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Bringing Them Back Home:|
Gangbangers VS. The Modern Church
M. G. Ramey
As I sat down to write this column, I paused to reflect upon an exhausting week.
First, my wife informed me that the teenaged son of a dear family friend sat locked up in our juvenile detention center. His crime? Hanging out with ‘a buddy’ who had been engaging in a drug transaction…and was arrested by police.
Second, I had just finished a closed-door teaching on the dangers of street gangs to a select audience of school administrators from one area of my home city.
Finally, I had the opportunity to watch a portion of Ving Rhames’ production of the movie ‘Animal’, a no-holds barred drama about the struggle of a former criminal who was sentenced to prison for his crimes associated in the ‘perfecting’ of his ‘craft’ of ‘street thuggsterism’…only to wind up eventually shot to death by the son he had left behind. The son had chosen to ‘follow’ in his father’s footsteps as the terror of the neighborhood, even though the father--now returned from prison a changed man--tries to prevent his son from repeating his mistakes.
Now, it is not my intent to ‘reinvent’ the wheel when it comes to the subject of street gangs.
There are reams of material on the Internet about ‘gangbangers’ (or ‘bangers’ as I prefer to call them), the different ‘crews’ and ‘cliques’, colors, hand signs and gestures, and the impact of the current culture on ‘spawning’ a highly intelligent first generation of bangers. It IS my intent to help as many churches as possible avoid being labeled as ignorant when it comes to this subject.
The modern church sponsorship and use of gun buy backs, community rallies, commissions, slogans, finger pointing and public forums will not deter gangs from sowing their deadly oats. Soul winning, street evangelism and a realization that bangers of all races and sexes need salvation, will do wonders in neutralizing their worship of money, mayhem, and muscle to make their voices heard.
In short, it will take a spiritual solution to confront this spiritual problem.
That’s right…I did say ‘a spiritual problem.’
In the world of the gang, their ‘religion’ is spelled out in broad, fleshly terms: If one can put it in a pocket, around a neck, in a blunt, worn on one’s back or take for a drive down the street, it is worth worshiping. In the gang culture, there IS no such thing as sexual discrimination. Young women can serve to pleasure the males in a gang, or, they can go out and practice the art of the beat down in their OWN gangs. In my home city of Indianapolis, Indiana, there have been at least three girl gangs identified by local law enforcement authorities as far back as 2004. They just want to get in on the fun of banding together to right perceived wrongs and ‘handling their business,’ just like their male counterparts. Locks in socks have replaced lip-gloss as a daily accessory in more than a few girls’ purses and handbags in some schools. A beat down given by a group of girls against one girl is just as dangerous and hurtful as a group of boys doing the same thing to one boy.
The ONLY way to stop them is a three-pronged approach: A strong law enforcement presence, coupled with a strong church presence and a no-nonsense community of determined people to regain control over our streets.
Please keep in mind that there are many who do not WANT the problem to get better in order to ‘maintain’ their own perceptions of ‘community visibility’ and power. After all, a ‘barking’ watchdog gets more press than a ‘doing’ watchdog. They also give a perception that they are ‘concerned’ about the problem rather than expending their own resources for realistic and workable solutions.
JUST HOW DO GANGS WORK?
As one who has spent the better part of one career or another involved in the areas of crime and justice, I am no stranger to the wiles of street gangs. It is no accident that these predatory organizations surface, are beaten back, lie dormant, and rise again more terrible than their original version.
Today’s street gang is not like the gang model many are familiar with from movies like “West Side Story”. Many modern gangs are no longer ‘segregated’ by race, location, or sex.
Thanks to the wonders of high technology, teens of different races and backgrounds can learn, model and belong to gangs whether they are in Oshkosh, Phoenix or Indianapolis.
Thus, bangers can have web pages on teen-oriented sites such as MySpace, Black Planet, or Facebook--complete with their favorite slogans, signs, symbols and affiliation. It matters little ‘which’ gang may be dominant in the headlines. They ALL operate on three basic principles:
*Power: Street Gangs bring a lot of muscle to the table IF they are allowed to gain in strength. Let a gang loose in one school and they could be in all of the schools of a school corporation. Let a gang spread their graffiti on one side of town, and you will have the murder rate and drug traffic increase at an alarming rate. Some gangs have ‘front’ businesses established to launder money and put on a good front for the media. Others have quietly been able to turn their power into capital to finance political campaigns and turn out the vote movements. Still others have taken their power into seemingly ‘upright’ social organizations dedicated to recruiting new members.
*Fear: There is nothing quite like a few dead bodies on the six o’clock news to frighten an area into silence. A few injured community activists who are against the gang drug trade will prevent others from coming out against the gang in their prevailing neighborhood. A few well-placed threats against a preacher and his family will have many a pulpit quiet on Sunday morning when sin NEEDS to be exposed. A few high profile kidnappings will cause even the best community leader to quake when the clock strikes twelve late at night. Trust me; many bangers quickly push themselves up the criminal ladder past the shaking down of kids for lunch money.
*Ignorance: Of the three, this may be the deadliest of the trio. While some teachers, police officers, and counselors may understand the signs and symbols of the gang scene, many more do not. Roughly every 12 to 18 months, bangers change their signs. The junior high or middle school child that will doodle some seemingly innocent names, symbols, and lyrics onto a notebook cover or the back of their $150 sneakers is not just practicing creative expression; this child is ‘reaching out’ to other potential gang members by ‘hoisting a flag’…letting them know of his interest in joining up with a gang. Unfortunately there is always a risk that a rival gang may spot the child’s intent and correct his efforts with some very physical persuasion.
THE CHURCH HOUSE REMAINS SILENT:
I’ll make another point, which may ruffle some sanctified feathers in many, a church house.
Since many churches have determined that the necessity of soul winning, coupled with street evangelism are out of date by modern standards, the message of the gospel and the power of the scriptures have become muted in the marketplace. This is an interesting phenomenon especially when one considers the religious trappings associated with gang activity.
A ‘Banger’s Bible’ is the constitution and bylaws of their respective gang. Many signs and symbols, numbers and prayers are modeled after what gang members have seen modeled in many churches.
Even the initiation process could be likened to one coming forward and being ‘re born into’ street gang life--complete with official nickname. Make no mistake about it. Gang bangers regard their gangs and turf as a church, their crimes and collections as forms of worship and have members programmed to be quite willing to die to protecting gang secrets.
It takes a willing church and congregation to preach against the sin gangs represent, firmly confront the wrongs that they are doing in a community, and reprogram young minds into the intricacies of good religion, a strong work ethic, and a needed education. Taking a stand against bangers is not for the weak. In some cases, church congregations are going to have to go up against single (and some married) parents who don’t see gang membership as that big a deal--until their son or daughter winds up on the six o’clock news being carted off to jail, prison, or the morgue.
The modern church IS going to have to step into the challenge.
Yes, we have already seen the church’s weak stands against divorce, homosexuality, and out-of-wedlock children. Yes, many gang members and their families attend church without fear of correction or confrontation. Thus some church members may be wearing gang colors under their youth choir robes while presenting a good ‘front’ to the congregation and the pulpit. However, either the gang is going to win, or the church. WE have to make a choice and declare whom we serve.
A SAD STUDY:
The church MUST get back into the rebuking and repentance business. Yes, gang members must be made to understand there may be some repentance; but TRUE repentance involves a change of heart and a change of direction in one’s life.
Repentance means that one determines NOT to commit the same sin again. However, the church also must stand strong and remind gang members there also may be some jail time IF the weapons and drugs are not put down and they walk away from the gang scene.
The good news is that American cities have not become ‘overrun’ by street gangs. There are still far too many young people who are going to school, getting their homework done, and graduating to take their rightful places in society. Yes, some of them do go to church, and even more of them still view the teachings of scripture as being relevant in their lives. The thing concerning those who work in the juvenile justice system is the fact that the ‘good’ students have remained relatively silent when it comes to confronting, or even correcting their wayward classmates.
If the truth were told there is a lot of interaction and below the surface communication within the average U.S. high school. Students themselves often know the ‘ins and outs’ of who is in what relationship, and who is in which gang. Sadly, they oftentimes have to sit idly by; cowed into silence by the very young people they could be helping.
While attending a recent training on gangs, my group was presented with a national study of 2,000 teens that were involved in the street gang scene. It highlighted some eye-opening information on how young people are quickly sucked into the street life:
YOUTH FIRST MEETS A GANG MEMBER--AT 8.9 YEARS OLD
YOUTH PERFORMS FIRST GANG ACTIVITY--9.2 YEARS OLD
YOUTH EXPERIENCES PUBERTY--9 TO 10 YEARS OLD
FIRST TIME INTIMIDATED A PERSON AT SCHOOL--10.4 YEARS
FIRST TIME DISCHARGED A FIREARM--11.3 YEARS OLD
FIRST TIME OBSERVED A DEATH/INJURY RESULT FROM GANG ACTIVITY--11.3 YEARS OLD
FIRST TIME JOINED A GANG--12 YEARS OLD
FIRST TIME ARRESTED--12 YEARS OLD
FIRST TIME HAD A WEAPON FOR PERSONAL USE--12 YEARS
FIRST TIME TATTOOED--13 YEARS OLD
THE CHURCH HOUSE CAN CORRECT THE PROBLEM!
Many modern churches have been outclassed by the tug of the streets on young people.
Sunday after Sunday, teens enter churches not only full of the world’s knowledge of how to be a better negative, they recognize teens--and some adults--who appear to have gotten away with “it”, meaning their dual identities of street thug and church member.
Once more, they actively see the double standard of encouraging young women to dress for success, and allowing young men to exist in their mess, complete with sagging and bagging.
Let me be as upfront as I can at this point: Sin spreads not only by people engaging IN the activity, but people who know better AND give their silent consent! With the arrival of ‘casual’ Sundays on the church scene, teen members have taken this to mean ‘wear your own colors’.
Inside (and outside) of many a church on a Sunday morning, those young men and young women who have experienced a ‘flutter’ with gang life PROUDLY wear the colors associated with their favorite ‘nation’ or ‘set’ AND may ‘flash’ a few signs to rival members, or the general public without fear of public rebuke.
Add to this the fact that some televised national ministries feature pastors and preachers appearing in the pulpit in casual dress with the ‘be like them to win them’ mentality, and one better understands how far the ‘modern’ church has fallen.
How may a church in a city regain the upper hand when it comes to the spread of gangs?
Let me dare say again that this is a spiritual problem that must be dealt with via spiritual means. This is not an arena for the faint of heart. A pastor and a church must realize that this is an ongoing conflict that must be bathed in prayer.
One will be shocked to find how far the arms of gang life ‘stretch’ into the average congregation. More than a few congregations are clearly seeing first generation bangers who are between 12 to 17 years old, who may be on probation or parole in some cases. Many of these young men and young women know their gang signs and affiliations better than their ABCs.
Second, as in dealing with those who may be trapped in cult or occult activity, pastors and churches must realize that they have to regain control of the language of the debate.
Bangers have clearly stated to parents, social workers and teachers that they only know of ‘love’ as members of a gang.
In reality, how can one claim to be showing ‘love’ if they are hurting you, asking you to lie, cheat, and steal, or coercing you out of your virginity ‘for the good of the gang’? Every word that a gang has corrupted must be ‘taken back’ by those who preach and model the gospel, clearly and unashamedly explained from the point of view of the Holy Scriptures, and returned to the seeking individual in the proper biblical context. Lastly, churches and pastors must acknowledge that they are in need of training as to what is going on out in the streets of our communities.
There are police officers, judges, probation officers and teachers in many a congregation who can bring teaching to the church as to how gangs function, operate, and flourish IF pride is swallowed by church leadership and the pulpit.
Gangs are nothing new to many communities. However, it is up to those who call upon the name of the Lord to go about the Father’s business and take those out of the kingdom of darkness and bring them back home. Many young people DO have the prodigal story committed to memory. All they are waiting for is for some courageous Christian man or woman to show them the way out of the darkness, before it not only bites them…but devours them.
M. G. RAMEY is the Pastor of ‘The Forward Church,’ of Indianapolis, Indiana. He is also a Juvenile court Probation Officer, Street Gang Specialist/Certified, and Cult/Occult Researcher. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright© 2007 Mike Ramey/Barnstorm Communications. All Rights Reserved.
Used by permission BlackandChristian.com.