Debate on a motion from the mission and public affairs council in CofE General Synod July 2019, York on Responding to serious youth violence
Joe Aldred, Ecumenical Representative
Thank you Chair, for calling me. I bring you warm greetings from the community of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches across the country, on whose behalf I welcome this debate on Serious Youth Violence.
Eleven years ago, in 2008, Churches Together in England published ‘Who is my neighbour? a church response to social disorder linked to gangs, drugs, guns and knives’. It is available still on the CTE website. In his foreword to that report, the then bishop of Liverpool Dr James Jones, wrote of the ruinous impact of racism, deprivation, and low self esteem on the lives of many inner city youths, rendering them vulnerable to criminality as perpetrators and victims. The report found that these challenges had already spread beyond the so called ‘inner cities’ and that the knife had become a weapon of choice in youth violence. It called for society to step up efforts to tackle the underlying causes of the alarming trend of rising knife crime.
Pentecostals sometimes approach matters of life by recourse to the language of spiritual warfare. Holy scripture says, ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places, (Ephesians 6.12 KJV). This may assist our approach to the issue of serious youth violence.
The report before before synod today reminds us, soberingly, that the challenges of serious youth violence are complex and deeply rooted in our unequal society. There are no quick fixes on offer and we may need a change of mindset and approach: less reactive, more proactive; less energy spent on symptoms, more addressing root causes.
The report helpfully highlights some of the matters that stand in the way of youth flourishing. The well-established link between school exclusions and likely descent into criminality and prison. The often counterproductive use of pupil referral units. The alienation that Professor John writes of, leading to a mindset of ‘having nothing to lose, and even less to gain’. The lack of love and affirmation so many young people say they feel feel. The erosion of education and youth services necessary to support young people develop emotional and spiritual intelligence, values and morals. Some parents feel that their role as primary educators and influencers of their children has been undermined. And there are the gang and drug overlords operating across county lines, mercilessly on hand to groom and exploit the most vulnerable, sometimes to their or others deaths.
The challenges are many, and are not confined to London, they are national and international. Our approach must match these challenges with innovation and determination for the long haul. And there are many people and programmes already involved in addressing youth empowerment. For many this is their life’s vocation of prayerful action and accompaniment.
I am grateful to the report for pointing to some immediate and practical things we can do such as installing knife bins and opening up often underused church buildings as safe sanctuaries for after school clubs, and the like. The Methodist church in their recent synod adopted a motion to work alongside the Church of England on sanctuary churches. Pentecostal and Charismatic churches commit to the same, as hopefully will churches of all denominations.
Many live with the pain of losing young ones, or of giving support to hurting, bereaved, bewildered parents and families, asking why, why did this happen to my son, my daughter, my family. In the end because we are one human family when one hurts we all hurt. We are hurting, God’s children made in the divine image and likeness are hurting, some are dead. This is not only about knives, it’s about our very humanity and the liberation needed from the principalities and powers that imprison and oppress.