The forum, which is reported on by the local Lompoc Record, was organized by my good friend Joyce Howerton, the former mayor of Lompoc and a progressive activist in a community led by conservative business types. Hers is often a lonely voice, but when a standing room only crowd shows up, you know you have an issue. Now, I must confess, I wasn't in attendance. You see, I had scheduled a forum on civility in politics and religion for the same evening. You might have guessed that my numbers were small. Unfortunately we'd not coordinated our dates --- but that's neither here nor there. The point is, there is a gang problem in our communities.
I pastor in Lompoc, which has 4 major gangs, the largest having 350 members. I live in Santa Barbara, where recently a 14 year old stabbed to death a 15 year old in a gang fight at the corner of Carillo and State -- the center of our tourist focused down town. It happened in broad day light on an afternoon when students were released early (a minimum day). Apparently a couple of gangs decided to plan this battle for that extra couple of hours of free time. People were shocked, but why?
My forum last night focused on civility, something that is in short supply today. We live in an age when the American President calls for preemptive force and bullies those who question his very questionable judgment. To the strongest belongs power and influence and he wants to flex his muscle. Is it any wonder that our young people are engaging in violence to demonstrate their power?
In the coming months further forums will take place with the focus on bringing the community into the conversation in the hope of changing the context. The reality is we have to catch these kids when they're in elementary school. If we wait until they're in HS, it's likely too late. Once you're in a gang it's hard to get out.
What my little church has to do is figure out how we can be part of the solution!