Leaving the gang and finding God

On  this blog I have written several times about the complicated relationship between evangelical churches and El Salvador's gangs, including the fact that religious conversion is one of the only ways that gangs may permit a pandillero to leave active participation in the gang. (My posts included God and the GangsLeaving gang life for church, and  Gang member conversions).  Important insights into the role of religion in the gangs was provided by the 2017 report The New Face of Street Gangs in Central America, led by José Miguel Cruz, Ph.D of Florida International University. 

Two new articles in The New Republic and The Intercept offer additional insights into the complicated intersection of evangelical Christianity and the life of a gang member.

In her article in The New Republic titled Can Megachurches Save El Salvador?, Molly O'Toole takes a broad look at gangs in El Salvador and whether churches have, or can have, a role in addressing the gang problem.  Her article approaches the issue primarily through interviews at Baptist Biblical Tabernacle “Friends of Israel” mega-church with lead pastor Edgar López Bertrand Jr. ("Toby, Jr."), and some of the ex-gang member congregants at the church.  O'Toole explains why it is "an open, urgent question whether evangelical megachurches like Taber can use their influence to bring peace to El Salvador—or whether this is just one more union of political convenience that’s doomed to combust."

In The Intercept, Danielle Mackey narrates four years of the life of a gang member who decided to leave the gang by becoming an evangelical Christian, in her article A Boundless Battlefield: What happens when a  Barrio 18 soldier tries to leave the gang.  He gets out, but it is a long, lonely and dangerous process as this intimate look at one ex-pandillero's life illustrates.

After reading the articles, you still won't have an answer to whether churches can lead El Salvador to solve the societal problem of gang violence, but it is clear they have a role to play.