Reading about the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent riots in Ferguson, Mo., brought back a lot of unsettling memories.
Born in Detroit, I lived most of my first 10 years in a suburb adjoining Detroit’s city limits. In 1967, our city dissolved into riots in which 43 people died, more than 1,000 were injured, and 2,000 buildings were destroyed. I was just a tiny child when it happened, but even I could sense the anger and fear that wrapped each conversation, every trip to the store or to Tigers stadium.
My friends and I responded to our parents’ wariness by acting tough. Before I even needed all the fingers on one hand to display my age, I knew how to raise my middle finger and choose words that would curdle the ears of any adult. I was offered hard drugs for the first time at age 7, and I remember watching police remove the body of our neighbor after he died from a drug overdose. I vividly recall slipping under my bed in panic at the sound of a gunshot in the street.
My parents left Detroit just before I turned 10 years of age. It was a mass exodus. Between 1967 and 2000, half of Detroit’s residents abandoned the city. The rioters in Detroit — and Newark and Los Angeles and presumably those in Ferguson, Mo., as well — thought they were bringing justice. Instead, they terrified people, destroyed property, and severed the already hemorrhaging artery of trust that makes community possible.
When cities come unraveled, everyone with the means to do so leaves. Only the poorest and most vulnerable remain, poorer and more vulnerable than ever. Some say such problems inevitably result from urbanization. But like it or not, cities are the future. In 1800, only 3 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. By 2050, it is estimated two-thirds of the world’s population will live in large cities.
Imagine this: six billion people packed together with others of different racial groups, religious affiliations, and political opinions. Think of the daily challenges of protecting our families from crime, of making a living or getting food, or even of providing basic health care and sanitation.
The Bible is our only hope. Aside from embracing a biblical commitment to the dignity of each person, servanthood, and economic stewardship, the world’s experiment in urbanization will continue to be a disaster. Loving our neighbor will increasingly mean seeking the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).
If a biblical worldview is true, it is true even for thorny issues of race relations and poverty and urbanization and government corruption. And we can make a bigger difference on those issues than we realize. In a Leadership Journal article titled “To Transform a City,” Pastor Timothy Keller wrote that the tipping point for community change is somewhere between 5 percent and 15 percent of the population. 1 Christians make up far more than 5 percent of the population, even in urban areas. If they will live out their Christian convictions in their neighborhoods, they can restore hope and peace.
It’s already happening, even in places like Detroit. According to economist and pastor Chris Brooks, whose thoughts are featured here, Christians are leading the way in Detroit’s comeback. He told me that the church I attended growing up, which was nearly abandoned for many years, is now the center of a city-wide prayer movement. Too, hundreds of people are participating in Pastor Brooks’ intensive apologetics conferences.
At present, many of our cities are Exhibit A of secularism’s headlong descent into hopelessness. Yet this is not inevitable. First John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear.” God cares about cities. We should too.
- Timothy Keller, “To Transform a City,” LeadershipJournal.net, March 7, 2011, http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2011/winter/transformcity.html?start=1