By Diana Chandler, Regional Reporter
NEW ORLEANS, La. – New Orleans’ primary crime problem is homicide, with rates 10 times the national average and five times that of comparably-sized cities, according to a newly-released U.S. Department of Justice report focusing on crime trends here.
As New Orleans civic leaders move to reduce crime in the area, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Fred Luter is already tackling the problem by strengthening families in faith.
That was the purpose behind Franklin Avenue’s recent family conference, the first of a planned annual event.
[img_assist|nid=7245|title=Pastor Fred Luter|desc=Franklin Avenue Baptist Church Pastor Fred Luter is trying to strengthen families in faith to help address crime in the area. The church’s inaugural family conference was the first step in his efforts.|link=none|align=left|width=640|height=505]“I believe the family is key to a lot of the things that are happening or not happening in our society,” Luter said. “God created the family before He created the church.”
Luter’s long desire to hold such a conference was strengthened by a killing on the steps of the church on Father’s Day in 2010.
New Orleans Police officers shot 17-year-old Jamyrin Points, accusing him of pointing an assault rifle at them. Points bled to death on the steps of the church.
“It traumatized me and my church,” the pastor said. “That entire week, every news channel in the city was calling our church to ask for an interview. It was all about the fact that somebody was shot and killed in front of our church.”
After the killing, all of the church’s good work was overlooked in favor of covering the tragedy, Luter said.
“It just impressed upon me that we’ve got to do a better job as a church in reaching out in the community to touch people,” he said.
The weekend conference offered nearly 30 classes designed to improve family relationships. Attendants chose between classes in parenting for couples and singles, conflict resolution, forgiveness and managing anger and conflict. Classes included advice on achieving financial stability, managing stress, living a marriage God’s way, dealing with life’s challenges and managing blended families.
“Values and morals are taught in the home,” he said. “That’s where it begins,” but the church can do great deal to help.
After the 2010 killing, Luter responded with a series of messages based on the Great Commission, challenging members to be proactive and emphasizing a critical partnership between the home, school and church in helping children succeed.
Other church ministries are also engaged in the effort. The church’s youth ministry has held the first of planned quarterly parenting summits, impressing upon parents their critical role in the family and preparing them for excellence.
The church’s marriage ministry offers Divorce Care support group meetings for parents and children, as well as parenting classes.
Luter vowed to parents that the church would help prepare their children interact successfully with the world.
“If you really want to reach the community, one of the first sources of doing that has got to be the family,” Luter said.
While it’s easy to insulate children and surround them with scripture at home, Luter said, parents are often surprised by the way their children interact with authority figures and handle interpersonal conflicts when away from home.
“A lot of parents would be amazed at how different their children are at school as opposed to at home,” Luter said. “There are a lot of things our kids wouldn’t do in our home” that they’re willing to do elsewhere under pressure from peers.
He encourages parents to become involved in their children’s school activities. Law enforcement officials are also important to the community equation, allowing children to learn how to respect authority. Luter said parents themselves are less respectful of authority figures than in the past.
“There was a time when the teacher was always right,” he said. “Parents today oftentimes are beating up the teacher, just automatically taking their kid’s word.”
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church sits in the city’s Fifth Police District, one of two areas the Justice report identified as top areas for homicides here.
The family conference drew attendance from the church, community and other clergy, Luter said.
“Everyone sees the need,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of great emails from people. It’s been very positive.”