At a recent gathering of ministers, I asked a colleague what was new at her parish. “I’ve been doing a lot with gang ministry,” said Maria Edmonds, a pastor in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. “I’m trying to get gang members into the church. They’re not accepted anywhere else. So I figure Jesus would have me spend time with them.”
There are few images in our culture more frightening than that of the gang member: tattooed, armed, as likely to shoot you as look at you—as part of the member’s demand for “respect.” Millions of dollars are spent each year at the federal level and in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to combat gang activity and reduce gang-related violence. And as the North Carolina pastor found out, gangs are also a feature of life in many small towns.