While our mega churches are mostly filled with godly white people, our mega prisons are mostly filled with our black and latino people. Men and women alike.
Our Egypt today is Mass Incarceration.
It is a destructive system of human control where certain ethnic minorities experience unequal interaction with the nation’s penal system.
And it will take a generation like Moses (those who by grace are living in the palace) to realize that their brothers are in slavery. It’s time to deliver the people.
Jesus has a problem with mass incarceration. Because it is creating a fatherless generation. Because it is a man-made curse driven by the racism that still plagues our nation.
And He came to set the captives free.
These are the Mass Incarceration Statistics in America:
- From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people.
- Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.
- Combining the number of people in prison and jail with those under parole or probation supervision, 1 in every 31 adults, or 3.2 percent of the population is under some form of correctional control.
And these are the incarceration trends that we need to stop:
- African-Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population.
- African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
- Together, African-American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African-Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one-quarter of the US population.
I’m proud to be part of a church that is actively looking to serve those who are incarcerated in our state of North Carolina. A few weeks ago we were part of an event called, “Forgive Me Dear.” We hosted a 5 hour encounter between children and their incarcerated fathers, where the kids got to embrace, play, eat and have a time of reconciliation with their dads.
Watch The Video:
We were not there to address this issue, but this issue was obvious: Most of the men in our event were African-Americans. Most of the people serving them were middle white America.
Yes, it was right for us to be there, to help them facilitate this encounter.
But we got to go home that evening.
They had to stay behind bars.
And their children remained without a present dad.
Crime is evil. But it’s just as evil to lock up a person in cage, and throw away the keys of hope (for the individual, and their families).
As Mark Osler wrote, “The United States leads the Western world in our reliance on incarceration. Slowly, there seems to be a growing awareness that we are spending billions, limiting freedoms, and creating racial disparities through an over-broad approach to imprisonment as the primary tool of criminal law. While incarcerating people may have the positive effect of incapacitating truly dangerous people (especially in relation to violent crimes), too often we lock up those who don’t present a high level of danger to others. As states and the federal government consider moves to correct this imbalance, Christians should be leading the way.”
Yes, believers in the way of Christ should be leading the way in proving proper restoration and rehabilitation. Because incarceration has not been proven to correct for behavior. Actually, two-thirds of prisoners will re-offend.
These are the facts.
Not just facts that I read about, but facts that I am faced with, every time I go inside one of our federal and state prisons.
And when I teach about the good news of Jesus to my black and latino brothers, I feel convicted that the good news is incomplete, if it’s not setting them free from an evil system that over-punishes, and is unjustly balance against them.
“If rich folks’ kids get in trouble, they go to rehab. Poor folks’ kids get in trouble, they go to prison.” – Van Jones
We want to continually respond to Jesus’ invitation to visit Him while He’s in prison (according to Matthew 25) but, what if part of going in there, is to receive another invitation… the one about justice for the nations (according to Isaiah 42:1)?
Justice and equality.
And it will take a huge amount of humility for the body of Christ to admit that we have failed our communities. That we have found it easier to lock them up in prisons, than actually engaging them were they are at, and becoming part of the solutions they need today.
Trust me, I have no desire to appeal to the victim mentality. I have no reasons to support a conversation that is based on racism or hatred (in either direction).
But the absurdity of this reality was brought to national attention when 20-year-old Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail for the assault of an unconscious woman. Turner, who was a competitive swimmer with Olympic hopes, was convicted on three felony counts, including intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman.
The judge, who said he weighed Turner’s lack of criminal history and remorsefulness, gave him a lenient sentence. The unidentified victim read a letter in court that she later released to the news Web site BuzzFeed.
In it, she wrote, “How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment. If a first-time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be?”
There is even consensus on both side of the political discourse in America. Right and left agree that this needs to change; from President Obama to House Speaker Paul Ryan.
But the way of breakthrough… the radical way forward… is for the church of Jesus to become the loudest voice in addressing this issue.
Because it seems hypocritical to preach so much grace on Sundays, while executing so much impartial judgment Monday through Saturday.
We need to be loud in asking for common sense re-forms, including the end of prison terms for minor offenses and increased investment in rehabilitation programs.
We need to be intentional about visiting our prisoners, learning their stories, engaging their family members and helping them to re-integrate to society.
It starts with us, the messengers of love.
Back in 2014, the leaders of Christian Churches Together (CCT) which represent the broadest coalition of church leaders in the United States, came together in New Jersey. This coalition included Historic Protestant, Evangelical/Pentecostal, Catholic, Orthodox, and Historic Black Churches. On their gathering, the leaders concluded,
“While there is a role for prisons to address violent offenses, we recognize that our nation’s justice system has lost the hope embodied by its historic vision to “correct” and restore broken people back to society. As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe in the redemption and reconciliation of all things, rather than retribution. This includes the prisoner and broken systems. This is the essence of the gospel.”
Those serving unfair sentences need to hear these good news: Jesus has a problem with mass incarceration, yet He also offers the solution.
And it’s us, the Church.
So I will join my voice outside the walls that keep them captive, and pray for the voice of Moses to raise up… and demand again with faith, “Let my people go!”
“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Jesus in Matthew 25:40
+ Bridges / Puentes Ministry: Provides workshops, classes and support inside the prisons of Raleigh, NC.
+ Proverbs 226: Hosting “Forgive Me Dear” events to host reconciliation between inmates and their children all across the USA.