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Don't forget...

My next column runs tomorrow. I'll post it in its entirety in this blog. And if you want to mix it up with me in real time, I'll be doing a live chat at this address from 1 - 2 p.m. tomorrow. Or you can post questions/comments early.

In the mean time, here is last week's column for your viewing pleasure if you're a friend, or your scorn if you're a frienemy:

Finish this sentence with me: You'd have to be pretty brazen in order to ...

If you can't think of anything, try this: enter a church, point a gun at a meeting of church employees and volunteers, and rob them inside their sanctuary. Monday night, that's exactly what happened to a group at Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City, where the armed robber snatched wallets, cash, cellphones, and even the senior pastor's car.

Even if you're not religious, it is important to note the history of spiritual sanctuaries. Going back to the 13th century, they have been places where the accused and criminals, like Monday's robber, typically steer clear, unless, ironically, they're seeking help.

After the robber fled the church, his victims promptly prayed for him -- a gracious gesture, because I assure you that, contrary to the principle of turning the other cheek, I'd have prayed for the robber to meet with a Wile E. Coyote-esque accident.

As things stand, average residents of Liberty City have already turned cheek too many times to an unhealthy diet of robbers and killers and all manner of villains who would selfishly disrupt the lives of decent people. There are only two cheeks on your face, and when you turn the cheeks below the waistline, you tend to get kicked in them.

CHURCH RESPONSE IS KEY

Now church workers, the people most looked to for inspiration and guidance in tough times, have been kicked. And how Liberty City churches respond to what happened at Jordan Grove can make a tremendous difference in how residents respond.

To date, most of the community's churches have called for more policing, and prayer. But any genuinely religious person knows police don't change hearts. And prayer isn't enough by itself.

People who would pull guns in church require more tangible treatment, like being exposed and turned over to police.

Churches in urban communities have always been tremendous vocal advocates for victims. This incident is an opportunity to launch a new twist on spiritual advocacy by urging parishioners to tell crooks: From now on, a helping of prayer comes with side dishes of cutting ties and turning you in!

BOSTON EXAMPLE

In 1992, parishioners inside Morningstar Baptist Church in Boston held a funeral for a 20-year-old murder victim. Gang members crashed the service, fired shots into the crowd and stabbed a mourner.

Boston churches that for years had called for, you guessed it, more policing and prayer, threw down the gauntlet and publicly declared there would be no more sanctuary for the criminal-minded. And prayer would be accompanied by stiff kicks to the lower cheeks.

Call it a coincidence, but in the six years following that epiphanic moment, Boston experienced the steepest violent crime drop to date of any large American city.

`THOSE WHO ARE UNWILLING'

Jerome Starling, an assistant pastor at Jordan Grove, hasn't lost faith in spiritual redemption but concedes that ``requests'' that criminals behave probably fall on deaf ears.

``We must continue to pray for them, because it's what the Lord wants,'' Starling says. ``But it is clear . . . the young men perpetrating these crimes lack responsibility and accountability. I'd like to see a probationary program that rehabilitates repentant young people and gives them a second chance in the military. . . . But for those who are unwilling . . . we're just going to have to stop talking and `push' them.''

UPDATE: Since this column ran last Friday, thieves have struck Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church again.

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