We have gotten our priorities terribly mixed up when shopping malls-modern America's town squares-turn young people out into the streets in order to guarantee a safe shopping environment, as was recently done at Minneapolis' Mall of America. Around the country, young people are seen as urban America's problem rather than part of the solution.
With the government, families, schools, and other institutions failing youth at a critical time in their lives, the current "dis-ease" of our society-as manifested by the prevalence of violence, substance abuse, and hopelessness-should come as no surprise. When so many look toward our future-incarnate in our children-with fear, it's more than a social problem. It's a spiritual issue that the church must grapple with.
Yet it is clear to pastors and church leaders around the country that the church is sorely out of touch with youth on the streets. Rev. Ray Hammond, a co-founder of the Ten Point Coalition, which works with youth-at-risk in Boston, says, "The drug dealers are on the streets every day, but the church hasn't been."
Recently, however, a national, ecumenical response by the religious community has started to make connections with street youth and join with them in finding solutions to some of the very tough dilemmas they face.