1647 memo to dads: Teach godliness, or gangs will ensnare sons’ souls

Taxpayer-subsidized dwellings in East Lake are a hotspot for illegal activity, according to an academic study of gang activity in Chattanooga

“I came to realize a long time ago that a gang member actually left somebody’s home, going by somebody’s church, on the way to somebody’s school. To me, those are the three entities of making a solid citizen. I’m going to be pushing on some way to reach the home. Because that’s the root.”

— Greg Beck, Hamilton County commissioner, gang task force steering committee member

“Residents frequently asked ‘what are they going to do about it’ without acknowledging the critical role that parents, guardians and ordinary citizens must play in developing a child’s value system *** .”

— Gang assessment study (p. 125)

(First of two parts.) The public discourse in any city about the problem of gangs is certain to delve sociologically into the role of the family and its myriad failings. In Chattanooga, aspiring hoods as young as 9 are seen being drawn into neighborhood groups that police identify as a public menace and source of street crime. How is it that such boys — and girls — are not better supervised?

An academic study of gangs in mid-sized Chattanooga, a city of 160,000, reveals in its very design the moral and spiritual problem whose symptoms it explores. Its authors do not enter into the moral realm or seek aid from the preeminent field of study, theology. The study regards the work of the church as slightingly as do employees of Hamilton County department of education. A survey of these people finds that fewer than one in a 100 think “religion/church/God” offer a solution (p. 79). The study places little hope there, and sees little scope for the gospel.

Christianity has much to say to princes, governors and masters— “policy makers,” as they are styled nowadays. Kings and presidents are not exempt from its directives, that they be just and pure in heart, knowing God’s laws, that their courts rule with equity, favoring neither the person or the rich or poor. Christianity requires much of governors of great realms, and the governors of single houses — namely fathers.

Nuts and bolts of self-government

The overlooked solution to gangs is the fulfilling of religious duty among heads of households, say exemplars of the Protestant Reformation. If fathers, or mothers in matriarchal minority households, could pursue the teachings of Christianity and self-government in terms of God’s holy character, the city would enjoy an eventual end to the power of gangs, the phony family that offers itself to alienated youth.

Exhortations in the direction of family worship come from 44 reformed divines among those who in 1647 published at the behest of the English Parliament a confession of the Christian faith, and a larger and shorter catechism, all with scripture proofs.

Their country has been deluged with errors, blasphemies and all kinds of profaneness and in a note to readers, these divines of the assembly at Westminster say the “disuse of family instruction” is the greatest cause for national grief. A manumission from the slavery of sin begins with having “our eyes opened, and being turned from darkness to light,” Acts 26:18, and this labor starts in the home, directed by the father. God sets a man in a place above the rest of his family, and he is to labor in wisdom and spiritual understanding for its members’ benefit. “It is an uncomely sight to behold men in years babes in knowledge; and how unmeet [incapable] are they to instruct others, who need themselves to be taught which be the first principles of the oracles of God,” Heb. 5:12.

The exhortation to fathers is that they study scripture and pass down the benefits. “The understanding is the guide and pilot of the whole man, that faculty which sits at the stern of the soul: but as the most expert guide may mistake in the dark, so may the understanding when it wants the light of knowledge ***.” Without knowledge the mind cannot be good Proverbs says at 19:2, nor life good nor the eternal condition safe under “futility of the mind” (Ephesians 4:17).

“A most sovereign antidote against all kind of errors, is to be grounded and settled in the faith: persons unfixed in true religion, are very receptive of a false; and they who are nothing in spiritual knowledge, are easily made any thing. clouds without water are driven to and fro with every wind and ships without ballast liable to the violence of every tempest.”

Brain knowledge only?

In exhorting parents to instruct their children — using such handy works as Westminster shorter catechism — the authorities are not interested only in brain knowledge and religious speculation, “but an inward, a savoury, an heart knowledge, such as was in that martyr, who, though she could not dispute for Christ, could die for him.”

Dads have charge of souls no less than ministers. Dads have their own souls to steward and improve, with study and prayer and faithful waiting on the preaching of the Word. Like Joshua, dads need to be careful with themselves, then with family. The ignorant father faces a grave result. “What a dreadful meeting those parents and masters must have at that great day, with their children and servants, when all that are under their inspection shall not only accuse them, but charge their eternal miscarrying upon their score.”

The indifference of dads and moms to Christianity and its requirement for holy self-government finds its root in the Church astray, one that cares little for doctrine and refuses to teach the practice of family worship, one that has subjectivized faith, rendered holiness an interior soul fruit and not a culture-changing promise.

In exhorting readers to use the Westminster Confession of Faith and the larger and shorter catechisms in family worship, the divines discuss how the errors of fathers are not so much their own as errors of the times wherein they lived.

Thus do most men take up their religion upon no better an account than Turks and Papists take up theirs, because it is the religion of the times and places wherein they live; and what they take up thus slightly, they lay down as easily. Whereas an inward taste and relish of the things of God, is an excellent preservative to keep us settled in the most unsettled times. **** The ground needs no other midwifery in bringing forth weeds than only the neglect of the husbandman’s hand to pluck them up; the air needs no other cause of darkness than the absence of the sun; nor water of coldness than its distance from the fire; because these are the genuine products of nature.

A helpful tool for parents

A useful instrument of the Protestant Reformation, the Westminster shorter catechism is a directory of 107 questions “for catechising such as are of weaker capacity.” Its review of God’s law touches on a motive in gang crime: Envy. “The tenth commandment requireth full contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his.” It forbids “all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate motions and affections to any thing that is his.”

God’s church seems very far from the commandments, and even further from dads knowing them, and even further from dads’ teaching them to their children. Until the scriptures are read and believed, in Chattanooga and elsewhere, we will have to settle for sociology and fresh proposals for government intervention.

Henry Wilkinson et al, “Note to the Christian reader, especially heads of families,” The Confession of Faith; the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, with the Scripture Proofs at-large: Together with The Sum of Saving Knowledge (Inverness: John G. Eccles Ltd./Free Presbyterian Publications, 1983).
Kate Harrison, “Rising [gang] activity in county reported,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, B1, Nov. 2, 2012
Comprehensive Gang Assessment, submitted Sept. 13, 2012, to Chattanooga city government, Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies and Center for Applied Social Research at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, 173 pages.

Other essays touching on today’s subject include:

Camp Joy seeks to help inner-city children.

➤ American law’s insane punishments in criminal cases suggest the nature of privatized Christianity incapable of addressing the gang problem.

➤ Parents are stewards of capital. Spiritual capital is more important than any physical asset such as house or bank account.

➤ If Boy Scouts tinker with the moral compass to favor gays, the free market will create its replacement.

➤ Lawlessness among the people gives us lawlessness among our magistrates.

➤ A legal expungement lets a man clear his criminal recordlearn about God’s grace.

➤ Gang bloodlettings often have revenge or turf causes. Slightly different are massacres — a war against meaning. James Holmes is that battle’s latest apostle.

➤ Jeff Anderle explains how God intervenes in the life of a young man heading toward ruin.

➤ God rescues Emmett Algood, a former homeless man.

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