The label delinquent implies a lack of something—a “falling short.” In the instance of a taxpayer it is money. What is it in the case of a juvenile?
It isn’t money. True, “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and the lack of it figures in many outbreaks of juvenile delinquency. In the case histories of delinquents, however, one also finds young people from well-to-do families. Indeed, some of the worst offenders have parents who pamper them with extravagant allowances.
Nor is it lack of home comforts. That a slum environment fosters behavior problems is a social welfare axiom. However, blighted neighborhoods have no monopoly on delinquency. In some suburban communities of high real estate values and well-kept homes authorities have more problems with refractory young people than in run-down tenement areas, as theater managers and highway patrols will testify.
It isn’t lack of physical strength. The popular notion that the delinquent is a weakling, an “underprivileged runt,” is not borne out by statistics, according to a survey of “bad boys” and “good boys” by Dr. Sheldon Glueck, Harvard criminologist. On the whole, the bad boy is likely to be physically stronger than the good boy.
It isn’t low mentality. A certain lack of intelligence obviously lies behind all criminal conduct. The frequency of delinquency, however, is not determined by a high or a low IQ. In fact, the delinquent characteristically boasts of “being smart.”
Delinquent, teen-ager, rebel—the words have been used so freely that they have become class labels. The cases and the causes have been pinpointed with clinical exhaustiveness. They present a disturbing and complex picture in which many fingers have a hand. With the delinquency of minors go the four D’s of adult contribution: Dereliction of duty, Divorce, Drunkenness, and Debauchery.
The remedies resorted to are largely restrictive and penal measures, dictated by the immediate emergency. Long-range prevention is recognized as more effective, but it takes so long and for present purposes it’s too late. Besides there’s some uncertainty whether to start with the young chick or the mother hen. Which comes first?
And yet, while the police increase their vigilance, judges stiffen their fines, principals tighten their rules, and parents question their miscreant children, the conviction persists that something more than halters and gendarmes and regimented pastime is needed to keep young people from straying.
Role Of Religion
The search for the answer to this need exposes a remarkable obduracy in human reasoning. In all the volumes of scientific books and the stacks of candid magazine explorations in juvenile delinquency, there is little reference to the possible importance of religion as the answer to the problem of youthful delinquency. As an example of this footnote status of religion in the study of the youth problem we have the thick, fine-print report of the congressional investigation of juvenile delinquency, which covered the nation but in 250 pages contains only two slight references to religion. One is a suggestion that the church provide more recreation for young people; the other is a negative note bearing out the statistic that for every dollar given for the work of the church ten dollars are spent on crime.
This faint regard for religion as a factor in social welfare does not necessarily imply spiritual disrespect. What it does seem to indicate is that “the notion is still very prevalent that religion is a beautiful lyrical element which hallows our Sundays and haunts our memories but does not come to life and effectuality in our everyday problems” (“American Youth in Trouble”).
“A resultful contemplation of juvenile delinquency is hard to come by without the consideration of religion as of major importance. For what is lacking in the delinquent? Not always mental competence, not always knowledge of right and wrong, not always spending money, not always opportunity for a good time, not always all the comforts of home. There are young people who have all this and yet delinquent. What is lacking?”
An old book, which from time to time reveals itself as a word of authority and an up-to-date manual on human nature, makes this statement corroborated by history: “The thoughts and imaginations of a man’s heart are evil from his youth.”
The Word of God is a pioneer in character analysis when it observes: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts.” Its case histories are so pertinent that a Los Angeles prosecutor in a trial of youthful rebels cited Scripture to describe the modern delinquents: “Lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection … incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.”
It echoes the question of every thinking youth and all those concerned with the welfare of young people: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?”
The answer is: “By taking heed thereto according to thy Word.” This Book of Books provides youth with the stability of character to withstand the enticements of evil men who say, “Come with us,” who walk in darkness and “whose ways are crooked.” It instills in youth the discretion to resist the call of the strange woman, “Come let us take our fill of love,” whose end is “bitter wormwood” and whose house is “the way to hell.”
A Greater Lack
When a California youth authority, Jim Rayburn, was asked for the underlying reasons for juvenile delinquency, he pointed to neglect in training of children and laxness in discipline at home and in school as two major factors. But beyond it all he saw a greater lack. “The basic cause of the whole situation,” Rayburn said, “is that our young people have no knowledge of God.”
That, says this attorney at law, is the main reason for delinquency, which, in his opinion, is a serious situation, an enduring trend with prospects of getting worse, unless “something very drastic” is done about it. That something, which Rayburn considers the one answer to the problem, is this: “The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only solution.”
The inculcation of general moral precepts is not enough. Young people must have the empowering motivation of faith in and dedication to the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The wayward one in Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology found that the revulsion rising in his heart against the wiles of a black-eyed coquette was prompted by the thought of a woman of good influence, the remembrance of Emily Sparks, “in the days when she taught him in Spoon River.” And what was this teacher’s main message: “Do you remember the letter I wrote you of the beautiful love of Christ?”
Dr. Walter A. Maier, one of America’s great voices of the air, had this to say in a message on the American home: “I submit this as a very definite principle, that the first and foremost requirement in the attainment of home happiness is the sincere conviction, firmly accepted by every member of the household, that Jesus Christ is their personal Savior.
“Why is it that our nation is being inundated by a flood of juvenile crime? Why is it that there is such a rude disregard of the requirements of purity and chastity in American social circles?”
“Is all this not finally to be traced to the ugly fact that many homes, calloused and stolidly indifferent because of cold commercialism and endless pleasure seeking have found no room for the old fireplace motto, God Bless Our Home, and have crowded out the truth, Christ is the Head of This House?”
What youth needs is the spirit-guided conscience to say, “How can I do this great evil and sin against God?” and the Christian conviction to follow the principle, “Keep thyself pure.”
Henry Rische was for 17 years a West Coast pastor in the Lutheran church (Concordia Synod), and is presently editor of the family magazine This Day. He is a former staff correspondent for the Sacramento Bee, and is author of the book American Youth in Trouble.
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