God and Gangs: Criminal Violence and Religion in Guatemala (A 3-Part Series)

In Guatemala and elsewhere in Central America, a wave of criminal violence has replaced the politically-motivated violence of the 1980s and early 90s. With thousands of members, transnational youth gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang now pose a significant threat to citizen security and the country’s weak and corrupt institutions. For many of Guatemala’s youth, there seems to be no way out of this vicious cycle of violence. Recent research, however, shows that Evangelical churches, particularly Pentecostals, are engaging in ministries aimed at rescuing and rehabilitating gang members and providing them with a community of support as they reintegrate into Guatemalan society.

This series of three short videos (1. “The Gangs”; 2. “The Researcher”; and 3. “The Pastor”) sketches the context of gang violence in Guatemala and highlights the role of religion as a potential source for both individual and social transformation. The series profiles the work of sociologist Robert Brenneman as he interviews former gang members who have exited the criminal world by converting to Pentecostalism. These videos were produced and directed by American University School of Communication Professor Bill Gentile as part of a project on religious responses to violence carried out by the AU Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS). For ongoing project developments, see: american.edu/clals/Violence-and-Victims.cfm.

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