Tracing Sin by Zip Code

May 05, 2015

A look at differences between zip codes can tell us a lot about sin in our society. I'm not talking about different levels of who commits what sins. Rather I'm talking about systemic sins that are literally killing people. Some people are rightly casting their gaze at societal problems in the aftermath of the peaceful protests and violent looting in Baltimore after Freddie Gray, a young black man, died from a spinal cord injury while in police custody.

The Washington Post examined the life expectancy in Baltimore's various neighborhoods and found a 19-year gap from the best to worst. That means a baby from one part of the metro area will, on average, live 19 years longer than a baby from another part of the metro born the same day. 19 years! In fact, 15 of Baltimore's communities have a lower life expectancy than North Korea. Such inequality is immoral. Such inequality helps explain how Gray suffered from lead poisoning from his time as a young kid in the early 1990s.


Lest we kid ourselves and think Baltimore is unique, data shows similar gaps in other parts of the county. I noted some of this in my sermon at the recent Churchnet Annual Gathering just before the violence in Baltimore. The Annual Gathering's theme of "Share Hope: Building a Community of Peace & Reconciliation" forced us to think about critical issues that Baltimore has since shown (again) are important.

Here's how I put it in my sermon:
A spiritualized, individualistic, colorblind faith will nod affirmingly as preachers talk about saving people for the eternal life to come but not look at the suffering in the shadows of our steeples. Surely our scriptures must have something to say about the fact that as you move from one zip code in Kansas City to another, the life expectancy drops 16 years; or that as you move from one zip code in St. Louis to another, the life expectancy drops 18 years. King Solomon left out the proverb that best explains his wealth and good life. Perhaps the truthful one would've gone something like this: "The wise man decides to be born to a wealthy king; the foolish man to a wayward woman." Those of us born into even modest privilege must not be similarly blind.



Baltimore, Kansas City, and St. Louis (which includes Ferguson) are not unique. Similar shifts among zip codes can be traced in communities across the nation. Such stark life-and-death differences result from systemic problems.

Will we pay attention or merely try to avoid driving in certain zip codes? Will we work to dismantle systemic racism or will we will cross by on the other side of the street?

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