Voices of Faith: Do crime and violence reflect faith groups’ failure?

We must do the work

Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park: If God calls and people fail to listen, whom do we blame? One might say that the religious community has failed to create a means to convey the message. But perhaps the prophet Isaiah can help us out. He said, “Say to that people: ‘Hear, indeed, but do not understand; see, indeed, but do not grasp. Dull that people’s mind, stop its ears, and seal its eyes — lest seeing with its eyes and hearing with its ears, it also grasp with its mind, and repent and save itself.’” (Isaiah 6:8b-10)

God wanted the people punished for their conduct, but sent a prophet nonetheless. God cares about us, but we must do the work. The same was true in Jonah’s time and also the generation of Noah (Genesis 6-9). The people had the option to change but refused.

I do not find it helpful to cast blame. I believe in the final analysis the Bible demands personal responsibility. Throughout the Bible we find that people can always find someone else to blame. The difficult task is to accept individual responsibility, repent and work to improve society. Let God cast the blame and punish. Our task must be to make ourselves into God’s hands and feet, to create the world God seeks, where none will be hungry, and none will covet, and all will live in peace.

Teach spiritual values

The Rev. Betty Hanna-Witherspoon, pastor of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, Kansas City, Mo.: An FBI site stated that eight categories of crime experienced decreases during the first six months of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009.

The eight categories are murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson. While the national statistics (at least in 2010) say crime is not growing, I would still say faith groups have failed. We have failed because communities perceive themselves to be under siege; parents believe in too many instances that it is unsafe for children to play in front of their homes or at the neighborhood park, and seniors are fearful in their own homes.

It is the role of faith groups to teach moral and spiritual values that allow us to live together without harming one another. To the extent that crime occurs in the community, we have failed. Perhaps we have not made our teaching attractive enough or marketed those communities well enough.

It does not matter; we must accept responsibility for these failures. Other areas of society must also accept responsibility for the harm that is done in our communities: the family, educational systems, youth agencies, social service organizations and a criminal justice system that does not rehabilitate. The responsibility of the faith community is to invite believing persons to join, learn and live morally and spiritually correct lives. The responsibility of all other segments of the community is to accept the invitation. Together we can create the beloved community.