LONDON – A leading criminologist says that the faith community has a role to play in combating gang culture in the United Kingdom.
Professor John Pitts will be speaking at the Bite the Bullet church conference on gang culture, which will take place in north London on July 12.
He believes churches are in the ideal position to run gang initiatives, with their members being local and often connected with the young people and families experiencing gang-related problems.
"They have made a personal commitment to helping and they are likely to be around for much longer than the professionals – and continuity is very important in this kind of work," he said.
Pitts said "good intentions and commitment" were not enough to rid the U.K. of its gangs.
"This is complex and sometimes dangerous work and we need to find ways in which statutory and voluntary agencies can work with faith groups to provide high quality training and ongoing support," he stated.
The conference is being organized by the Street Pastors initiative in conjunction with the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Street Pastors founder the Rev. Les Isaac said he hoped many Christians would attend the event and gain a greater understanding of gang culture by hearing Pitts' insights.
"Gang culture is stopping some of our young people from fulfilling their potential, because they get drawn into a culture that is negative, violent and criminal," said Isaac.
He noted that he had heard of instances where young churchgoers are intimidated by gangs and will not attend church events because they have to pass through certain postcodes areas.
Young people, he said, have admitted to attending church with "tools" in their bags to protect themselves in the event of encountering trouble.
"Churches can no longer say that gang culture is not impacting their members. John Pitts will provide details of the origins of urban gang culture and hopefully provide some pointers on how churches can counter it," Isaac said.
Other speakers at Bite the Bullet will include former gang members, representatives from the Metropolitan Police and Christians who work with gang members.
The conference will be followed by a music event featuring urban gospel artists E-Tizz, Triple O and others.