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Take Violence Seriously

Honestly, I am not much of an alarmist. It seems wise to avoid overreacting. We sometimes can create false impressions of trends based on dramatic isolated incidents. It is tempting, therefore, to conclude that youth attacks on other youths or adults are utterly rare occurrences - nothing more than deeply unfortunate oddities. We hear about shootings at schools from Arkansas to Oregon and about youths killing or injuring youths in other settings. It seems implausible that this kind of violence is a growing pattern. Most youth we know do not cause this kind of harm. Objective data, however, reveal a very real trend of more extreme violence among young people. According to one statistic, 12,000 children and youth were killed last year.

Mary Logan, from the General Council on Finance and Administration, recently called me to say, "It's important that camp, retreat, and conference center directors realize that this kind of situation can happen at our United Methodist sites. We need to prepare our staff to intervene and lessen the potential harm." We should heed her advice and discuss this with our staff.

I recommend sharing the following with your staff and volunteers.

We must understand that even though our ministry involves providing an atmosphere of love, mutual respect and support, some youth may bring feelings of rage with them from other situations. The causes of this rage vary from frustrated hopes to feeling unloved to fears of all kinds. In our current social milieu, violence is unwittingly presented as a viable and perhaps even glorified response to problems or disappointment. An entire sector of the video game industry is based on engaging youth in scenario after scenario of overcoming obstacles by killing characters. Television and movies continue to emphasize violence because people want to view violence and will pay for it. We are naïve to think, however, that these images do not penetrate hearts and minds and carry over into real life. Fist fighting is being replaced by gun fighting and by other more deadly weapons.

Four important things to remember are:

  1. Treat any threats of physical harm very seriously, much like you should take seriously every threat of suicide. Very often, a youth will tell someone before he or she commits an act of violence. Because a youth never acted violently before, people don't take the threat seriously.
  2. Reports of weapons on site or in a vehicle should be investigated respectfully. All items appearing to be weapons should be immediately confiscated. Weapons are much more readily accessible than they used to be. It is possible that they are present, even when you can't imagine why someone would bring a weapon to a Christian camp or retreat experience.
  3. Violence is a spiritual matter, and it should be handled lovingly with both the individual and the community in mind. Reacting to anger with anger fuels the fire. It should be made clear in initial orientations that weapons and violence are not permitted and will not be tolerated. Our faith formation and Christian teaching encourage us to include lessons about non-violence as a way of life.
  4. Serious incidents often require follow up with professional support. Be sure to contact parents whenever a situation involving violence or weapons arises.

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