Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Concerning Camden

My Dad sent me this email the other day:

We lived near Camden for a couple of years and drove through it whenever we went to Philadelphia. I know we got the war in Iraq now, but what ever happened to the war on poverty? The USA is the richest country in the world, surely we can do something to improve places like Camden. Sermon over.


Camden, N.J. Copes as Most Crime-Ridden U.S. CityCAMDEN, N.J. (Reuters) - Yahnajeah Kirkland slumps in her child-sized wheelchair, with her head propped up, her arms flailing and a bright hair ribbon tied near a still-pink bullet scar behind her ear.

Shot while sitting in her mother's car last fall, the severely brain-damaged 3-year-old nicknamed Yaya is a heart-piercing picture of life in Camden, New Jersey, where some 80,000 people try to cope with living in America's most crime-ridden city.

The southern New Jersey city of just nine square miles, which neighbors Philadelphia, is ranked worst in six categories of crimes. With 41 murders -- 10 times the national average -- 56 rapes and 974 aggravated assaults, according to the latest statistics from 2003, it is America's most dangerous city.
Hearing stories like Yaya's, Maria Rivera won't let her small children play outside. She points to a sidewalk where a man was killed and a spot on the street where two others died.

''It makes you want to run, want to leave here. But sometimes you can't find a way out and you stuck,'' said the single mother. ''And when you on welfare, you stuck.''

Not surprisingly, Camden is one of the nation's poorest cities. Per capita income is a third of the U.S. average, a third of students drop out of Camden High School and half the city's children live in poverty.
Houses are boarded up and vacant lots are filled with garbage. Instead of supermarkets and playgrounds, there are corner liquor stores and dingy fast-food restaurants.

On Rivera's block, only one house is standing and not a street light works.

DRUGS IN, JOBS OUT. The cycle of crime and poverty spins endlessly. Since the 1960s, big factories like New York Shipbuilding Co. and Campbell Soup Co.'s have closed, while the scourge of drugs arrived. Little tax base remains to fund infrastructure or job-training, leaving a city ill-equipped to lure employers.

''There's a dark shadow cast over here,'' said local activist Margaret David. ''It's like we have the plague or something.''

Private and government aid is too easily lost in the mire of mismanagement, and development tends to fill the pockets of out-of-towners, leaders say.

What jobs there are won't feed a family, and youth are drawn to the lucrative drug trade, they say. ''They can make $500 on the corner at night, so why get out of bed for $5 an hour?'' said businessman Laverne Hicks. The fear of crime is palpable. Those who can afford it enclose their porches with metal bars they call birdcages. The fire department calls them firetraps.

Children learn early the reality of their neighborhood. One recent day in a city park, a woman playfully taught a 6-year-old boy to put his hands up and drop to the ground when police come around. ''You gotta practice,'' she told the wide-eyed youngster.

REMOVE MASK BEFORE ENTERING. Merchants work behind panes of bullet-proof glass. ''Please remove faces masks and hoods before entering store,'' reads one shop sign.

Yaya Kirkland was sitting in her mother's car when bullets came through the window. She's undergone numerous surgeries but will never be the same, said her great-grandmother, Ernestine Drisdom, who must
navigate a series of buses to visit the toddler.

The little girl who once loved to race her tricycle now can do little more than roll her eyes when she sees her great-grandmother. The toddler hasn't smiled since the Oct. 28 shooting, her great-grandmother said.

Police last year made nearly 11,000 arrests -- one in seven residents -- in a city with some 170 active drug corners. Yet the murder rate rose in 2004 to more than 50.

''We can't arrest our way out of this,'' said one officer. Given the city's small size, residents say, the danger is magnified because there are no affluent, low-crime areas to offset the numbers.

''It didn't put any more fear in me,'' said Camden Police Officer Darrell Henderson. ''I came to work the day after that ranking came out the same as the day before it came out.''

Despite Camden's unfortunate claim to fame, residents are quick to defend each other and their down-at-its-heels city. ''We live in the baddest city, but everybody is not a criminal,'' said street corner denizen Shif McBride, 16. ''It's a couple spoiled apples.''

Residents make their own effort to keep the corners clean. ''My neighbors bring some gin, and I get my Coors Light, and we sit out here and tell them to get off our block,'' said one resident. ''We stick together.''
Camden is dotted with small shrines of plastic flowers, stuffed animals and bottles of liquor that mark where a crime victim fell. A local nun blesses the sites with holy water.

Local engineer Stacy Johnson is trying to organize a group, called Men United for a Better Camden, to convince the city's aimless youth there are alternatives to crime.

''It depends who you talk to, whether we're winning or losing,'' he said. ''But we can't do nothing here but get better. There's nothing else.

I responded with this:


The government certainly has a certain role to play in solving this problem.

The church also has a role to play in solving this problem.

Arguably, most importantly, parents have a role to play in solving this problem.

The Bible is not silent on the duties that the government, the church, and parents have in lifting Camden up from the depravity that it is in.

I encourage you to check out this website: www.angelfire.com/ca4/cor/politics.html

It is vitally important that each of the three (government, church, and parents) must fulfill their respective roles fully, without overstepping their respective bounds. The laws of nature and nature's God do not permit the government to assume the responsibilities of the church. The church can not assume the responsibilities that God has ordained for the government to handle. And neither the church nor the state can or may assume the responsibilities that fall on parents.

We need wisdom to discern what each of our responsibilities are, while we dedicate ourselves zealously and with discipline to fulfilling those responsibilities. Most importantly, we all need to be in submission to God. The church, the state, and the family all must be under God. Otherwise, there is no hope, for God will not bless us if we refuse to do things His way. If we do not have the blessing of God, then all our labor is in vain.
Psalm 127:1 - "Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain."

So, what are the responsibilities of the government, the church, and the parents?

The Government

The government is responsible to establishing justice. The government has a job to do; their job is to inflict terror on evil doers. The government does not bear the sword in vain. They must be tough and disciplined in their fight on crime, and they must reward citizens who model good behavior. They must protect the innocent.

Romans 13:1-7 says, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor."

Here we see the God-ordained purpose of government. This purpose follows very reasonably in the thoughts of the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Romans. For Paul, had previously explained the nature of man - that man is wicked and sinful by nature and by practice. Therefore, it is necessary to restrain man with strict governing officials who reward good behavior and punish evil behavior. Also, the government has authority to inflict capital punishment. This is clearly implied by the clause stating, "he does not bear the sword for nothing."

The previous website I pointed you to articulated my point like this:
5. "We affirm that man is depraved as a result of original sin (Romans 5); that man’s fallen nature, essentially exploitative and self-centered, requires restraining by God’s Law (Romans 7); and that Law must be either written internally and enforced by the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:14-15), or written externally and enforced by legitimate authority (Romans 13:1-7). We deny that man’s essential nature is inherently good; that environmental influences – poverty, discrimination, or lack of education – in and of themselves, are the source of evil; and that civil governments were formed by God to alleviate environmental causes of evil rather than to restrain man’s inherent evil nature."

This is the Biblical worldview. There are tons of other worldviews rooted in ideas that man, and not God, is the center of the universe; that man is basically good and needs to be understood; and that the government has a duty to give out handouts to the "less fortunate." The big fallacy here is an inappropriate and anti-Biblical appeal to pity. The government does not exist to show people pity. The government exists to inflict terror on evil doers and to reward those who model good behavior; that is, to those who do something useful with their own hands and produce fruit.

The government has not been given the mandate, or the permission, or any promise of blessing to be charitable to the poor. In fact, the laws of nature and nature’s God dictate that the government is lousy at operating in this capacity. The reason is simple. They are not supposed to operate in that capacity. By giving out handouts, the government is not doing anyone a favor. They should be focusing on law enforcement. By starting all of these social programs, the government is attempting to operate outside of the bounds of their sphere of authority. They begin assuming the responsibilities of the church. When governments do this, God withholds His blessing.

The Church

The church exists in society as "salt and light" in a dark and evil world. The church is the body of Christ – the fellowship of believers united by God’s spirit and holy purpose. We exist to worship God, love our neighbor, declare the gospel to all creation, to give to the poor, help educate people about God’s truths (without assuming the responsibilities of the parents), and to serve people’s deepest needs – whether those be spiritual, emotional, or physical. There is no authority above the local church body except for God. The government does not have authority to in any way "mess" with the local church body – except to fulfill its role of establishing Biblical justice. (i.e. If crimes are being committed in the church, the government has authority to make arrests and do their thing).

Paul writes in Ephesians 3:14-21, "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

By God’s grace, the church must rise up and will rise up to start and sustain crisis pregnancy centers, homeless shelters, orphanages, and other kinds of social programs which are based fundamentally on the Word of God. Physical needs can and will be met; meanwhile, spiritual and emotional needs will be met as God’s word is proclaimed and taught. As the brethren build relationships with one another and with the lost, Christians will lead and teach society. The faithful are taught and disciplined and held accountable by the authorities of the local church. This is why it is key to willfully involve yourself with the local church and to submit yourself to authorities in that local body. Friendships, accountability, fellowship, worship of God, learning, laughter, joy, peace, encouragement, rebuke, correction are all part of the abundant life of local church involvement. If you are not involved, get involved!

The Family

Family is a God-idea. In Genesis 2, we see the first marriage – between a man and a woman, incidentally. Genesis 2:24 says, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." Marriage is a God-ordained institution, and it is good! Husbands are to love, honor, and cherish their wives. Wives are to respect and submit to their husbands. Both are to love and respect and submit to one another. Both are to serve one another lovingly. No marriage is truly complete without Christ being the center of it, for He holds all things together by His powerful word.

Children are to be subject to their parents. Parents – fathers in particular – are to raise their children in the training and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Parents, not the state and not the church, are responsible for the education of their children (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). The church may help (indeed, must help) parents educate their children, and the state should encourage Biblical education by rewarding good behavior. But the responsibility, in the beginning and in the end, falls to parents. When those in a family worship together, work together, read the Bible together, pray together, stick together, love one another, and encourage one another, societies flourish. Parents should be tender and tough on their kids. Parents should spank their children. (Proverbs 22:15, 20:30, 13:24) The state should not ever stop a parent from spanking his children – unless the parent crosses the line and begins to abuse his children. Extreme care and discernment should be taken here.

Following this counsel is the hope for Camden and for the whole world. Rejecting this counsel is to reject God’s word, and to invite his wrath. Amen. So be it.


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