‘Wicked Time’: Residents Attribute D.C. Crime Wave to No Fear of God
Violence might have returned with the pandemic, but it hasn’t subsided with it. The nation’s capital suffered 16 homicides in the first week of August, bringing the total to 161 homicides so far in 2023 (28% ahead of the same time last year). Residents are weary of the violence.
“We live in a very wicked time,” complained Northeast D.C. resident Kenny Jones. He feared that his three sons — aged 14, 12, and eight — might get mixed up in the violence. Much of it is driven by young adults or teenagers, and young people are often either targeted or caught in the crossfire.
Another Northeast resident, who only shared her first name, Gloria, agreed. When she was growing up in D.C., “people feared God, and people feared the police,” she said, but now “they just don’t care.”
Certainly the D.C. police could be more fearsome. This spring, then-acting D.C. police chief Robert Contee said one solution to reduce homicides would be “to keep violent people in jail. Right now, the average homicide suspect has been arrested eleven times prior to them committing a homicide.” Such a track record only trains criminals to believe the police are toothless. Indeed, only months after passing a bill to reduce criminal sentences — which Congress nixed — the D.C. City Council decided in July to pass a bill making prosecution easier.
Yet the more fundamental problem is that the young people committing crimes have no fear of God. In fact, their lack of fear before God is why wickedness appeals to them. “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Psalm 36:1). “The violence in this city is multi-symptomatic. But I am convinced that the absence of the fear of God is at the root,” said D.C. church planter Welton Bonner.
Fear of God is the knowledge that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). In other words, God knows everything we do, he is competent to judge with perfect, unfaltering justice, and everyone will be judged by him. That has a real effect on how people live their lives!
Scripture consistently gives God-fearing and evil-doing as a binary choice. Job was a man “who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). Moses instructed Israel, “You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God” (Leviticus 25:17). Paul exhorted believers, “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Scripture says fear of God is the antidote to rebellion (2 Peter 2:17), enslaving (Leviticus 25:43), fraud (Leviticus 19:13-14), usury (Leviticus 25:36), oppressive taxation (Nehemiah 8:15), treachery (Psalm 55:19), mockery (Luke 23:39-40), and disrespecting elders (Leviticus 19:32).
Fear of God also restrains a person from killing the innocent (Genesis 42:18, Exodus 1:17). By contrast, those who kill the innocent do not fear God (Genesis 20:11, Deuteronomy 25:17-18).
Because of its influence to restrain oppression, violence, and law-breaking, fear of God is a desirable characteristic in kings (2 Samuel 23:3), governors (Nehemiah 5:9), judges (Exodus 18:21), and even security chiefs (Nehemiah 7:2).
Yet fear of God does not come naturally to hearts that are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). It must be learned.
Moses instructed Israel to assemble every seven years and publicly read through the entire law, that everyone “may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13). The king was instructed to have his own copy of the Scriptures and “read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them” (Deuteronomy 17:19).
Scripture also records several supplemental methods to learn the fear of God, including godly teachers (2 Chronicles 26:5), memorializing his past wonders (Joshua 4:21-24), and honoring him when we eat (Deuteronomy 14:23). But studying his Word is primary.
But how are today’s young people — the ones who are allured by a life of violent crime — supposed to learn the fear of the Lord? Public schools tend to be antagonistic toward the Christian faith, teaching an overtly secular curriculum, making it harder for Christian teachers to continue to be a light within them, and aiming to decouple pupils from the faith of their parents. Some youth may receive religious instruction at home, but often they come from broken homes, and their parents may be ill-equipped to teach them.
“Some children are growing up without having their moral compasses calibrated by the Word of God,” said Bonner.
“That, coupled with society’s overfixation on self-actualization and moral relativism, makes it easier to kill one’s ‘opps’ (rival peers) and brag about it on social media or in a rap song. That is their pathway to power and respect. The more bodies (murders) that one has, the more powerful one is,” added Bonner. “So many of their influencers are preaching this in their neighborhoods, music, and media. And with little countering those sermons, it is no wonder that some of their moral compasses are off.”
Perhaps these young people can — and should — learn the fear of God in church. But Gallup reported in May that only 26% of U.S. adults attended a religious service of any kind — including those at churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples — in the past seven days — a proxy measurement for regular attendance. Of the subset of that number who attended a church, how many attended a church that preached the gospel? And how many of those attended a church that preached the gospel in such a way that God was portrayed as high and holy — a God worthy to be feared? In other words, how many of these young people who don’t fear God have ever heard of a God worth fearing?
“I have talked to pastors and church members who bemoan the void that they feel because they have so few youth or children present in their churches,” Bonner explained. “There are many reasons for this disconnect. Some of the church’s hypocrisy is at fault, some the parents’ complacency, and some of society’s antagonism towards Jesus. But spiritual truancy has consequences.”
The crisis of youth-driven violence is a crisis of young people who need to hear about a God they should fear and a Jesus who can save them. These ideas used to permeate the culture, even among those who didn’t believe. But now Christian doctrines are alien, and they must be reintroduced to people — even in America — who will be hearing them for the first time. The need is desperate, not only for the sake of those young men speeding towards eternal destruction, but also to staunch the bleeding in the streets.
“Please understand that bringing a child to church one time will not ‘fix’ them,” continued Bonner. “We cannot manufacture someone being born again. Only the Spirit can produce new birth through the gospel. But a regular diet of good preaching, and the intentional presence of godly influences can, at the bare minimum, help strengthen our youth’s internal moral compasses.”
“Yet, at the maximum,” Bonner added, “the Scriptures are able to make our youth wise unto salvation, and their lives can become utterly transformed, just like mine. I was a rebel that grew up in the church and hated it as I got older. But those truths protected me so many times, even when I tried to ignore them.” He went on, “And finally, while in jail for the fourth time, the gospel saved me from my sin, and my life was utterly transformed. That can happen to our youth! So pastors, parents, leaders, let’s get our babies back to the local church, because it very well may save their bodies and their souls.”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.