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Campaign against teen violence gets boost from Michael W. Smith

RIDGECREST, N.C.(BP)–Christian entertainer Michael W. Smith and his wife, Debbie, took a public stand against violence during a Southern Baptist youth celebration Dec. 27-29, where a violence prevention/intervention campaign was launched.

The launch of the “Positive Impact: Teen Violence Intervention” campaign, sponsored by the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board youth/children/preschool discipleship department, presented about 1,000 youth and youth leaders with tactics to circumvent teen violence. The objective of the campaign, according to David Bennett, BSSB youth specialist and coordinator of the “Positive Impact” nt, “is to get churches to acknowledge that violence is out there and to show that something positive can be done about it.”

Prior to a musical concert performed by Smith during the youth conference held at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center, Michael and Debbie answered youth leaders’ questions and concerns about teen violence. The Smiths, parents of five children ages 5-13, noted they will have teenagers in their family through the year 2010.

Smith said he believes media, especially television and cinema, are the heaviest sources of violence. And that poses a problem for the Smiths, whose oldest child, Ryan, 13, is interested in cinema production and hopes to one day become involved in the field.

“Ryan loves action-type movies; he likes violence in movies,” Smith said. “We just have to be careful what we take him to see. Needless to say, we’ve made some good decisions and some bad decisions.”

For the past year, television has not been a source of viewing violence for the Smith family, according to Debbie.

“When we began paying attention to some of the popular television shows, we noticed the language was getting really bad. So we decided to quit watching television for a month. That turned into a year, and now the only television set we have in our home is a small one in the kitchen,” she said.

Keeping young people away from television, R-rated movies and cruising the streets is the vision behind Smith’s drug and alcohol-free nightclub for teenagers called Rocketown, located in Franklin, Tenn. Smith hopes to open his second and third clubs in Minneapolis and Phoenix. The club
features both Christian and mainstream music in order to pull non-Christians as well as Christians off the streets, Smith said. Once inside the nightclub, teens are witnessed to by a staff of committed Christians.

Meanwhile, Bennett said youth specialists in the BSSB’s discipleship and family development division began three years ago thinking about a resource for church youth leaders that would sensitize them to the violence around them and aid them in responding to it.

“The message relating to violence is so complex,” Bennett said. “It’s not just, ‘Don’t hit each other.’ There is so much more to it. God calls us to be peacemakers, and there are a lot of ways we can fulfill that call.”

The teaching aims of the “Positive Impact: Teen Violence
Intervention” campaign are:

— to lead youth to analyze how they might live in peace while taking steps to live in safety.

— to lead youth to recognize their sources of protection and ways they might increase their resilience.

— to lead youth to create positive, close-knit relationships through the Spirit of Christ.

— to lead youth to express an understanding of how to be a good friend who makes a positive impact in the lives of their friends.

— to lead youth to recognize that being drug- and alcohol-free is evidence of their commitment to living as Christians as well as a deterrent to violence.

— to lead youth to commit to living a life free of violence.

Bennett said the campaign involves a seven-step strategy that culminates Friday, Oct. 31, 1997 — the day churches are asked to participate in an “Impact Extravaganza” as they observe together the national emphasis on teen violence prevention and intervention.The first step includes attending the launch — a one-day “Positive Impact” event (New Orleans, Jan. 25; Chicago, March 22; New York, April 19; or Los Angeles, Nov. 1), or securing an information packet.

Step two is leading youth through five sessions of “Violence: A Sensitive Issue.” Step three is leading youth through six sessions of “Positive Impact: Teen Violence Intervention.” Step four involves taking youth leaders through an overview of the resource, “Violence: The Desensitized Generation.” Step five includes leading youth through the resource, “How to Help Your Friends.”

The resource, which instructs teens how to help their friends who are struggling with life issues, challenges the youth to use skills they have learned in the other materials. Step six is the national emphasis; and step seven involves moving into the second phase of the anti-violence campaign. Information packets about “Positive Impact” can be obtained by calling Bennett at (615) 251-2855.

“As with any social issue or moral crisis, the birth of positive change starts in the heart,” Bennett said. “Positive Impact is calling youth to become peacemakers, first, through their church youth groups, then to their homes, schools and communities.”
Statistics on teenagers and violence to accompany this story are posted in the SBCNet News Room under stats.txt.

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  • Terri Lackey