Question: "What does the Bible say about gangs?"
Answer: A gang is a group of individuals who commit themselves to one another for the purposes of protection and identity. Most organized gangs are also involved in criminal activity such as drug running, prostitution, extortion, and theft. Many young people from impoverished neighborhoods join gangs in order to protect themselves from other gangs. Children as young as five or six may be drawn to the money, power, and prestige they believe to be part of gang life. Teenagers without a functional family unit may be drawn to gang life to find a sense of belonging. Many of the young men who are attracted to gangs do not have fathers involved in their lives, so the male gang leaders become their role models. Due to unmet emotional needs, these children and young adults are extremely vulnerable to the evil intentions of the leaders, and many become hardened criminals before they have lived two decades.
Adults have their own form of gang life known as organized crime or the Mafia. A sense of family also pervades these organizations. Members stay committed to the gang due to loyalty or fear of reprisal if they leave. The Mafia, which originated in Sicily and gravitated to Italy and then the United States, is a ruthless gang of international criminals involved in high levels of corruption, terror, and illicit activities. The Mafia organized in the United States as a response to Prohibition in the 1920s. What began as illegal alcohol production and distribution quickly morphed into illicit, underground businesses of every kind. Prostitution, drug running, territorial assassinations, and political bribery are all part of organized crime in America.
Like-minded people have always tended to band together since the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). God saw the danger in ungodly people combining forces to defy Him, so He scattered them across the earth. He confused their languages so they could no longer communicate. God desires unity, but not at the expense of righteousness (Psalm 133:1; 2 Chronicles 30:12).
First Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” Gangs of any sort are only acceptable to God if their purpose is to do good, not evil. Gangs as we know them exist to do evil. By creating a secret network of accomplished criminals, whether street gang or Mafia, wicked people can carry out their selfish plans to harm and terrorize the innocent. Proverbs 1:8–19 pleads with young men to pursue wisdom, not the paths of wickedness that gang life offers.
The Bible gives wise instruction for those who may be attracted to join a gang. “The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools deceives them” (Proverbs 14:8). A life with God’s blessing is one that avoids ungodly relationships; to “walk in step with the wicked” (Psalm 1:1) is to spurn God’s favor. The wise recognize fools and refuse to join their folly (Proverbs 17:12; 1 Corinthians 3:19; Ephesians 5:15). Crime, whether organized or impulsive, is wicked and foolish, and God is set against those who choose evil (Psalm 34:16).
Second Kings 2:23–24 gives an example of how God views wicked gangs. A gang of young men tormented the prophet Elisha, mocking his age and calling him names. Elisha cursed them in the name of the Lord, and some bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them. If that was God’s judgment on a gang who merely taunted a man of God, imagine how much greater His wrath will be against the wicked practices that are part of most gangs.
Psalm 73 reflects the cry of many hearts in wondering why gangs, organized crime, and the Mafia are allowed to prosper while righteous people suffer. God’s Word continually reminds us that this life is a mere vapor compared to eternity (James 4:14; 2 Corinthians 4:17). The wicked may gather in gangs to torment the helpless, but their days are numbered. God sees and keeps good records (Proverbs 5:21). “These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves! Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it” (Proverbs 1:18–19).
In contrast to gangs, those who honor the Lord will reap the reward of that choice forever (Psalm 23:6). “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always continue in the fear of the LORD” (Proverbs 23:17). Unless a gang is dedicated to serving others and doing good, we should avoid it at all costs.