Monday, March 23, 2009

Christianity as safety from gang members

Here's a summary of an ethnography about gangs in Honduras. The summary is from the sociology magazine Contexts, which covers a wide range of topics in a very accessible format (Disclaimer: I think that I'm on its editorial board):

"jesus and the gang

Pentecostal Christians in Honduras have a little extra security from gang violence, and his name is Jesus.

Based on ethnography and interviews with youth there, Jon Wolseth (Latin American Perspectives, July 2008) found young men have converted in order to deal with the violence that surrounds them.

Pentecostalism offers Honduran men an alternative way of living that gangs respect. Converted men are seen as “domesticated” because their new ethics prohibit drinking, drugs, and dancing. Also, gangs respect “cristianos” because they’re seen as close to God—which means messing with one may result in divine retribution.

Following the path of Christ, then, becomes an opportunity for some men to avoid getting involved in a gang or a valid reason to leave a criminal past behind. It also gives converts newly meaningful lives. By internalizing a new set of values, including a belief in “sanctuary,” they create a protective social space apart from everyday violence.

As long as the adherent continues to demonstrate his religious commitment through action, God will protect him. This belief gives young men a narrative to explain experiences with gang aggression—from narrow escapes to heavenly justice being leveled against perpetrators."

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