Coming to grips with biblical teaching on justice, however, is by no means easy but it is absolutely essential if our work on criminal justice it is to be focused and effective while not devaluing nor diminishing the many other important justice issues compete for attention.
To further complicate the issue is the language problem. Justice is one of those concepts that combine tremendous emotional potency with a great deal of semantic ambiguity. It is both a self-evident reality and, at the same time, a highly disputed one.
On the one hand, we all have an intuitive sense of what justice is. Even very young children have a powerful, innate sense of justice. Think of how often children complain that something is so unfair. To declare some action or state of affairs to be unfair or unjust is to make one of the strongest moral condemnations available. And when individuals make this complaint, they usually assume that the injustice in question will be patently obvious to anyone who cares to look.
But, as we have seen, what appears obvious to one person is not always obvious to others. People may agree that justice (what is right or what is legal) is the fundamental principle to consider, they frequently disagree on how the principle translates into practice, today often expressed as rights. Some for example, defend deportation of “Dreamers” as legally correct, while others are appalled at the injustice and cruelty of such a policy. Or again, some consider it to be a matter of basic justice that women have a right to choose an abortion, since it is their bodies that are affected. For others, however, abortion is a deadly injustice to an unborn child, the unjustifiable taking of a human life. And we now live in a culture of various groups such as Black Lives Matter and the LBGTQ community competing for public attention.
What distinguishes criminal justice reform is that currently there is a unique and broad agreement across various groups, conservative, liberal, Democrat, Republican, Baptist
and Episcopalian that the current system is so broken that it is not only not serving communities, nor victims, nor offenders, but it’s brokenness that it is stealing resources from the very services and supports that prevent crime in the first instance, e.g. mental health, pre-school education and education in general. We at the Prison Ministry
Commission along with our partner organizations, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) and the Partner for Safety and Justice feel the urgency of this unique opportunity
to act now.
While we continue our work with advocacy, struggle with organizational capacity, provide direct ministry to inmates and work on improving opportunities for visitation, we
need to do these things more effectively.
To that end the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon has taken the lead to make these efforts
more effective. In partnership with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) and the
Diocese of Eastern Oregon planning is underway to hold a convocation called “Hearing
the Cries” at the end of January, 2018 to accomplish the following:
- Recruit and train key leaders from throughout the state to participate in works of
mercy with inmates, their families assisting the professional staff at Oregon
- Utilizing current research and practice assist offenders through acts of hospitality
to successfully return to their communities post prison.
- Develop a three-year plan to implement and evaluate initiatives identified as
practically possible at the convocation.
Hearing the Cry: Faith and Criminal Justice is a study written by the Criminal Justice Task Force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and published by the ELCA. It is an invitation to join this church’s moral deliberation on a major social issue that not only affects millions of our neighbors whom we are called by God to love and serve, but also many in our congregations. Your participation is crucial.
Email the Rev. Dcn. Tom English for more information.