Beliefnet
c. 2000 Religion News Service

For the most part, students feel safe at Luther East HighSchool, a small school in Lansing, Ill.

But, like 3,000 other schools, churches and Christian groups, theschool recently ordered "Bulletproof?," a video package aiming to helpstudents prepare for and prevent violence. The student body watched anddiscussed it during several of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synodschool's chapel sessions in February.

Next week, when the nation marks the first anniversary of the April20 tragedy at Columbine High School, Luther East's Principal GlennRollins will participate in a dramatic skit to show students how easilya moment of anger can escalate.

"We do it, number one, so that students are aware that we'revigilant about it, that we're concerned about it, that even in a smallLutheran high school, we're not just putting our heads in the sand andsaying it could never happen here," said Rollins. "We're not steppingaway from the fact that this is an increasingly violent society."

Rollins is not alone among Christian youth workers who have soughtto find tangible ways to address violence in a post-Columbine age. Inthe coming weeks and months, crowds are expected to gather onWashington's National Mall for events triggered by the Columbineviolence, in which 12 students and one teacher were killed by two otherstudents who committed suicide.

Youth ministries across the nation have worked harder to buildrelationships between youth and adults and to reduce isolation thatsometimes leads to student violence, their leaders say.

The Rev. Ron Luce, president of Teen Mania, an evangelical Christianministry that serves teens, said the Columbine tragedy in Littleton,Colo., continues to resonate with America's youth, especially Christianyoung people.

"I'll tell you this: Every time we speak of it, there's thisincredible hush in the crowd," he said. "It's almost like ... you'redoing open-heart surgery on their generation when you talk about it."

Even as experts see an increase in efforts by local groups toprotect youth from harm, some also are reporting decreasing instances ofteen violence nationwide.

"We continue to see a decline in numbers of kids who carry guns toschool," said Shepherd Smith, president of the Sterling, Va.-basedInstitute for Youth Development. "That trend is pre-Columbine and iscontinuing. We continue to see fewer shootings in schools even thoughthe ones that occur are highly publicized."

But the publicity of the shootings that have occurred is drivingministries to find constructive ways to work toward reducing violenceeven further.

During "Acquire the Fire" conferences held on weekends across thecountry during the academic year, Teen Mania has been encouraging youngpeople to take proactive steps to prevent Columbine-like tragedies. Itrecommends praying for their fellow students, being bold about theirfaith by wearing Christian T-shirts and carrying Bibles to school, andevangelizing.

"We're asking every Christian young person in America to once a weekshare their faith -- and this is a kicker -- with somebody in theirschool who's down and out, who's been ridiculed, who's been mocked,"said Luce. "These shooters have all been people like that."

The weekend youth conferences usually attract 5,000 to 10,000students, but this weekend (April 14-15) the ministry hopes to draw60,000 to the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., to an event called "StandUp: The National Gathering of the Unashamed" at which the Columbinetragedy will be commemorated.

Other events propelled by the tragedy are also expected to attractlarge crowds. They include "Take a Stand" and "The Call," scheduled forMay 19-21 and Sept. 2, respectively, on the National Mall.

"The Call" is aimed at youth and their parents and is sponsored bychurch leaders from a variety of denominations and ethnic groups.

Linda Furr, coordinator of "Take a Stand," said she hopes more than50,000 will turn out in May to urge more prayer in schools.

"Columbine just was the wake-up call," she said. "It ... just trulyto me signaled how far we had digressed morally. We're in pitiful shapeas a nation. We've got to put prayer back into schools because that'swhen we got off track as a school, as an institution and as a country.If you don't go back to correct where you made a mistake, it will justcontinue to go on."

Rick Lawrence, editor of Group magazine, an interdenominationalresource for Christian youth leaders, said he believes in prayer, but hecriticizes recent efforts to put prayer or the Ten Commandments inschools as "American adult desperation."

"If we put the Ten Commandments up in the classroom, that will causean isolated, angry young person who has been bullied ... to stop andthink, `Hmm, maybe I won't kill somebody today'?" said Lawrence. "That'scrazy. It's adults thinking, `What quick thing can we do that's simpleand can fix this problem?"

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus