Recently, Jerry McAfee, pastor of the New Salem Mission Baptist Church in Minneapolis, conducted the funeral for a 19-year-old man who was shot in the head in a dispute over tire rims. Several of the young man's friends who attended cried unashamedly.

The next day, the pastor happened by these same youth. They were smiling and laughing as if nothing had happened.

"These young men have been conditioned to accept this kind of violence as normal," observes McAfee. "Many of us take for granted the things we learned from our parents. We assume these young people know the difference between right and wrong. But for many who have experienced trauma, the wrong becomes right. The society opposes them, punishes them: 'Three strikes and you're out … ' But we've made little attempt to try to understand them."

In recent years, some gang leaders have cried out to be understood and helped. And they have directed their cries toward the church, apparently sensing, at some level, the spiritual dimension of their struggle.

In 1992, Crips and Bloods, two rival Los Angeles gangs, approached the church, asking it to intervene in their bloody feuding. That event helped spark a 1993 summit in Kansas City, which McAfee took part in convening. The summit brought together gang and church leaders from all over the nation who share a commitment to stopping the insanity of violence. From that summit has emerged a dynamic network of churches, denominational groups, and Christian organizations.

Says Daniel Buttry, director of the American Baptist Churches Peace Program, "The folks who are doing the most to work for peace on the streets of our cities don't have time or interest in forming organizations or promoting their work. So they end up being unknown. We're trying to discover those people so that others can benefit from their knowledge and experiences."

Antiviolence initiatives arising from the network's brainstorming include churches offering themselves up as sanctuaries wherein youth can work out their differences using techniques of conflict resolution instead of guns.

One of the primary goals of the anti-violence network is to create employment opportunities for urban youth, preferably something more than a minimum-wage job at McDonald's. In L.A., former gang members now work at a car wash. In Minneapolis, under the auspices of Operation roof (Residential Opportunities for Ordinary Families), city youth helped build a home for a single mother.

According to Buttry, the network has benefited from the services of some very creative thinkers in the area of economic development. In some places, they are seeking to bring together urban youth, government, and business around the purpose of cleaning up environmentally degraded land. The city can attract businesses, and the youth can receive on-the-job training while contributing something important to their communities.

In the process of taking a stand against violence, the church is encountering young men and women and learning from them. McAfee, who has worked with gang leaders both in Minneapolis and nationally, has learned, for example, that contrary to the popular perception, most gang members are not involved in criminal activity. He notes, "Many of them come from broken homes, and the only place they have found to belong is in a gang. It is their family. The colors and uniforms are about finding an identity. And if the church doesn't get involved and provide positive direction, who's going to do it?"

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