Tragically, last night a 3rd boy was shot dead in South London, the latest victim of a possibly-connected spate of black on black youth killings. The police have responded by saying they are going to have armed patrols on the streets now. Like that’s going to work. Two of the boys were shot in their beds.
This morning I was reading the page proofs for the US release of the book, and came across this end-note to a part of the book discussing Fowler’s stages of faith:
I am perhaps stepping beyond my remit, but in my work teaching in an inner city comprehensive I have seen many, many examples of students from families from strongly ‘Stage 3’ Pentecostal churches who, in their latter years at school, develop real problems with discipline. I wonder if this is because they have so few role models at the latter stages of faith, and once they begin to appreciate the complexities of their situation in the city, have few resources for helping them cope with it and so end up kicking hard against the system. It is for others to comment in a more informed way on these casual observations, but perhaps absence of any Stage 4+ expressions of faith in Pentecostalism is doing young people in troubled communities a great disservice.
Perhaps I am speaking out of turn, perhaps there is a ‘Stage 4’ / doubting path within the black churches?If there is, I’ve never seen it. All the literature you see – and masses of it – is all about ‘Holy Power Apostolic Life Church International Healing Power Ministry Prophecy with Big Pastor Somebody and his Shiny Suits.
And I think this is a very deep problem. In my, admittedly small, experience working with teenagers, there needs to be a path from infancy (dependency on the mother) into adulthood (walking alongside the father). Adolescence is the difficult in-between stage, the stage of doubt. The stage where all that Stage 3 certainty is debunked.
It is here that all systems are challenged and all authorities are questioned. And I think ideally this tricky place is best negotiated with one hand still on mother, and one hand reaching out to father. Not only that, but the other social structures that these becoming-adults are part of also need to walk this stony ground with them.
If I am right about the lack of any clear path beyond Stage 3 in the black churches, then, combined with the horrific statistics about absenteeism among black fathers, these young men are being let down on two out of three counts. Believe me, I’ve met the mothers, and they are desperate. Their boys – who tend to be angelic up to age 11/12 – suddenly leave them, and they have no way of helping them.
Other cultural factors are at work here too. It seems that music is letting these boys down too. If you are middle-class and white, then you have a whole catalogue of depressing, soul-searching music to act as your soundtrack for this journey. The Smiths, The Cure, Radiohead… all these are bands who are playing music for that journey beyond Stage 3. But, tragically, there is almost no angst-ridden hiphop or garage. And again, in the absence of other support structures, this leaves these boys with almost no resources to negotiate this journey into adulthood.
So what do they do? They do what anyone else would: help each other. That’s what a gang is: a self-help group when no one else is around to do it.
The solution? Obviously this is a massive problem that is very deep-seated. This Sunday is ‘Amazing Grace’ day, and thousands of churches will sing out heartily to raise awareness of modern-day slavery. Quite rightly, but old-world slavery still has it’s fingers of shame and worthlessness round so many necks. What will not work – and what is just political posturing to pander to us middle-class whites – is arming police. The solution must lie within. The black churches must find some way of holding on to young men beyond 12 years old and resource them with wise guides-men to listen to their doubts, affirm their challenges to authority, and lead them out of the maternal into adulthood.
At least, that’s what one white, middle-class, Anglican teacher thinks.
Rest in Peace, Billy Cox.
[PS – great representation from the ‘From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation‘ on Channel 4 news tonight. They need our support.
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