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Church role noted in restoring community following violence

FORT SMITH, Ark. (BP)–Churches must act quickly to heal and restore families and individuals following a violent incident either on church property or in the community, said Norris Smith, conflict mediation consultant for LeaderCare at LifeWay Christian Resources.
Smith emphasized the need to restore the community, church, families and individuals in the wake of violence in comments during a “Church Dealing with Random Violence Conference” Aug. 27 at First Baptist Church, Fort Smith, Ark.
To help the community heal, he urged participants to “help restore the scene of violence to normal as soon as possible. Bullet holes and blood are like severing the arteries of the community and leaving it there to bleed.” He also urged them to help provide accurate information, to mobilize resources for healing and to “take steps to rebuild bridges of trust between the people and community institutions designed to protect them.”
Smith also emphasized the need for churches to “be active in restoring the church’s identity and image. If the church has been the place of violence, it will alter the church’s identity. It is now known as the church where the shooting was. It will never be the same, but it is still the church.”
He warned participating clergy to not use “constant references about the violence that will create resentment in non-victims and keep the emotional wounds bleeding in victims.” He also cited the need to “be cautious of spiritual interpretations that cause people shame if they are not handling emotional grief as quickly as you are.”
In caring for the victims’ families, “don’t forget the children,” he urged. “Don’t forget the elderly and the shut-ins. They need safety and security. Don’t forget the one in college or military: They need information.”
He also noted churches must seek to minister to the families of perpetrators of violence. “Their right to be restored is as important as the victim’s family.”
To help restore individuals, Smith encouraged churches to minister to emergency response personnel, including “the police who deliver the message to the next of kin, the medics who can’t save a life, the doctors and nurses exhausted on their feet and the fireman who cuts through debris to get a baby clutched in a dead mother’s arms.”
Smith also offered a set of objective measurements that reflect healing and restoration. In the community, he said, healing is exhibited when “routine activities have normalized” and “people and institutions are working together to correct the flaws in the safety system.”
Churches reflect healing when “corporate grief has subsided and is being replaced with a renewed focus on the future” and when “new ministries are being put in place to bind up the brokenhearted.”
Among affected families, healing is under way “when misplaced anger and the tendency to blame one another has given way to open communication and realistic appraisals.”
Individually, restoration occurs when the intensity of emotions has lessened, a willingness to continue receiving help is evident and spiritual activities are positive and healthy. He said other positive signs include evidence that helping others in their pain is replacing a survival mentality and “individuals are actively rebuilding their future with a knowledge gleaned from the violence.”

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  • Russell N. Dilday