Jesus and the Gang: Book Review

Wolseth, Jon. 2011.  Jesus and the Gang: Youth Violence and Christianity in Urban Honduras. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.

By: Henri Gooren (Oakland University)

This fine ethnography begins with a murder. “They shot him, they shot El Títere. El Títere is dead” (1). Children are shouting and running; soon a crowd forms near the shirtless corpse of a young man who was “barely twenty” (2). Wolseth describes the confusion and the excitement of the local people and the laconic reaction of an older woman, a neighbor of the victim’s grandmother: “It’s too bad that they shot him, but he was a gang member. I have sympathy only for the family” (2). That same night Wolseth discovers the victim was the best friend of his key informant, Sergio. “His closest gang buddy had been gunned down by a rival gang in front of his buddy’s house.[..] Sergio said, “They shot him seven times.[..] I remember that the people there said that when they put the first [shot] in him he said, ‘No, grandma. I left it [the gang],’ he said, yelled that way, and he fell to the ground. They shot him once here,” Sergio points to his stomach, “another here,” he points to his cheek, “and he shot him more” (4). Continue reading

Wolseth, “Jesus and the Gang”

Wolseth, Jon. 2011. Jesus and the Gang: Youth Violence and Christianity in Urban Honduras. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Publisher’s Description: In urban Honduras, gun violence and assault form the pulsing backdrop of everyday life. This book examines the ways that young men and women in working-class neighborhoods of El Progreso, Honduras, understand and respond to gang and gun violence in their communities. Because residents rely on gangs and Catholic and Evangelical Protestant churches to mediate violence in their neighborhoods, these institutions form the fabric of society.

While only a small fraction of youths in a neighborhood are active members of a gang, most young men must learn the styles, ways of communicating, and local geography of gangs in order to survive. Due to the absence of gang prevention programs sponsored by the government or outside non-governmental organizations, Catholic and Pentecostal churches have developed their own ways to confront gang violence in their communities. Youths who participate in church organizations do so not only to alter and improve their communities but also to gain emotional and institutional support.

Offering firsthand accounts of these youths and how they make use of religious discourse, narrative practices, or the inscription of tattooed images and words on the body to navigate dangerous social settings, Jesus and the Gang is an unflinching look at how these young men turn away from perpetuating the cycle of violence and how Christianity serves a society where belonging is surviving.

This book will appeal to readers with an interest in Latin American studies, urban anthropology, and youth studies. With its focus on the lives of young men and women, it’s also a compelling read for anyone interested in the plight of urban youth trying to escape the gang life.