Reform of the criminal justice system and ministry to prisoners both provide important opportunities for Christian involvement, panelists said at a Southern Baptist-sponsored forum in Nashville.
Spokesmen from the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s office and Prison Fellowship addressed criminal justice and rehabilitation as part of the ERLC Leadership Luncheon event Dec. 3 at the Southern Baptist Convention building in Nashville.
“[I]t’s easy for us to kind of put out of our mind the incarcerated population — sort of throw away the key, lock them up and don’t think about them,” said Daniel Darling, the ERLC’s vice president for communications.
The data demonstrate “simply incarcerating a lot of people doesn’t actually make us safer,” he told the audience of pastors, leaders and other Christians from Middle Tennessee. “But rehabilitation and getting people back on their feet and having real pathways for people to change is really important, not just for the dignity of the incarcerated population but also for public safety.”
Joseph Williams, the governor’s director of external affairs and a member of his senior staff, said it is “not only all right but incumbent upon Christians to say, ‘These actually aren’t political issues; these aren’t ideological debates; these are about human beings, victims, perpetrators, broken families, hopelessness.'”
In doing so, he said, Christians are saying, “[W]e are called to be salt; we are called to be light; and therefore we are going to engage in these issues — not in the ways that the world does, not in the battles as they are waged on the political battlegrounds but instead as Christ did, as our Savior did.”
Ministry to inmates is a “great place to start” for pastors and church members in breaking “the cycle of crime,” said Craig DeRoche, senior vice president of advocacy and public policy for Prison Fellowship. People all have the same problems, he said. “They look like fear and selfishness and guilt and shame and anger…. And Christ can solve those problems. So we don’t need unhealthy solutions. That’s the mechanics of breaking the cycle of crime in a person.”
The panel discussion followed an interview of Lee by ERLC president Russell Moore. In the interview, Lee explained his promotion of criminal justice reform in Tennessee came as a result of mentoring a man coming out of prison before he ran for governor.
Since being elected governor in 2018, Lee has maintained his mentoring role and has introduced the Volunteer Mentorship Initiative, which encourages Tennesseans to advise inmates. Assigned to implement the initiative, Williams said its goal is to bring people face to face with incarcerated people, “because once you do that, you can’t deny the imago dei” — the biblical doctrine that every human being has dignity because he or she is made in the image of God.
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Source: Baptist Press