Virtual Voices

Indianapolis: From Naptown to a Super Bowl city

Cities

Indianapolis pastor Tom Benjamin recognizes that his town has come a long way since he arrived here in 1965. Yet the St. Louis native says the city still has much to accomplish, spiritually and socially, to complete the urban dream, with or without Sunday's Super Bowl.

Benjamin is stepping back as senior pastor of Light of the World Christian Church after 41 years of leading one of the city's larger predominantly African-American churches, which is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ.

He's been a strong civic leader who has rubbed shoulders with an earlier generation that transformed the city from Naptown to a Super Bowl city. Now almost 70, Benjamin knew Sen. Richard Lugar as a young Indianapolis mayor who expanded the city limits to the edges of Marion County.

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"We've had the advantage of a series of outstanding mayors who've led the city in a progressive way, particularly in terms of getting the private sector and public sector to work together on building Downtown," he said.

But he doesn't think the city has done as well with the social and spiritual side of life.

"We're in love with the Super Bowl for what it brings, but it's almost as if Lucas Oil Stadium is the temple we're satisfied to worship in. Thousands sacrifice religion for football and recreation," he said. "It reminds me of the Scripture: What does it profit a city to gain the Super Bowl and lose its soul?"

An advocate of racial reconciliation, Benjamin is not pleased with the city on that score.

"Generally speaking, greater Indianapolis is a segregated city in neighborhoods," he said. "There's a little bit of shifting, but not much. We have many individual exceptions, but by and large we are in the same place we were 20 years ago."

After his parents divorced when he was young, Benjamin was sent to live with his grandmother. She made sure he had substitute fathers.

"Fatherlessness is at the epicenter of our dysfunction," Benjamin says. "A mother can help a boy become a man, but she cannot teach a boy to be a man. We need complete men who have been influenced by a father and a mother. Far too many of our children have been thrown on the ash heap of divorce, abandonment, and irresponsibility, mostly on the part of males."

Although he didn't have his father as a model, his grandmother directed his attention toward Jesus Christ and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tom Benjamin summed it up by saying, "Christ was my ultimate male role model."

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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