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The Church's Undeniable Role: From Chains to Change

Most of the time, when we think of prison ministry, we think of prison chaplains and volunteers visiting those who are incarcerated. The idea of prison ministry is that the church will assist the prisoner in his spiritual walk with God. This article is not to dispute that those are not effective ways of reaching souls for the Lord, but rather to say that much more can be done. The church has been given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to loose and bind.

“Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18‭-‬19 NLT) ‬‬‬
“I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18 NLT)

In this article we will look at a few ways the church can extend their hand to men and women who have found themselves outside of the will of God and inside the confines of our system of mass incarceration. First, we must deal with the facts and educate the congregation on the injustices that take place within the system. Then we must take responsibility and repent of our view of the system and our role in it. Once we realize that we are a part of the problem, we must forgive as we would like to be forgiven. Next, we must use the influence that we already have to change the current state of the system. We can also take action by becoming more involved in the system.

Startling Facts

So, let’s examine a few facts that can easily be found with a quick Google search. There are many nonprofit organizations that provide these facts and make them publicly known.

• While the United States represents about 4.2 percent of the world’s population, it houses around 20 percent of the world’s prisoners. (Wikipedia)

• Annually, the criminal legal system costs taxpayers $182 Billion. (Prison Policy Initiative)

• 1 in 61 adults in the United States are under some form of correctional control. (Prison Policy Initiative)

• Among founding NATO countries, the United States more than quadruples incarceration rates. (Prison Policy Initiative)

• Even though people in solitary confinement comprise 6-8% of the total prison population, they account for approximately half of those who die by suicide. (Prison Policy Initiative)

These facts give us a starting point and hopefully a startling point, but this only scratches the surface to the systemic injustice and corruption that we are confining a large part of our population to.

Role of the Church

As the church, what is our part in this? The churches are filled with the people who create laws, enforce laws, make decisions, and the taxpayers who foot the bill of billions to incarcerate millions. Men and women who sit in political positions and depend on the church for votes, those who work within the system, and those who are affected by incarceration all sit together every Sunday, and never confronting the fact that injustice is happening by our hands, in our backyard. The prison system does a great job of keeping their business to themselves. It is strange that we are funding a machine that we cannot look under the hood of. We must hold one another accountable and repent for our part in the prison system, whether directly or indirectly.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Do the Crime; Do the Time

There is a mentality in America that says, “if you do the crime, do the time.” By saying this it gives us a way to cop out of paying attention to the actual issues. Men and women are doing far more time than the crime in many ways. Inside of prison the conditions are often inhumane, corrupt, and dangerous. This may seem like a fit place for a “criminal,” but when you stop to consider that these men and women will one day again be your neighbor, you should want them to return to society redeemed instead of further damaged. In the Lord’s prayer that every Christian knows by heart, our Savior taught the disciples to forgive as we want to be forgiven (Matthew 6:12). As the church, we should be the teachers and examples of this forgiveness. If men and women in prison are unworthy of forgiveness, we are likewise unworthy.

“The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.” - Billy Graham.

The Lord Looseth the Prisoner

There is no need to point out the fact that the church is a huge influence in the world. There are billions of Christians globally. It is important that we use this influence to call out injustice. Those of us who are involved in the system can use our influence to directly affect our workplace and get back to the biblical mandate from the words of Jesus. “I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:36 & 40 NLT) When thinking of the Bible, keep in mind that an ongoing and reoccurring theme is deliverance from captivity. As the body of Christ, we have an obligation to continue to loose those who cry out from captivity with repentant hearts.

Backyard Mission Fields

Finally, it is important that we see the prisons as mission fields in our backyard. Prisons across the country are short of staff and in need of the churches’ help. Not as chaplains, preachers, or volunteers; but as correctional officers, counselors, and wardens. We need to fill the prisons with Christians who are willing to make a change in the current corrupt system. This doesn’t necessarily mean going in with a Bible and slapping people around. This means doing a job with integrity, compassion, and a sense of justice with every step. When the church answers this call is when we as a nation will see a change in our penal system. There is no doubt that it is in need of change, so why should we doubt that we can be that change?

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1 Comment

Nov 23, 2023

That was a powerful piece of writing not only do we need Christian men and women in jails and prisons but we need them in public office to make an even larger change. Power to the people of God.

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