That was the most in any city police district, a reminder of the difficulties that the new unit will face, even with successful community cooperation.

The Rev. Rodney Hudson, pastor of Ames Memorial United Methodist Church in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, is hoping for positive results citywide. He already works closely with Western District officers, sharing information and holding joint community meetings.

“As a faith leader, I view police as having special God-ordered authority to keep peace and order,” he said.

That’s crucial in a neighborhood such as Sandtown, he said, where he’s seen the effects of violent family disputes spill into his church. On one occasion, he ministered to the families of a murder suspect and victim in the same crime — a tough situation.

Just as police can help him, he said, he can help officers and detectives understand neighborhood and family dynamics.

This strategy has had some success in other cities, especially in damping down gang violence.. It would have even more success if black men were not so alienated from their churches, which they view as preserves for a greedy mister and his female flock. Black men have about the same attitude to their churches as Andalusian rural day workers have to the Catholic church: their anti-clericalism is almost identical.

How to convince young black men that religion does not destroy but affirms their true masculinity? Black ministers might study the Amish and Orthodox Jews for clues, and look at the success that Evangelicals in Latin America have had in weaning men away from machismo.

Tags: Masculinity · crime

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mary // Jan 7, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Leon in my experience I noted that Afro American males ,even those who were in prison, had a great respect for their mothers. Having been employed in the homes of many of these Matriarchs as a health care provider, I have been in awe at the respect they recieve from their adult children and grandchildren.Most of these ladies were religious .
    I think males in general in today’s society are at a loss for decent male role models . Women in general have been forced to carry the load alone for far too long in all aspects of parenting.Now I see ( as evidenced at the school bus stops here ) that they are quickly becoming the main bread winner for families in two parent housholds also.
    Morality and machismo have meshed into a disasterous loss of traditional values.

  • 2 caroline // Jan 7, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Maybe black men need separate services from black women?

    Maybe Hispanic men need separate services from
    Hispanic women?

  • 3 cm // Jan 7, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    I was listening to a commentator this week on NPR about the fact that law enforcement officials have begun to realize that violence isn’t by city or even by neighborhood, but by micro-hot-spots. They are focusing on these mini-nests of violence - maybe a block or just a few houses where not gangs but the new clics function. The same problem exists in the average public high school classroom. The class is in perpetual mayhem and no schooling happens. There are only 2 or 3 kids that are the malefactors that need permanent removal, there are 5 0r 6 that follow them, and then there are 25 depressed, silent kids who are desperate to learn and can’t. I remember reading that the ancient Israelites’ response to a misbehaving adolescent male was to walk him to a cliff and push him off. Not possible or humane, but the idea of isolating the serious troublemaker makes alot of sense. Remove the young men to farms and trade schools.

  • 4 CindyRose // Jan 17, 2013 at 1:41 am

    I think there are too many programs for kids. After a ceraitn age kids should be with their parents in church. Youth groups are cool and my daughter will probably be involved in one. However, she will sit with us every Sunday as soon as she is able… like 3 or 4 years old.Also, I wonder how much the church is really to blame for all of these kids leaving. The majority of spiritual instruction and a living EXAMPLE is to come from the parents… NOT the church. I think far too many parents aren’t focused like they should be and then can’t figure out why their kids don’t want any part of church. If they don’t see a REAL faith in you then they probably won’t want faith at all…

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