Rev. Jim Hopkins, pastor of Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church, was recently featured on the website for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America for his involvement in Ceasefire Oakland. His piece, titled “A Reflection on Urban Peacemaking,” sums up the essence of what we mean when we say that our job as a community is to “put love into action.”
Some reflections on seeking the peace of our city . . .
It is 4 p.m., Thursday, March 27. I am nervous, slightly apprehensive. Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church is hosting a call-in tonight. Already the police are in front of the church directing traffic, making sure the location is secure. It is always a little startling to walk up the street to the church and see all the police cars.
What must the young men invited to the call-in feel as they arrive here… At a call-in gang members identified by the police and probation departments as having the potential to commit violent crime are invited to sit at the table with community leaders (clergy, law enforcement, District Attorney’s office, U.S. Attorney’s office, victims of violent crime, representatives of recovery and job training programs, potential employers and others) and hear the message that they are valued members of our community, that there are positive alternative available to them but that the shooting and other violent acts that their gangs have been part of need to stop.
The call-ins are part of a strategy named Ceasefire. Ceasefire was first implemented in Boston and is described by David Kennedy of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in his book “Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, And The End of Violence In Inner-City America.” It is an evidence-based, community-centered approach to the violence which afflicts so many American cities.
Kennedy writes, “The government is not conspiring to destroy the community, the police are not uncaring, oppressive, racists. The community does not like the drugs and violence. Gang members and drug dealers don’t want to die, don’t want to go to prison, don’t want – nearly all of them – to shoot people.”…”They are all doing profoundly destructive things without fully understanding what they do. There is on all sides malice, craziness and evil. But not much, it turns out, not much at all. There is, on all sides, a deep reservoir of core human decency.”
My hope is that as we sit at the table with the young men our discussion will tap in all of us, Baptist preachers included, this reservoir of core human decency. Is not the tapping of this reservoir the very art of peace making? There is profound theology at work here, the theology of original blessing, the recognition of persistent sin. There is the reminder that each person at the table is created in the image of God, that each one of us wants to go home happy tonight…As the community gathers may this theology not be forgotten, may it strengthen the ties that bind, may it help save lives. Amen.