AS I ATTENDED seminary in my native Chicago, I heard about one senseless death after another. A six-month-old baby shot multiple times with an assault weapon; a young black girl, with promise and a future, caught in the crossfire—all casualties of gang violence.
This violence is further evidence to me that our theology is needed on the streets. A theology that can impact the crisis facing the black community must be relevant to the black community. Theology can never be disengaged from the history of black people, the “isms” that have oppressed us, and the struggles that have birthed our progress. “Relevancy,” for theology, means moving beyond the academy and the church and into the streets, where it becomes our thinking faith in action.
Does our theology have anything to say to African-American gang girls? The formation of girl gangs is rooted in the numerous social ills affecting many urban African-American communities. By taking our theology to the streets, we can offer African-American gang girls an alternative hope and future. Four theological frameworks can aid in that task.
First, a practical theology—thinking faith in action—that models Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized can reach these girls with the message of God’s compassion, peace, and hope by offering a positive relational sisterhood that can replace gang life.
Second, a public theology that calls for common-sense gun laws and a ban on assault weapons is a Christian ethical imperative that empowers change in public policy and can save the lives of our youth.
Third, our liberation theology is now also a struggle to free the black community from the oppression of violence, and our faith leads us to the liberating task of acting as “interrupters” to the cycles of violence in our communities.
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When three dozen prominent clergy (including Jim Wallis) signed an ad in the New York Times saying that the best way to stop the sex trafficking of children on Backpage was to shut down that website's "adult" section, the company's response was awfully familiar to me. Rather than accepting this advice from the clergy--which was the same as the urging of the attorneys general of 48 U.S. states plus three territories--Backpage went on the defensive.
This reminded me, a lot, of the time I spent last summer talking with a lawyer for Craigslist, following up on Sojourners' anti-child-trafficking story Selling Our Children.