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Christian clubs on school campuses a key hope for countering violence

PEARL, Miss. (BP)–A community of 20,000 bordering Mississippi’s state capital, Pearl isn’t a hotbed of juvenile crime or gang activity, says the editor of the state’s Southern Baptist newspaper.
“Most people go to church on Sunday and take their families with them,” said William Perkins, editor of The Baptist Record. “You would be stunned that it (last fall’s school shootings) happened in Pearl.”
Still, the veteran newspaper editor isn’t thoroughly surprised that such tragedies have extended into small-town America.
It’s a natural outgrowth of a society he sees as so “polluted with cultural sewage” that he refuses to allow his 4- and 6-year-old children to watch Saturday morning cartoons.
It’s nearly impossible to screen out all objectionable material, said Perkins, who recently discovered his children had watched an R-rated movie at a friend’s house.
“You watch TV every night and you have spiritualism, violence, sex and profanity,” he commented. “I haven’t seen a movie ad lately that the hero doesn’t have a gun in his hand.
“Rap artists on some of the biggest labels in America explain how to mutilate women. You look at what (children) see every day and then you’re shocked when it happens at school or church or a football game? You shouldn’t be.”
The leader of a network of Christian clubs in the nation’s schools agrees that conditions have grown worse amid the moral decay of the 1990s.
The ideas promoted in the 1970s’ sexual revolution have led to today’s broken families and other social problems, said Benny Proffitt, president of First Priority, a ministry based in Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville.
“Kids need two things,” Proffitt said. “They need hope and truth. Jesus said he is truth, light and hope, which is why we need Christ.
“That message can’t be proclaimed (openly) in school anymore, which is why our whole ministry is to help kids share that platform in schools.”
Despite bleak indicators, the presence of these clubs — now in 10,000 of the 56,000 secondary schools — shows a new standard has been raised, he said.
For 25 years public schools redefined and confined what Christians could do there, Proffitt said. He believes the gangs, drugs and violence that followed were the result of an absence of salt and light in the system.
But with a growing number of Bible clubs entering campuses, other students are being held accountable for their actions, he said. In addition, he sees three other benefits:
— Christian students are stronger because of standing together.
— More students are converting to Christ because of the witness in public schools.
— With a recognized Christian presence, more students are joining their ranks.
“Now there is light, hope and truth being proclaimed by a recognized body,” Proffitt said. “I tell kids they can change their school because they’re the body of Christ. The body represents us physically.
“Jesus said, ‘Be my body so when people see you they’ll see me.’ The stronger the presence of the body of Christ, the stronger the presence of right and wrong on a campus.”
When he founded First Priority in the early 1980s, school administrators who feared church-state conflicts were terrified of the outreach, he said.
Today, principals are calling him and asking for help in implementing Christian programs in their schools.
“Yes, there is Satan worship and violence acted out, but the doors are opening wider and the pendulum swings further,” he said.
“When the culture became violent, people said, ‘We’ve got to get back to God. Let’s teach morals and values. We want the security that comes from walking with God.'”
A consultant who has spent 24 years studying and dealing with crime and problems of destructive student behavior also sees signs of hope.
Bill Riceman of Indianola, Iowa, cited the Promise Keepers movement as making men more aware of their responsibilities to serve as role models.
“That’s why Islam has been so successful,” he said of the Muslim religion. “I don’t agree with their theology, but it’s (about) men being men, men standing up and being responsible for their family.”
Besides modeling positive behavior, Riceman believes the country needs to correct the widely promoted, yet mistaken idea that children can be anything they want to be.
“That’s a lie,” Riceman said. “There will never be another Michael Jordan and kids can’t be like him no matter how hard they try. But they can be whoever God wants them to be. We need to start telling our kids that.”

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  • Ken Walker