Proposed Resolution on Criminal Justice

Post a Comment » Written on September 4th, 2009     
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CHICAGO, IL (September 4, 2009) – Following is the text of the proposed Resolution on Criminal Justice, which will be voted on during next year’s 125th Annual Meeting following an interim year of reflection and discussion.


Crime and violence inflict suffering on individuals, families, and entire communities. Victims of crime carry wounds that take time to heal, and require ongoing support from the church community. We acknowledge the need to hold perpetrators accountable for violating the lives of others, and appreciate the difficult and at times sacrificial service of those who work throughout our criminal justice system.

At the same time, we are aware of God’s love for the criminal offender, for the accused, for incarcerated persons and their families, for those on probation and parole, for those re-entering society and seeking a new start. They too are people made in the image of God, for whom Christ died.

Remembering Christ’s words, “I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:36), we are called to serve the prisoner just as we are called to serve the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, or the sick. The offender, too, is our neighbor whom we are to love as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27-28).

As people who know that the source of all life is found in Christ (Acts 17:28), we seek ways to stand in opposition to crime, while working for justice and reconciliation so that we may glorify our risen Lord. The 2005 Resolution on Consistently Protecting and Promoting Life calls us to see criminal justice in light of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, and resurrection: “God ultimately intends abundant life for the community of all – humanity and every creature and the cosmos itself – reconciled to God and Christ.” We cry out to God as the giver and protector of life to bring healing and restoration to all those affected by crime and violence.

Biblical Witness

The Bible teaches us that:

1)    God sees crime and hears the cries of victims. From the beginning, God sees and judges crime (Exodus 32:34; Psalm 96:13; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Malachi 3:5). God cares for victims of crime (Genesis 4:10) and blesses them, as he blessed Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness (Genesis 21:8-21). The Psalms give voice to God’s people as we pray for refuge, protection from harm, deliverance from oppression, and accountability for those who victimize others (Psalm 10:17-18, 12:5, 14:6).

2)    God extends mercy and restoration to the offender. God’s righteous judgment against crime is not a call for the destruction or permanent alienation of the offender. God provides for Cain’s safety in his exile (Genesis 4:10-15) and calls David to repentance and restoration (2 Samuel 12). A violent past does not prevent Moses and Paul from being changed and called into God’s service (Exodus 2:11-15 and 3:1-10, 1 Corinthians 15:8-10).

3)    God requires justice on earth (Micah 6:8). Scripture shows God working through earthly means, in the appointment of kings and judges and through political structures (Judges; Romans 13; 1 Peter 2:13-14). At the same time, the Bible teaches that earthly institutions are imperfect and do not carry out the fullness of God’s justice (Amos 5:12-15; Micah 7:2-3; Luke 18:1-8; Revelation 19:2).

4)    God requires justice through the church living out the ministry of Jesus Christ:

a.    God calls the church to a priestly ministry (1 Peter 2:5-9; Revelation 1:5-6). We minister both to victims and offenders. This ministry is perhaps lived out most strongly in the call to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us (Luke 6:27-28). This ministry is not passive acceptance of evil; it is a ministry of the cross that includes sharing in the suffering of victims and acting as agents of reconciliation and restoration.

b.    God also calls the church to a prophetic ministry. The world encounters God through the church. This requires us to expose and denounce injustices, and to seek transformation of social structures including the criminal justice system in line with God’s justice. There is a long prophetic tradition commanding God’s people to expose injustice in the courts: You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts (Amos 5:12). Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire—they all conspire together (Micah 7:3). Under the new covenant, a prophetic ministry becomes the work of all God’s people as predicted by Moses and Joel and fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Numbers 11:29, Joel 2:28 and 3:1). The church is commissioned to proclaim God’s wisdom to the ruling powers (Ephesians 3:9-10).

5)    God promises final justice. God’s complete justice will be revealed in the new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:13); nevertheless God’s kingdom has been inaugurated in Jesus Christ and this is cause for hope and work toward reconciliation and restoration of right relationships (Matthew 18:15-20). While we acknowledge a violent and sinful world, the church is called to a kingdom proclamation of freedom to the oppressed and release to the captives (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18-19). God graciously invites us to enter into our calling to “rebuild the ancient ruins… raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12).

Criminal Justice in Crisis

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of 2007, there were 2.3 million state and federal prisoners serving sentences in the United States and another 35,000 in Canada. More than 7.2 million persons are under some form of correctional supervision (prison, jail, parole, or probation). Incarceration rates (prisoners per 100,000 population) in the U.S. have soared over the past generation, from 139 in 1980 to 501 in 2006. In 1974, 1.3 percent of adults in the U.S. had served time in prison, and by 2001 that number had risen to 2.7 percent. A significant part of the massive increase of incarcerated individuals is from non-violent crimes and addiction related offenses. (Eighty-two percent of those sentenced to state prisons in 2004 were convicted of non-violent crimes, including 34 percent for drug offenses.) Harsh sentencing policies tend to exacerbate the difficulties in the lives of these people and deepen the cost on society as a whole.

If recent U.S. incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated 1 of every 15 persons (6.6 percent) will serve time in a prison during their lifetime. Lifetime chances of a person going to prison are higher for men (11.3 percent) than for women (1.8 percent); for blacks (18.6 percent) and Latinos/as (10 percent) than for whites (3.4 percent). Based on current rates of first incarceration, an estimated 32 percent of black males will enter state or federal prison during their lifetime, compared to 17 percent of Latinos and 5.9 percent of white males.

In too many cases, crime and punishment become a recurring cycle in the lives of offenders and their families. Among those released from state and federal prison, an estimated 67.5 percent are rearrested within three years for a felony or serious misdemeanor; and 46 percent of jail inmates had an incarcerated parent.

As dismaying as these statistics are, they only begin to tell the story of damaged human lives, families, and communities. Offenders and their families, victims and their families, and those who work within the criminal justice and corrections systems are our neighbors; and in many cases, our brothers and sisters in Christian faith.

No human system of justice will be perfectly just, or perfectly effective. But the manifest inequalities of outcomes along racial and economic divides, the spiraling population of offenders and victims of crime, the unmended hurts and brokenness in the system and our communities, cannot be tolerated. The scale of these problems defies easy solutions, yet cries out for a Christian response.

The Call – Bringing Redemption & Hope

In everything we say and do, we can proclaim the truth that every person is made in the image of God. We do so by taking time to extend care to the victims of crime. We do so by taking the time to listen to the stories of prisoners and sharing with them the hope of Jesus. We do so by providing emotional, spiritual, and financial support to families of prisoners and children of incarcerated parents, and the victims of crime. We do so by praying for all involved because we receive hope from knowing that God transforms human hearts.

As God’s people, we have the opportunity to respond to systemic injustices in the criminal justice system. While we are not expected to “fix” every problem in the system, we are called to challenge unjust and ineffective policies that harm and degrade our neighbors. To that end, the church is called to promote fair sentencing reform, restorative justice programs, and alternatives to incarceration such as substance abuse and mental health treatment, especially for first-time non-violent offenders. In so doing, we seek to create healthy families and safer communities for all. We are called to confront racism in the system and our society’s fear of crime that leads to the “throw away the key” mentality and other ineffective criminal justice policies. While those who commit crimes must be held accountable and deterred through fair sentences, the church extends Christ’s mercy to all (Psalm 85:10).

God also graciously invites and empowers us to live as a restorative community of believers who witness to the hope that comes from our God. Practically, this means that we help facilitate the reconciliation of offender with offended; help ex-offenders meaningfully re-integrate into the larger community; and welcome ex-offenders into our church communities. We believe that all of this, and more, is how we as Jesus-followers are called to respond to the criminal justice system.

The Response

We recognize and affirm Covenant congregations and members within those congregations who are actively responding in ministries that address restorative justice.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED that all Covenant congregations and members endeavor to:

1) Pray that God would heal and redeem the broken lives of prisoners and their families, and victims of crimes and their families; and to seek God’s direction for our part in ministries of reconciliation.

2) Promote healing and restoration to victims of crimes and their families and offenders and their families. Promote care for those who work and serve in the criminal justice system. This can take place through worship and teaching, pastoral care, Christian fellowship, and outreach to our communities. This can take place through a variety of ministries in prisons and with both offenders and victims in our communities. Every congregation has its own gifts and opportunities with which to serve.

3) Show mercy to ex-offenders re-entering society, by direct action as well as by supporting local ministries and agencies that serve these needs.

4) Pursue justice by educating ourselves and our congregations about critical criminal justice issues; supporting advocates for fair sentencing policy and resolution of wrongful convictions; and contacting federal and state representatives to voice concerns on criminal justice issues. We recognize that a number of excellent Christian organizations exist that can help us facilitate ministry and engage the issues concerning a Christian response to criminal justice. During the coming year we plan to provide a resource list of these organizations.

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