THE PASTOR’S DESK
What’s Wrong? What does God require His people to do? By Tim Parker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God,” Micah 6:8; also see Matthew 25:31-46.
Jails, prisons and correctional systems in many states are built around a punishment motif. Most of the public imagines our systems are intended and designed to offer a second chance at life – which they should! Yet, sadly many inmates cannot break free from a skewed hope-denying system that is difficult to realize from the outside. When one begins to understand the covert, unjust design of life-long incarceration that shatters hope of escape and recovery, even the Gospel of Christ can seem like a mirage. My desire is not to condemn everyone in the system because many are unwilling accomplices with noble intentions. Without a wake-up call, however, justice delayed often tragically and actually becomes justice denied – on our watch! If we are to “Do Justice and love Mercy,” we cannot allow this to happen!
Many “players” in the system actually believe correctional institutions foster rehabilitation and societal redemption. I would like to think so but I’ve seen and experienced otherwise! Some are comfortable with the synergy of noble-minded efforts although they might be too close to the dilemma or unaware to realize the dire situation. It often seems truth is not allowed to bear on cases as “system participants” control truth with “their truth;” therefore, factual truth often falls by the wayside because it is not allowed to enter the process. Similar to the elephant in the room that no one will acknowledge this serious dilemma in America needs correction! Without public angst and outcry the runaway train may be unstoppable! To bring correction, many first need to become aware of this situation and then be proactively involved to bring a remedy.
Between sentencing guidelines or mandates, varying degrees of judicial ideologies and Department of Correction input, jail and prison populations have grown considerably. Consider pertinent statistics. America has 5% of the world’s population with 25% of the world’s prison population. 95% of elected prosecutors are white. Prison population grew from 360,000 in 1970 to more than 2,310,000 in 2014. African Americans make up 6.5% of our population but 42% of prison population. Much of this growth is attributable to system privatization that is presented as a good thing yet tragic inputs from A.L.E.C. (American Legislative Exchange Council) and C.C.A. (Correction Corporation of America) bring devastation. Both organizations insure a revolving door of money restraints to parallel Correctional bondage – a societal tragedy!
As I brought the redeeming message of Christ’s Gospel to men and women who often don’t have life-tools to be successful, I discovered I was wrongly jaded toward those in bondage to sin, themselves and the system. Despite what I often heard or saw in my ministry, I struggled to believe the system could be as bad as my sensibilities suggested. When I deeply listened to heart-rending situations, attempting to look through redeemed eyes while knowing the Gospel requires me to actually practice justice in a system that often seems to betray justice I heard heart-wrenching stories. I realized I couldn’t “sit on my Christian hands” when justice is betrayed. I had to try to bring relief through redemptive action!
As a Christian pastor with a conservative political view, I previously maintained a hard-line approach toward “those who broke the law.” It was easy to think that “those caught in crime deserved whatever they got!” On the outside – without really wanting to look in to understand the injustice – I often thought, “Let them pay their debt to society and learn how to be good citizens so they can enjoy its privileges and rewards.” I empathize with those with similar sentiments yet God greatly changed my paradigm after I got seriously involved in jail ministry. God took my former ideas to task; I was found wanting. How about you? In hindsight, jail ministry was one of the greatest things I’ve done. My eyes were opened! Up close and personal, I saw and experienced the ugly reality. I actually became a target – but for what?
When I got involved by helping an immature man outside to become a godly man, that’s when I “saw the system” go ballistic to prevent godly help. I was shocked by how much the system thwarts true reform and proactive help. Now God is provoking me toward advocacy ministry. Charles Malik’s excellent book, The Two Tasks Of The Christian Scholar: Redeeming the Soul, Redeeming the Mind challenges every person with a heart for Christ’s Gospel to pursue redemption – through the conversion and salvation of people, and therefore the loved ones in their circle of influence. People in jails and prisons have reasons to listen to a message that brings right relationship with God through empowerment to obey His Law and thereby please Him with their living. Malik makes the point that we must redeem both the soul and mind. I agree! To this end, help incarcerated ones develop a Christian lifeview as inmates are a semi-captive audience.
I freely admit I’m learning as I challenge you. How can you get actively involved? Don’t be overwhelmed as the magnitude impacts your sensibilities. You’ll never learn without jumping in; so take the leap. Begin to understand the difficulty required to free inmates from a system with ineffective claims. Pray for harvest-workers. Find jail ministers to encourage in diligent prayer. Consider doing jail ministry yourself to open your eyes; you will be richly blessed. Watch and digest the documentary 13th about our 13th Constitutional Amendment gone awry in the prison system. Investigate Advocacy websites. Proactively seek to help, fund or support them. Prison Fellowship is one. Learn about elected officials. Stay current on issues; vote with redeemed eyes. Boldly write your local paper or elected officials. Get informed and encourage reform. Plug into chaplains to write inmates who seek godly change. Encouragement can bring hope.
Re-entry efforts are sorely needed. Without Kingdom help, I see little hope to redemptively impact lives and families. Work with your church to “Adopt an inmate” to plug them back into society with godly oversight and encouragement. Making a real difference requires getting our hands dirty. Just do it! Realize this effort “puts you in the crosshairs” of a skewed system but God empowers His people when they obey His commands in mission! The injustice may “fall on you” so ask for prayer in this fight for reform through Gospel reality. Others are challenged and fulfilled as they pray and support you. Seek to make disciples of inmates, their families, and those in authority. Pray for people to open their eyes, hearts and hands. Please God; then joy and peace will be yours to share. In His Grace, Tim