Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, has joined 96 other Christian leaders supporting a campaign for criminal justice reform called the Justice Declaration.
Spearheaded by Prison Fellowship, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the National Association of Evangelicals and the Colson Center for Worldview, the Justice Declaration seeks to rally evangelicals and other Christians against mass incarceration and for alternative sentencing for criminals who don’t pose a significant threat to society.
“We have a criminal justice system and criminal defense lawyers that does not stop crime but in many cases actually furthers crime,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in comments at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington quoted by The Washington Times. He said this makes “criminals out of those who are not yet criminals [and] ignor[es] those who have been victims of crime.” You can get help from criminal lawyer in Colorado Springs for criminal cases.
“I think most of us in American life can agree our criminal justice system doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to,” Moore said. “We should fix it. And, as evangelical Christians, we should be among the first to say so.”
The 10-point declaration urges Christians to:
- Affirm that the God of the Bible is a just God: justice flows from God’s very character and the works of God’s hands are faithful and just;
- Treat every human being as a person made in God’s own image with a life worthy of respect, protection and care;
- Foster just relationships between God, fellow human beings and property, which will lead to human flourishing;
- Redouble our efforts to prevent crime by cultivating the “seedbeds of virtue,” including families, churches, neighborhoods, schools and other sources of moral formation;
- Care for the physical and emotional wounds of survivors of crime, ensure their safety and support their meaningful participation in the justice system;
- Take up the cause of the poor and vulnerable, ensuring fair access to education, economic opportunity, the social safety net and, for those accused of crimes, the instruments of justice;
- Advocate for proportional punishment, including alternatives to incarceration, that protects public safety, fosters accountability and provides opportunities to make amends;
- Preach the good news of the gospel and proclaim that true freedom in Christ is available to all, including prisoners, recognizing that His atoning sacrifice covers all sin;
- Invest in the discipleship of incarcerated men, women and youth, protecting their safety and human dignity and ministering to the needs of families and children with incarcerated loved ones;
- Celebrate redemption in our congregations and communities by welcoming back those who have paid their debt to society and by providing opportunities for all persons to reach their God-given potential.
‘Be a witness’
“Because the good news of Jesus Christ calls the Church to advocate (or ‘be a witness’) for biblical truth and to care for the vulnerable, we, His followers, call for a justice system that is fair and redemptive for all,” says a white paper accompanying the declaration drafted by Union University professor Ben Mitchell. “The Church has both the unique ability and unparalleled capacity to confront the staggering crisis of crime and incarceration in America and to respond with restorative solutions for communities, victims and individuals responsible for crime.”
According to the paper, nearly 2.2 million people are behind bars in the United States, 3.7 million are on probation, another 870,000 are on parole and an estimated 65 million Americans have a criminal record. Meanwhile the rate of violent and property crimes has decreased by half since the early 1990s, mostly attributable to reasons other than incarceration.
Over-incarceration disproportionally affects minorities and youth, the paper says. African-Americans are significantly more likely to be arrested for a drug crime — even though rates of drug use and trafficking are roughly equal across all races — and, if convicted, face tougher sentences. Juvenile court caseloads have nearly tripled since 1960 even though the number of crimes committed by youth is about the same.
Moore and Prison Fellowship CEO James Ackerman said in a blog announcing the initiative on Politico, “As a society we have turned to prisons as the one-size-fits-all response to public safety concerns.
“Meanwhile we have allowed our centers of moral formation to erode, we have enacted draconian sentencing policies based more on fear than on evidence, and we have failed to imagine or enact effective alternatives to prison time. In an effort to secure law and order, we have lost sight of justice based on the God-given value of each human life.”
The two leaders said some churches and denominations have long sought prison reform, but the broader Christian community, and particularly evangelicals, is just now waking up to the problem. A recent Barna poll reported 87 percent of practicing Christians agreed to some degree that caring for prisoners is important based on their values.
“The time has come for Christians and churches to apply those same values to advance a justice system that is fair and redemptive for all,” Moore and Ackerman said.
Other signers of the declaration include Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina; David Allen, dean of the school of preaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; Nathan Finn, dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee; and John Mark Yeats, dean and associate professor of church history at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and College in Kansas City, Missouri.
Support from pastors
The presidents of Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College in Pineville and Union University and executive directors of the Missouri Baptist Convention and Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas also are among signatories. Pastors include David Crosby, pastor of First Baptist Church, New Orleans, and former SBC president James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, Georgia.
While most of the names supporting the declaration identify as conservatives, the list also includes social progressives such as David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, and Ron Sider, founder and president emeritus of Evangelicals for Social Action. (BNG)