Church: It takes a village to curb violence

Posted: January 29, 2013

CARLTON BRISCOE sat in the mahogany pews at the venerable Mother Bethel AME Church in Society Hill on Sunday, as he normally does.

But on this particular Sunday, the Rev. Mark Tyler's sermon really hit home.

The message was not about miraculous healing or overcoming improbable odds. It was about breaking the cycle of violence in the black community, a topic ignored in many churches despite what has become an epidemic.

Tyler's message was part of "Gun Violence Prevention Sunday," being marked by more than 100 congregations nationwide.

Tyler preached about Moses, the Old Testament prophet who killed an Egyptian for beating one of his Hebrew brethren.

"Moses had to learn this cycle of violence could not be ended with violence," said Tyler, who grew up in Oakland, Calif., in the throes of gang violence.

"If you want to break the cycle, you have to get a new model," he urged.

Briscoe was among a few dozen people who had lost loved ones to gun violence and who went to the altar for a special prayer for healing. Briscoe in the past three years has lost a nephew and a brother to violence.

"We didn't even let our kids play with guns," Briscoe said afterward.

"When we came up, a good fistfight would settle it," his wife, Mikelle, added. "What they're doing today is downright murder, and they're murdering their own."

Tyler, meanwhile, encouraged congregants to take an active role through mentoring or becoming positive role models for young black men.

The 11 a.m. service, attended by about 100 people, was followed by a panel discussion that included District Attorney Seth Williams, Mothers in Charge founder Dorothy Johnson-Speight and Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall.

The trio discussed what people of faith can do to solve the gun crisis.

"I do not believe we have the political will to stop it," said Williams, referring to gun-reform legislation at the state and federal levels. "That really troubles me."

Williams said that although there is "no one easy [approach]," citizens can help by getting treatment for family members with drug problems and reducing truancy.

"We have to make mental-health and behavioral-health treatment as accessible as handguns," he said, something President Obama has mentioned in his crusade for gun reform.

John-Hall said those in the faith community can organize to put more pressure on elected officials.

"We all have to have each other's backs, and especially places of worship have to be more active than they are," she said.

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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