For years the Salvation Army in the Southern California division held an annual men’s retreat weekend. We followed a traditional script: men getting together for “fellowship” with sessions on “How to be a happy Christian husband for your happy Christian wife in your happy Christian home.” These were valuable sessions with good speakers, but attendance at the camps was dwindling every year. It became so bad that the church was ready to discontinue the men’s retreats.
Jose 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.
Jose 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 Jose seems lost.
Why is Jose 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.
The church can learn a lot from gangs. Men join gangs for one reason: they want a father figure. Many troubled men grew up without strong male role models. But these men do not turn to church because the congregations they’ve attended are predominantly female, and the spirit of the place feels so warm, nurturing and gentle. Men need a masculine path to Christ. Young men crave a wilder, more demanding faith, and don’t mind the spur of discipline when it’s administered in love.