Police in Los Angeles are battling an upsurge in gang activity. Officer Frank Flores of the LAPD estimates that more than 200,000 gang members call Los Angeles home. José is typical:
José came from a broken family and joined [a gang] when he was 13. He was arrested three times, the last time at age 19 for killing a homeless man with other gang members and stealing 26 dollars he was carrying.
José recently left prison and is trying to reform his life by working for Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles group that provides jobs to former convicts. “I want to change, I want to change,” he says. Then he goes silent. Without his gang José seems lost.
Why is José so drawn to his gang? “A gang gives you something that nothing in the world or no amount of money can give you: a family, an acceptance,” he said.
Many troubled men grow up without strong male role models. They join gangs because they find father figures there.
Why don’t these men turn to church? Maybe it’s because the congregations they’ve attended are predominantly female, and the spirit of the place feels so warm, nurturing and gentle. Young men actually prefer the fear, intimidation and pain of gang life to the cushiony softness of church life.
This is not a new problem in the church. Almost 2000 years ago the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me.
Our churches are full of men who want to stand up and teach, but how many are willing to do the hard work of fathering other men? How many men are transparent enough with their lives to say, “Imitate me?” How many congregations have created the support structures that spiritual fathers need to do their work?
Gangs are more than willing to father the fatherless. What about the church?