Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
© 2002
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News

Part 5:
What the Faith Community Could Do

"To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to 
educate a menace to society."
(attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, page)

Field Note: Many solutions to the gang situation involve more than one social institution. Here's an example of an approach used by a probation and parole officer which involved a local faith institution.

It was a quiet night on the street and one of the gang unit officers I was riding with told me "Things have been kind of quiet this summer. There've only been a few drive by shootings a few gang arrests." During the course of the night shift the officer spoke with several Asian gang members. We visited one who had been running away from home occasionally. As we drove by his house the officer saw him and stopped to chat. He approached the young man, placed his hands on each cheek of the man's face and welcomed him home. I was amazed. The boy allowed this expression of caring and was genuinely happy to see the officer.

The young man said he had been home for about a month and during that time, at the request of his probation officer, he and his father had attended a faith-based family relationship-building workshop. "It helped a lot." the young man said. "My father and I have been getting along for the past four weeks."

A faith institution - through its leaders and programs - supports and instills into its congregants the morals, values, and ethics for which the faith stands. They define that which is right and that which is wrong and, in that context, violence is discouraged. For this reason, a community's faith institutions can make a significant contribution to reducing gang activity and youth violence. While not all members of a community may belong to one or another of these institutions, those who do have much to accomplish in this regard.

A faith community (consisting of all faith institutions in the city or neighborhood) which is united and willing to work collaboratively can bring determination as well as spiritual, physical, and financial resources to an entire community's effort to reduce gang activity and youth violence. 

The most promising gang initiatives are those which strategically engage the talents of the full spectrum of community including youth and adult residents, educators, social workers, mental health practitioners, youth workers, business leaders, and the faith community in concert with the more traditional juvenile justice components of police, courts, and corrections. (Institute for Intergovernmental Research, page. Color added for emphasis)

Faith institutions have promising strategies to offer from sermons designed to increase harmony, discourage the use of violence, and promote the value of diversity, to workshops for members on parenting skills, anger management, and non-violent conflict resolution. What a congregation and its leaders offer is limited only by their collective imagination and the needs of the people they serve. 

The following are some faith-based solutions to gang activity and youth violence.

Prevention and Intervention Solutions


Building personal assets among youth:  
The Search Institute offers some valuable insights on the assets which faith communities instill in their youth and the assets it may be neglecting to build. A considerable amount of information on Increasing Congregations' Asset-Building Potential is also presented at their Website. The Institute also offers several booklets for congregations wishing to explore ways to build assets among youth. Go to "Category," select "Congregation," then click "Search the Catalog."


Providing facilities for youth programs: 
Faith institutions have resources which, when used to further non-violence among our youth, become important assets to a neighborhood or community. A parking lot or plot of land can become the scene of a car wash to help support area youth-serving agencies or the site of a neighborhood-wide softball game and picnic. 

Activities such as these (and there are scores of other possibilities) encourage and reward involvement. They involve youth and give them pride in themselves and what they are doing. They also build a sense of "community" and of ownership. Why would youths choose to destroy that which they have built, are proud of, and admire? Community-based youth-serving agencies outside the faith community would be grateful if offered access to the indoor or outdoor space owned by the faith community's institutions for a special program/activity or two each year.

Field Note: A member of the oversight council for at-risk boys living in several state-owned local group homes told me "We have a congregation that allows our at-risk youth to hold an annual baseball competition on some land they have behind their church.

"Each year the gathering gets larger, more and more teams enter the competition, and each year the group homes boys leave the field in better condition then when they first stepped on it. They're grateful for the privilege to use the land and have a wonderful time playing ball. None of this would have been possible without the foresight and generosity of the congregation that owns the land."

bulletEstablishing a secure group home for at-risk youth:
Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), PA, received an Accountability-Based Community (ABC) Intervention Program grant in 1993 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The ABC Project tried in other ways to recruit local community institutions into the effort to reclaim young offenders, with substantial results in the form of several new community-based intervention programs. 

For example, the ABC Project sponsored a providers forum attended by 70 community service representatives. One of the problems aired at the forum was the disproportionate confinement and court-involvement of African American juveniles in Allegheny County. After the forum, a faith-based African American community organization came forward with the idea for Issachar House, a community-run, community-staffed secure group home for teenage African American males just starting on the road to delinquency.


Becoming active in youth affairs: 
Most congregants look to their faith leaders as role models - models who set the tone in the congregation for relating to one another in a non-violent manner. Models may, through the way in which they live their personal lives, bring support to the broader community's efforts to support youth and reduce youth violence. Congregants involved in community-based activities to reduce gang activity and youth violence and who actively participate as members of local task force groups or serve as youth agency board members make a valuable contribution to the community.


Emulating The Jeremiah Project
Providing faith-based outreach to at-risk youths in the Washington, D.C., area, The Jeremiah Project conducted a survey which found area faith-based efforts "fell into five major categories: tutoring programs; youth groups; evangelization; gang violence prevention; and mentoring."
(pageOne of their programs is Teen Outreach and Gang Prevention


Providing Hope Now For Youth
Hope Now For Youth provides opportunities and support for young men who want to break their ties with gangs by changing their lives and becoming productive, responsible and law-abiding parents and citizens. Hope Now for Youth accomplishes this by providing a) a caring relationship which builds self-worth and confidence, b) models of Judeo-Christian values and work ethics which inspire productive citizenship, c) preparation for and placement in a job as an achievable economic alternative to gang crime and violence, d) tutoring and scholarships which encourage further education, and e) training of families in healthy relationships.


Partnering through The Faith Community Network
The purpose of this Florida Department of Juvenile Justice effort is to form a comprehensive partnership in which the faith community and community organizations with faith-based approaches provide voluntary prevention, intervention, diversion, and aftercare programs for at-risk and delinquent youth.


Replicating Victory Outreach
Learn about Victory Outreach and the over 500 churches and ministries with centers in 18 countries from Mexico to the Netherlands to the Philippines. Victory Outreach reports that it has helped thousands of drug addicts and gang members become productive members of society.



The Center for Neighborhood Enterprise
Societal problems addressed by CNE's grassroots network include youth violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, homelessness, joblessness, poor education and deteriorating neighborhoods. The Center for Neighborhood Enterprise provides effective community and faith-based organizations with training and technical assistance, links them to sources of support, and evaluates their experience for public policy.


bullet Tutoring and Keeping Lines of Communication Open
Kevin Ingram, associate pastor of Central Baptist Church in downtown Gainesville (FL), has received a gang initiation of sorts. And it's been an unsettling experience. "This is something I never thought I'd have to deal with," said Ingram, a North Hall resident.

But after his church launched Oasis, a twice-weekly tutorial program targeting disadvantaged youth, he realized he couldn't ignore the gang problem. "We discovered we had several children in our program who were involved with gangs, or who had older brothers who were in gangs," Ingram said. "We felt we had an obligation to address that and put a stop to it."

Offer Ministry in Detention

As mentioned previously, there are many children in detention centers in the United States who report involvement in gangs. While in detention, programs that offer "a way out" of the gang life offer hope and the possibility of personal change. 


Creating an Innerchange Program
Innerchange is a faith-based prison pre-release program (offered several months prior to an inmates release from prison) sponsored by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The mission of Innerchange
"is to create and maintain a prison environment that fosters respect for Godís law, the rights of others, and to encourage the spiritual and moral regeneration of offenders to the end that they develop responsible and productive relationships with their Creator, families and communities." (page)


Supporting a local Straight Ahead Ministries
The goal of Straight Ahead Ministries is to see every juvenile institution opened to ministry, every youthful offender given the opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel, every Christian called to juvenile offender ministry trained, and every believing juvenile offender offered discipleship.
(page link broken as of October 2002)


Prison Fellowship Ministries:

Reducing Violence


Offering education and counseling on abuse: 
Workshops and sermons which address timely and sensitive issues such as spousal abuse, child abuse, and substance abuse are perhaps difficult to broach, but also provide an important avenue for healing and personal change.


Providing anger-management counseling: 
Congregations which offer anger management or conflict resolution workshops for their youth provide a needed and valuable service. If the congregation's youth do not have problems dealing with anger (which is not likely), then they have much to learn in the workshops by way of helping other children deal with their anger. 


Reducing gun violence:
Project Impact is a data-driven effort designed to reduce, interdict, and prevent youth gun violence in Omaha (NE). Many of the individuals involved in youth gun violence have gang affiliations. Police, criminal justice representatives from Federal, state, and local agencies, local community service providers, members of the faith community, and grass roots organizations have come together to address gun violence.


Creating a violence-free zone: 
"In Washington, D.C., the faith-based Alliance for Concerned Men, a grassroots organization, was instrumental in establishing a Violence-Free Zone (also) in the Benning Terrace public housing project with assistance from the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) and the Washington, D.C. Housing Authority. 

"Each of these three components contributed to the effort - CNE provided technical assistance; the alliance carried out grassroots intervention in gang conflicts; and the Housing Authority provided job opportunities such as refurbishing the neighborhood, removing graffiti, and landscaping. Together they constitute the necessary structure for implementing a Violence-Free Zone. [The United States Housing and Urban Development corporation) and [the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention] are supporting the establishment of Violence-Free Zones in cities such as Dallas, TX; Indianapolis, IN; and Los Angeles, CA." (page)

In addition to the solutions identified above, there are other things the faith community could do to reduce gang activity and youth violence. The faith community could:


Keep the doors of faith institutions open at night so neighborhood children can use common rooms and/or the grounds for supervised activities after school. Volunteers can be found to supervise the children among college students and those in the youth ministry at the institution. Parents and guardians of the children who may also volunteer.

bulletOpen and maintain a dialogue in each congregation regarding issues of youth violence and gangs. This may be done through newsletters, sermons, study groups, in a youth group setting, or otherwise. Use examples from your faith to show that patience, understanding, and non-violence are preferred and effective means of achieving oneĻs goals in life.

bulletIncorporate anti-violence and anti-gang education and training in the congregation's education programs for both youth and adults.

bullet Sponsor family-oriented and youth activities which strengthen families and educate them about violence in the family (i.e., how to detect it, prevent it, intervene in it, or take legal action to end it).

bullet Become familiar with the network of youth-serving agencies in the community which may be used in efforts to reduce violence and gang behavior and, when needed, refer congregation members to them. Encourage your faith institution leader and congregants to serve on the board of one or more of these agencies.

bullet Provide a safe and caring atmosphere for youth who need to reveal their personal difficulties with violence in the home, school, or other setting. When needed, offer referral to an appropriate community-based service. A troubled child is not a sign of a troubled congregation - there are troubled children everywhere. On the contrary, referring a troubled child to get help in the community is a sign of a strong and caring congregation.

bulletDevelop a series of seminars in each of which a different family dealing a specific problem is spotlighted. An audience for this event consists of families who have faced this same problem and dealt with it successfully. A moderator encourages members of the spotlight family to discuss the difficulties they are experiencing and facilitates an exchange of insights, experiences, and suggestions from families in the audience. This format, successfully aired on British television, may be helpful in maintaining family unity in a time of crisis.  

bullet Neighborhood clean-up and beautification projects contribute to the overall good of the community. Some faith institutions are buying deteriorating properties in their vicinity, upgrading and improving them, then selling them. Others find contributors for needed materials then provide the labor themselves as they upgrade the exteriors and yards of neighborhood homes owned by people who could not afford to make such improvements. These improvements create a sense of pride in one's community, and communities which take pride in themselves may experience less in the way of gangs and youth violence than communities that don't.

bulletSponsor a program which raises money to support youth-serving agencies in the community. A bake sale, car wash, garage sale, festival, or other event can generate income annually for the agencies.

bullet Adopt an agency which promotes non-violence among youth. The entire congregation can participate or groups in it (i.e., study groups, youth groups, the men's- or women's study group) may each adopt an agency. Offer special and public recognition for congregants who participate in these activities. 

bulletCollaborate and coordinate efforts with other faith institutions in order to maximize the faith community's impact on reducing gang activity and youth violence. Adopt a community-wide theme for such efforts.   

bullet When needed, pair congregants who are experienced parents with newly pregnant congregants for mentoring prior to and following the birthing experience. The impact of such a program on reducing violence at home and increasing parenting skills and confidence can be significant.

bulletSome children get into trouble because there are no meaningful or enjoyable alternative activities available or because they don't have the money, transportation, or clothes necessary to participate in of some of the community's activities. A congregation can offer free events for these children. If not, they can help by transporting these children to, and pay the entry fees needed for, events (i.e., the circus, horseback riding, a faith-based concert, Bible camp).

In most of the communities I visited over the past several years the business community was only peripherally involved in efforts to reduce gang activity and youth violence. Considering how important the business sector is, and what it has to offer at-risk youth (job training, jobs, hope, and a future), it should be more involved in reducing gang activity and youth violence. Our next topic addresses what the business community could do to help reduce gang activity and youth violence.


Additional Resources: Abuse takes many forms (i.e., financial, spousal, child, religious, emotional, social). Two doctors outline these various forms of abuse. There are additional links to domestic violence.

© 2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.