Praying the crime away

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Devon Clunis is Winnipeg’s newly sworn-in chief of police. He is also a proud Christian who believes that prayer can help cut down crime in Winnipeg.

First off, let me say that based on interviews and articles, Clunis (who has been with the Winnipeg police for 25 years and served as a chaplain with the force for 14) comes across as an intelligent, grounded, thoughtful, interesting, and dedicated man. The first instinct for many, including myself, was to think “Uh-oh. This is not sounding good!” when he started to publically discuss his views on the roles of religion in helping to reduce crime. Clunis believes that if people are praying for one another, they are less likely to do crimes against their neighbours.

“I think if we have a community that’s consistently praying for one another, hopefully we’ll now see the physical reduction of crime and violence in our city,” Clunis said to the CBC.

Not a bad idea in theory, although I question whether or not that is true. I don’t feel that bringing religion into an equation reduces violence, especially seeing as I think that much of the world’s current strife seems to revolve around religion in one way or another. But, yes, in theory his idea sounds quite good. Clunis has made it clear, however, that prayer is not enough; that it has to be backed up by action. This is a fair, level-headed statement with an even slightly inspiring message.

I think it’s quite clear that although Clunis is a strong Christian who has stated he cannot separate his Christian beliefs from his work life because that is fundamentally who he is, he appears sensible enough to know the boundaries. Of course, those boundaries, in the eyes of most looking for a separation of church and state, are proselytizing or pushing religious ideas and doctrines on staff or prisoners. I sense, based on what I see and hear of him, that Clunis understands the limits but encourages those who are religious to use their faith for good.

So, I think Clunis deserves to be cut some slack. This isn’t to say I don’t have concerns. Although I think he’s sensible, if someone is declaring that something is at the very foundation of everything they do, that is a massive bias that can easily lead to the overstepping of boundaries without even really thinking about it. It would be completely unacceptable to turn the Winnipeg police force into an instrument of god, or use religion as a way to rehabilitate wrongdoers who aren’t religious to begin with. And, it would be completely unacceptable if those who are either not Christian or not even religious started to feel alienated both on the force and in the community.
Ultimately, I would rather have heard that people are the very foundation of everything that Clunis does rather than religion. But he is who he is and I believe he understands, or at least should understand, he is working for and representing all Winnipeggers. Clunis may believe he got his job thanks to god but he doesn’t work for god, he works for the community.

Putting your religious beliefs on your sleeve is always a tad risky. Religion, of course, is a sensitive and often divisive subject. With the controversy Clunis has created with his statements he is getting a first-hand lesson of just how true that is. I don’t think he expected his statements to be as controversial as they have become and he has stated that he feels what was said has been misconstrued. Fair enough.

Clunis does have his supporters, both non-religious and religious. There are those who are fed up with crime and believe prayer within the community can help. Okay, it may. I won’t say that it isn’t possible. It is. Religion, when used in a positive way can be quite productive. But I also think crime can be reduced in a secular way. Caring about your neighbour doesn’t have to come through prayer. It can be just, you know, caring about your neighbour, which is a good thing to do, period.

Time will tell how Devon Clunis will perform in his new role. Does he deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to how he will use religion in his job? I think he does. I think it’s fair to look at who he appears to be and take comfort in knowing that he seems to be a good, smart, fair man. As long as this continues and he can maintain a relative separation of church and state then I think he will be someone all Winnipeggers can support. If he can’t, I can see plenty more controversy in the future.