CAN do: Helping God help

October 24, 2012 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

Dan Carpenter: CAN do: Helping God help
Written by Dan Carpenter

When more than 200 people held a prayer demonstration before a City-County Council budget hearing Oct. 1, casual onlookers may not have recognized the peaceful entreaty as an exercise in power.

Yet it was one more long stride by an organization launched seven months ago to bring religious faith to bear on bread-and-butter issues by giving leadership to those accustomed to being left behind.

The Oct. 1 event, pushing for inclusion of a crime-prevention outreach program in the 2013 budget, was spearheaded by two of the approximately 30 houses of worship in IndyCAN, the aptly initialed Indianapolis Congregation Action Network.

And it was a new wave of lay captains and lieutenants that organized the forces at Bethel AME and Central Christian churches.

"For me as a clergy person, one of the most pleasing aspects of our development is how it began with a group of clergy at an informational meeting two years ago and developed into a lay-led organization with the clergy as kind of moral support," says Rev. Keith Kriesel, pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. "It's what every pastor wants for his or her congregation."

It has had successes in its campaign to link a litany of quality-of-life issues, from crime to employment to education to transportation. The new "reverse commuter" bus service was an IndyCAN idea. So is the new city policy of setting aside a percentage of jobs in tax-abatement areas for local residents.

"We'd been talking at Central Christian about how we can go beyond charity to advocacy," says Carolyn Higginbotham, a former dean at Christian Theological Seminary who serves as part-time staff for IndyCAN. "It is fine to have the food pantry, but is there some way we can change the system so people can quit coming to the food pantry and be self-sufficient? It is a moral issue."

If government priorities were set on a moral and spiritual basis, Rev. Kriesel of Our Redeemer submits, an initiative such as Ceasefire, aimed at redirecting young potential criminals, would get the consideration and money that the mayor's office says are impossible in tight times. "God's creation is an abundant creation. So often in our culture, politically and otherwise, we keep talking about a mentality of scarcity. We believe the resources are available for a more just life and a more prosperous life, once the people begin to realize their own power."

Adrian Caldwell of Christian Love Missionary Baptist Church has been one of those people for many years, walking streets to talk sense into young males and attending funerals for many of them. He says the war won't be won without the whole community, including government; but it must be fought. The sacrifice can be ultimate.

"It's a concern of ours as Christians because we are born to help," he says. "That's what we're out there doing. We put our lives on the line."

Carpenter is Star op-ed columnist. Contact him at (317) 444-6172 or at