I’ve noticed a recent disturbing trend of gangs or the threat of gang formation in suburban and rural areas?  After talking to others about this, and verifying this is not just a local problem, specific variables have emerged and are occurring as we move further into the new millennium that makes gang formation a profitable enterprise in these areas.

Changing demographics: The development of diverse, multicultural communities in the United States will proceed at an accelerated rate in the twenty-first century, particularly in historically white farming communities in the Midwest (Goldstein & Kodluhoy, 1998, pg. 63-91)

Electronic Media:  Cable television, the Internet, Mobile Technology, and other electronic information systems make the most pristine and rustic rural part of the global community.  Glorification of violence and gangs through electronic media sends children who feel powerless against the world, messages about how they can be powerful (Goldstein & Kodluhoy, 1998, pg. 7).  A brief search of the internet today will show that organized gangs have established their own web sites.  Social media, web sites, and mobile communication devices will provide gangs plenty of opportunity to talk to Beaver and Wally.  If the Beav is feeling alone and powerless out on Rural Route Two, he is likely to talk back.

Dysfunctional Families:  One-parent poverty-line families, drug and alcohol addiction, two wage-earner parents (both of who work two jobs), child abuse, battering, vicious custody battles, and all the other ills that assail dysfunctional families are as characteristic of suburban and rural families as they are of urban ones.  Gang leaders are highly sensitive to these parent-less, throwaway kids, and intentionally recruit because they potentially open up new markets to exploit.  The gang becomes a surrogate family.

Desensitization to Violence:  There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that watching gratuitous violence with few or no consequences to the victimizer desensitizes the viewer and allows the individual the freedom to act violently.  Video game players are often rewarded for accumulating multiple kills during one melee.  We have become so inured to drive-by shootings and other gang-initiated violence in the big cities that we give little consideration to them.  Besides, they don’t affect us because they’re in the big cities.  We are shocked by the unfathomable shootings in Paducha, Pearl, Jonesboro, Stockton, Springfield, Littleton, and Newtown because of their senselessness and that they happened in hometown America.  Those are the places we live, and they are supposed to be the places we are safe.  The bottom line, though, is that whether children are killed by crazed adult armed with assault rifles at an elementary school such as Newtown or drive-by shooting in West Chicago, they are just as dead, and their survivors suffer equally.

Increased Lethality: The homicide rate for juveniles has leveled off after a steady climb over the last three decades.  However, there should be little consolation in that statistic.  In the last three decades, the rise of violent crime has been somewhere on the order of 600 to 0ver 1000 percent, depending on how one looks at the statistics and whose statistics are used.  One in approximately every three murders is now committed by an adolescent or preadolescent.  Murder of adolescents is now second only to automobiles in cause of death.  Girls are becoming more involved as participants of violence, and their means of attack are becoming more lethal.  Teenagers in the United States are at an absolute minimum four times more likely to be murdered as their counterparts in 21 other industrialized countries (Center for Prevention of Handgun Violence).

So, if the world really is getting smaller and youth are increasingly looking for surrogate families, and the church wants to continue to fulfill its kingdom call, how are we to respond to these problems?  What needs to happen for the church to be a potent antidote to the ills of modern adolescence?