IT shouldn't happen to a nun . That's for sure, but on the notoriously dangerous streets of New York City, it does.
This week's Heart of the Matter (BBCI, Sunday) had plucky Joan Bakewell take her life into her hands to investigate the growing problem of violence faced by the churches and synagogues of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is known as "the borough of churches" — there are some 600 churches there, and about 300 synagogues. It also boasts some of the most run-down areas of New York, and eight out of ten Brooklyn families have a member who is a drug user. Drugs, or rather the need to get money with which to purchase them, are the main cause of the crimes of violence that make being a priest here so stressful that many leave the area after only a year of ministry.
The result is a raging argument within the religious community about how church people should deal with the threat of personal loss and injury. Does it make sense to continue to be a sitting target when you could do something about it?
But what can you do? Some of Brooklyn's nuns are now carrying "muggers' money" in the hope of appeasing wouldbe attackers, which seems reasonable enough.
But what about carrying a gun? Or using it? Not exactly what you'd call turning the other cheek, but some of the clergymen Ms Bakewell interviewed didn't seem to see it that way.
One minister said that turning the other cheek didn't mean letting yourself be beaten to death. I thought that that was precisely what it did mean. It got worse: Brooklyn's director of churches was asked, did he envisage a scenario of John Wayne antics over the high altar? I bet Joan thought that this was virtually a rhetorical question, but shockingly, the answer was "yes".
Coming out best from the debate was a Catholic priest who spoke from his hospital bed, where he was recovering from being shot in the leg by two youths. As far as he was concerned, violence was wrong in itself and its use was selfperpetuating. Martin Luther King and Gandhi were his role models: both suffered physical harm to different degrees, but their ideas triumphed where their bodies didn't.
Firmly outside the limits of the programme was the issue of how things had reached this pretty pass in the first place. The United States as the land of the gun was briefly covered it's the only democracy in the world where personal liberty includes the right to carry arms, according at least to the common interpretation of the constitution — but otherwise the larger issues were ignored. Fair enough for the programme makers, but it might have been interesting had any of the church representatives addressed the problem of society in general's and Christianity's in particular failure effectively to tackle urban despair.
If the inhabitants of Brooklyn had more to live for, then perhaps some of them wouldn't have chosen to opt for the compulsively unsatisfying god of crack.
THE WEEK AHEAD Sunday July 1
07.30 Good Morning Sunday, Radio 2. Singer Dana presents the programme from Belfast. Her guest is the Revd Dr Ray Davey, founder of the Corrymeela Community, a dispersed group of Christians from all the main denominations in Ireland committed to the work of reconciliation.
18.40 Highway, ITV. Harry Secombe visits the small island of Barra in the far south west of the Hebrides and talks to parish priest Fr Calum about the islanders' faith.
20.30 Immortal Diamonds, Radio 4. Rosemary Hartill looks at the poems of Emily Dickinson.