Criminal Justice and the Church

Criminal Justice is a function and concern of government institutions.  Police protection, the courts, and correctional institutions deal with criminal justice.  So what does the church, a religious organization, have to do with justice?

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  The Church is the “body of Jesus Christ.”  Weekly Sunday worship featuring songs of praise, prayer, and proclamation of the Word of God is the most notable activity of the Church and its members.  Sunday worship sermons focus on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Justice is a central topic of Jesus and throughout the Bible.  Thus, the Church that is faithful in following the teachings of Jesus is actively engaged in promoting justice.

   The Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) has been actively promoting Criminal Justice for decades.  Sunday, January 21, 2018 was designated “Criminal Justice Sunday,” one of the initiatives to increase awareness of the needs for victims and offenders involved in crime.

   The following entry was posted on the “Mission Yearbook” page of the Presbyterian Church.

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them. —Hebrews 13:3

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Let us, on this Criminal Justice Sunday, be reminded of these sad facts:

  • That our country is the world’s leader in incarcerating our own
  • That the United States of America, which holds 5 percent of the world’s population, holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners
  • That the vast majority of people incarcerated in our country are from poor, inner-city neighborhoods and are of predominantly African-American and Latino descent

   Let us be reminded also that our stance on punishment is in sharp contrast to our Christian gospel’s redemptive message of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, as expressed in Luke 4:18; and that our salvation, individually and collectively, is linked to our treatment of those in prison, as declared in Matthew 25:41–43.

    Society’s stance on criminal justice is historically a pendulum swinging between restorative and punitive. Our country is long overdue for prison reform based upon rehabilitative and restorative principles, as practiced in other developed cultures with which we compare ourselves. This should include the “Mandela Rules,” reflecting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the abolition of for-profit prisons and an end to capital punishment.

    Today, on Criminal Justice Sunday, join with fellow Presbyterians and others of all faiths in seeking to raise awareness about our outdated, punitive and costly criminal justice system, so that those sitting in darkness behind tall walls and barbed wire may experience hope.

Hans Hallundbaek, DMin, Coordinator, Prison Partnership Program, Hudson River Presbytery,

UN NGO Representative for the International Prison Chaplains Association and Citizens United for the Return of Errants

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