But just as Christians stepped forward to power the underground railroad in the 1850s, just as church leaders have stepped up in the past to bring focus and propose solutions to horrors from sweat shops to debtor's prisons, just as Christians bring education, health services and clean water to some of the poorest children in our world today, so you and I as Christians are called to think about these issues, inform ourselves about the status quo, speak out and work to make changes that might at least slow the bleeding.
The "reforms" of the 1980s with longer sentences for non-violent crimes and "three strikes you'e out" that have both been implemented (in ways never envisioned by legislatures responding to fear driven constituency) with demonic glee by people who are benefiting financially and political, and have brought a demonstrated increase in crime as families and communities have been devastated financially and spiritually, family connections have been damaged, and communities broken; with a stunning percentage of young people coming out of foster care into incarceration without reformation. It is distressing to think that these young victims of crime find incarceration for non-violent crimes quickley becomes is super highway to a new dangerous "family" behind prison bars.
And frankly, I'm disconcerted that so few church I contact have any prison ministry contact person, committee or, it seems, willingness to heed St. Paul's directive in Hebrews 13:3 Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place.
My fellow followers of Christ, there is a lot of mistreatment going on! The price for our negligence is being paid by men and women whose very public sins are not being met with punishment that fits the crime, victims who are not receiving restitution, men and women who work in prisons are suffering, law enforcement and court personnel are discouraged, communities are finding released prisoners have NOT been prepared to reenter society. In other words, the legal system is making things MORE dangerous rather than fulfilling its prime directive: serving to protect and encourage all members of society to have faith in their capacity to make this a better world.
Won't you stick a note on your bathroom mirror or above your TV, or make a bookmark or discuss this with your accountability partner so that you remember to pray daily this week, to pray with focus and an open heart about those affected by crime, punishment and its ever-outwardly expanding circles of pain, wasted lives and broken hearts. Remember to pray for those working in the "white fields" called prison ministry, sharing the love and healing power of Christ with the incarcerated and their families, with law enforcement and prison workers, with survivors of crime. Remember to pray for an open heart that you might hear what God is asking of you in sharing the good news with all his beloved children in all places and at all times.
King of Kings and Lord of Lords, hear the most tender prayers of our hearts. AMEN
"white fields" refers to John 4:35