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"Tony Robinson is one of the most active church leaders in the United States, greatly in demand as he teaches congregations and denominations about church life. His work has a deep theological underpinning, which many congregational-development gurus don't have."

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author of The Gospel and the New York Times and And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament

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Mandatory National Service?

Whenever the reports of another mass shooting, like the one in Charleston, South Carolina, begin to emerge, this is almost always true: the shooter is a young man, early twenties, most often white.

People, our society has a problem -- a problem of lost, alienated young men. There are way too many young men who are are clueless, disconnected, angry and alone. A New York Times editorial cited at last week’s “What’s Tony Thinking?” estimates there are 5.5 young males between the ages 16 - 24 who fit this description. They aren’t in school. They aren’t employed. Their families are often fractured. They have few connections, except possibly the internet.

Five and half million is a lot of people, a lot of young men who are lost and confused, angry and alone. And they are ready fodder for gangs, extremist groups of all types, white supremacist organizations, as well as various forms of addiction.

Can anything be done? Of course, there’s no single fix for something as large and complex as this. But a movement toward requiring two years of mandatory community/ national service of all young people at age 18 could help. The service could be military, but it could also be programs like Jobs Corp, Peace Corps, VISTA or any one of the many youth volunteer corp programs associated with religious bodies, e.g. Mennonite Volunteer Corps.

The country needs the work and so do the young people. Such a program might save some potential Dylann Roofs from turning their alienation into homicidal rage.

Of course, at this point the word “mandatory” is a sticking point. It sounds un-American. We’re all about freedom. Nobody tells us what to do. Nothing is required of us. But that’s just foolishness. Many civilized democracies require service of their young people.

For some participants in such mandatory service, the fruits of participation could include high school diplomas, self-discipline, job skills, and a structure to life. Yes, such a program would be a massive organizational undertaking, but our current system of mass incarceration -- no civilized country has a higher percentage of its citizens in prison -- is also a massive, and costly, undertaking.

The difference between building a national service program and the largest penal system in the world is the difference between hope and fear. Our recourse to more and more prisons is fear driven. A national service program that is for everyone would be driven by hope -- the hope that everyone can contribute, that there is good work to do, and that the current millions of lost boys can be mature and contributing men.


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