A Web of Relationship

"I don't think they want to talk about cases involving Christmas crèches or Halloween parties. They're trying to keep these kids alive." That was Steve McFarland, executive director of the Christian Legal Society, talking to Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress. The two men had been invited to meet with Chicago school officials. The public schools needed advice on how they could legally allow churches to help solve school problems. Among the problems was a horrific murder rate. More than 60 kids had been killed in the past 18 months, many of them unintended victims of gang gunfire. That very day, an eight-year-old girl had been attacked on her way to school. Tragically, she had tried to hide in three different churches, only to find the doors locked. Symbolically, the locks came off that very day, after the local churches agreed to get involved. Today, two years later, some 300 religious congregations are involved, working with school officials in Chicago to stop the violence. It's yet another dramatic example of how faith communities can help solve the nation's critical social problems. Here's what they're doing: If gang violence erupts, parents are encouraged to keep their kids at home. In some cases, ministers will walk the kids to school. Others stroll through the hallways, befriending those kids at risk of becoming gang members. In dangerous neighborhoods, churches now invite kids to take sanctuary inside whenever they feel threatened. One church set up a computer lab to keep kids busy after school. Forty-eight schools now have programs to connect teenage mothers to churches. These girls receive baby clothes and bassinets—but they also receive something even more valuable: advice on how to avoid pregnancy in the future, through abstinence and self-respect. The good news is, it's working. Of the 2,000 girls in the program, not a single one has reported another pregnancy. And most exciting, the superintendent of Chicago schools asked religious leaders for help to put character education back into the curriculum. Today kids in Chicago are exposed to at least 300 sessions of character instruction during the school year. But the success of faith-based initiatives raises an important question: Where's the ACLU? Why aren't those liberal watchdogs all over these schools? Well, the answer has to do with how the programs are set up. Student participation is always voluntary, and all activities must remain "wholly secular." But as Joe Loconte explains in The American Enterprise, while teachers don't quote the Bible or recite prayers, they're "more willing to steer needy children toward people who do. The state has not established religion;" Loconte adds, "it just no longer holds it in contempt." Loconte is right. Public schools are desperate for the kind of help the church is well-suited to provide. And Chicago is proving that churches can help, if they go about it the right way. The partnership between Chicago schools and churches is now held up as a model by the U.S. Department of Education. Contact us here at BreakPoint and we'll send you information about how your church can get involved in mentoring at-risk public school students. Troubled public schools don't need another government program. They need more churches doing what the church does best: Showing our love for the Lord by loving our neighbors—including the local school kids in trouble.


Chuck Colson


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