By NEMS Daily Journal
A series of unrelated, high-profile and extraordinarily violent homicides in the Deep South has already made 2012 a year of horrors.
Most of the cases are ongoing, with outcomes and determinations of guilt and/or innocence not decided. The only certainties, some would say, are that people who loved and were loved are dead, with some of those likely guilty of terrible crimes themselves.
Should the South be singled out?
Scholarly research and national crime statistics have shown for years that homicide rates in our region have exceeded most other regions.
In defiance of widely shared assumptions, the rates are not about black-on-black crime.
Pauline Grosjean, in a scholarly monograph written in 2011 at the University of San Francisco, summarized research showing the Southern homicide rate “is essentially a white offender phenomenon: over the period 1980-2007 white offender rates in the Deep South have been 2.8 what they have been in Northern states. Black offender rates are ‘only’ 1.4 times higher, a difference that is no longer significant since the end of the 1980s.”
She also found that a recent decline was sharper for blacks than whites.
In parallel, it is also interesting that the higher homicide rate occurs in what is by consensus considered the most religious region of the nation.
What is it that southern people of faith are missing, or not passing on to many of their fellow southerners, most of whom are self-identified as Christians, including those in prisons.
Grosjean’s study was focused on data she identifies as a white “culture of honor” in which homicide is higher dating back to the 1700s.
So, given that information, what is it that apparently a lot of southern Christians have been missing and failing to pass on through the centuries.
It’s probably the same thing people in the early church didn’t get, either: The way of life called Christianity demands radical change from the norms of human behavior, including and especially prevailing culture.
Paul the Apostle, to whom a big portion of the New Testament is attributed, never stopped exhorting those for whom he exercised a pastoral function, to live a new way.
The Letter to Philippians, dating from about 62 CE, is frequently called the most winsome of all Paul’s letters. He wanted the Philippian church to understand and practice a new way of thinking and living.
William Barclay, a 20th century scholar who focused on the early church and translated its correspondences, said that Christians need to learn to place themselves trustingly in the hands of God.
Barclay’s translation of Philippians 4:8,9 sums up what’s expected:
“Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things have the dignity of holiness on them, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are winsome, whatever things are fair-spoken, if there are any things which men count excellence, and if there are any things which bring men praise, think of the value of those things. Practice these things which you have learned and received, and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Paul wanted the Philippians to set their minds on the right things, and if Paul wrote today he might substitute Mississippians, Tennesseeans, Georgians, Alabamians, and others whom all of us know, in place of the women and men in Philippi.
Barclay said that if people think of something often enough and long enough, they come to the point where they cannot stop thinking about it. Barclay lists those good things: true, honest, just, pure, lovely, things of good report, things of excellence, and, with humility, the praise of good people.
Barclay said it in the mid-20th century, and it’s true today, that it is of “high things” Christians must think.