Is there an inverse relationship between prayer and crime rates? The Orlando Police Department apparently thinks so.
On October 10, just days after the seemingly gratuitous killing of Officer Alfred Gordon, the police department launched "Operation Armor All," a 40-day city-wide effort—planned long before Gordon's death—to combat Orlando's crime problem with prayer. Volunteers from at least 20 churches showed up at Parramore Heritage Park—one of the city's most troublesome areas—to kick off the 40 days. The police department hopes that 40 Orlando churches will "adopt" a day to pray for a specific part of the city. So far, 22 have signed up.
Will it work?
Many doubt it, like this Orlando blogger, who wrote: "Prayer is helpful, but it's not magic, and it's no substitute for action. Law enforcement still needs to patrol, investigate, and adjudicate. Crime can't just be prayed away."
Well, of course, it is true that prayer is no "cop out" for law enforcement doing their job. Still, past efforts seem to point in favor of the power of good old-fashioned prayer to fight crime.
Every month, English policeman John Sutherland sends out an e-mail to more than 150 church members asking them to pray for specific crime issues in their area. "There had been a killing, and there was a fear of reprisals," Sutherland told the BBC. "So people were asked to pray simply that there would be no more violence. And," says Sutherland, "there was no more violence." Even street crimes dropped 4 percent in his borough after he began sending out the prayer letter.
Mr. Sutherland understands that prayer—as a vehicle to promote safe neighborhoods—works because it changes motives, not just actions. He says, "If you take an individual burglar, and pray for him, and he becomes a Christian, one of the net impacts of that is that he may stop burgling."
Washington, D.C., has also tapped into prayer to protect its streets. Last summer, when murder rates skyrocketed, the Christian Defense Coalition launched an effort similar to Operation Armor All.
Beyond asking for prayer, police forces have often tapped into the faith community to help curtail crime. Last year police in High Point, North Carolina, brought high-profile drug dealers together with influential people in their lives, including members of the faith community. These "influencers" urged the drug dealers to abandon their lives of crime. Since then, 60 percent have stayed out of trouble.
Don't get me wrong. As a former attorney general, I am not proposing prayer as the answer to crime—and certainly not the only answer. But what I am saying is this: Prayer is a starting point. St. Paul tells us to pray about everything. And remember, prayer for something like reducing crime is a long-term spiritual battle, not a short-term "solution."
I urge you to think of creative ways you can encourage your church to battle crime with prayer in your area. You could talk to your local police department to organize a prayer walk through a crime-ridden neighborhood. You could distribute a prayer list of specific concerns. Or you could organize a gathering of several churches to pray for peace to return to your city.
In the battle against crime, let's not wait for our local police department to ask us to do what we should have been doing all along: praying.
From BreakPoint®, October 18, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship