Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Religion can keep kids from crime

  • Print
'Build churches, not jails."

That mid-1990s quip, from John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, came back to me last week as I watched the controversy unfold over the proposed Youth for Christ youth centre at the corner of Higgins and Main.

Back then, DiIulio was concerned about rising rates of youth crime in the U.S. He was so worried about it that he "got religion," arguing that jacking up prison terms would not deter impulsive juveniles "with no hope for life past their 30th birthdays."

What was needed instead, he argued, was the presence of "loving, caring adults actively and persistently present in their troubled young lives," and that the best source of that kind of help would come from religious communities.

In a column in this month's issue of Sojourners, a progressive U.S. Christian magazine, DiIulio reiterated his comments from over a decade ago. "There is a critical mass of evidence that diverse faith factors -- believing in God, churchgoing, participation in a religious substance-abuse program, ministries that mentor adjudicated youth, and more -- significantly reduce felonies and other illicit high-risk behaviours by (and against) juveniles," he writes.

DiIulio isn't the only one who has pointed out the connection between religion and the reduction of youth crime. As I have written in these pages before, there are many studies showing the positive effects of religion on inner-city and other youth -- that church attendance has been found to be a better predictor of who would escape drugs, crime and poverty than any other single variable, that it serves as an insulator against crime and delinquency, and that religious youths are less likely to commit crimes, fight, drink and drive and carry weapons or use drugs and alcohol.

Of course, it doesn't have to only be evangelistic Christianity that helps youth avoid crime and addictions. Aboriginal youth could recover traditional spiritual practices, while newcomer youth who are struggling to find their way in Canada and avoid gangs and crime could become reconnected to their own religious backgrounds. But one thing seems to be clear: When it comes to crime and destructive behaviours, religion seems to make a significant difference in the lives of youth who embrace it.

While religion of any kind may be helpful, there's no denying that there is something unique about the evangelical brand of Christianity -- and it has nothing to do with who they know in politics or in the corporate world. Instead, it grows out of their deep sense of mission and commitment to God.

To put it simply, their zeal for God and for others prompts them to go where many others don't or won't, and often in greater numbers. They don't always do it as well as they could, and sometimes mistakes are made. But when all is said and done, they do it, and mostly with their own money.

This point was underscored in 2004 by former CBC journalist Brian Stewart in his commencement address at Knox College in Toronto. From his "ringside seat" of watching world events for a number of decades, Stewart stated that there "is no movement or force closer to the raw truth of war, famines, crises and the vast human predicament than organized Christianity in action. And there is no alliance more determined and dogged in action than church workers, ordained and lay members, when mobilized for a common good."

It is these people who are on the "front lines" of human need at home and overseas, he says, adding that "I have never been able to reach these front lines without finding Christian volunteers already in the thick of it, mobilizing congregations that care and being a faithful witness to truth, the primary light in the darkness and, so often, the only light."

Of course, Christians aren't the only ones on these front lines -- many other groups, including those who don't operate from a religious base at all, are also helping people in Winnipeg's inner city. But whether religious or not, one thing seems to be true: Religion has an important role to play in helping inner city youth become productive, healthy citizens.

Instead of criticizing groups that employ it, maybe we'd be better off if we held an honest discussion about religion's role and potential -- not just its pitfalls and problems. Who knows? We might end up agreeing that the inner city needs more churches, mosques, temples, sweat lodges and, yes, even faith-based youth centres.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2010 A12

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

HSC ready for Ebola

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A monarch butterfly looks for nectar in Mexican sunflowers at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Monday afternoon-Monarch butterflys start their annual migration usually in late August with the first sign of frost- Standup photo– August 22, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Will you get out and vote for a new mayor and council?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google