Can prayer reduce crime? According to new Winnipeg police chief Devon Clunis, the answer is yes.
In speaking with ChristianWeek earlier this month about Winnipeg’s notorious crime rates, Clunis remarked:
“I’m a little tired of us… being ‘[the] murder capital of Canada… People consistently say, ‘How are you going to solve that?’ It’s not simply going to be because we’re going to go out there and police it away. I truly believe that prayer will be a significant piece of that.”
“What would happen if we all just truly — I’m talking about all religious stripes here — started praying for the peace of this city and then actually started putting some action behind that?”
Reaction to Clunis’s comments on prayer have, of course, been mixed. On the whole, few have little problem with what Clunis actually said. Instead, the mixed reactions are a result of the platform Clunis used to say these words.
Arthur Schafer, an ethicist with the University of Manitoba, told CBC, “I think it’s entirely inappropriate for a chief of police, in his role as chief of police, to be advocating prayer either to his colleagues on the police force or to the general public.”
Elsewhere, Schafer said Clunis was using his “bully pulpit” to promote his faith, something that many may find coercive.
However, is that really what Clunis was saying? Was he really trying to push his Christian beliefs on unsuspecting citizens?
Clunis sure didn’t think so.
To clarify his comments that he felt were taken out of context, Clunis said, “If you’re praying for your neighbour, I don’t think you’ll be out there hating your neighbour or fighting with your neighbour … If you are praying for your neighbour, you’ll say, ‘OK, I’m praying, but how can I practically do something to impact my neighbour’s well-being?’”
In the original interview with ChristianWeek Clunis said he was speaking to a specific Christian demographic, “If I’m speaking to a group of individuals who are, let’s say for example, involved in sport, I would definitely tell them to utilize their sports to engage their community. But because I was speaking to this specific group, I realized what appeals to them and said `by all means, utilize that’.”
So, while Clunis’s intention to speak to one specific demographic may have been slightly naive in an over-saturated fast-moving Internet news society, his comments on prayer were not a power play for Christianity, rather a call to action for the benefit of the community. As Clunis has said, the point is to have “prayer backed up by action” in order to bring the community closer together.
Lindor Reynolds of the Winnipeg Free Press had no problem with Clunis’s comments. “Clunis is a public figure, and some argue that should preclude him from talking about religion. Nonsense. Whether you think God is an illusion or you believe in a higher power, he should not have to hide his faith. We all have the right to religious freedom and expression. Clunis didn’t say prayer alone is the answer to violent crime. He called for reflection, for a way for neighbours to look at each other and search out their commonalities, not their differences.”