"Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured." (Hebrews 13:3)
Deeply connected to the recently renewed dialogue about the criminal justice system, and the pressing need to address the reality of mass incarceration in our country, are issues of justice that are at the core of our faith.
In the lives and faces of those who fall into the criminal justice system, we encounter Christ. Even in the midst of profound brokenness, we are challenged to seek out the image of God in this complex and challenging context. We cannot enter the conversation at arms-length. Because we are followers of Jesus, we are called to be present as ambassadors of healing, restoration and justice in jail cells, courtrooms, prison yards and in the lives of the returning citizens and their families.
During the month of June we invite you to show the world what faith beyond bars looks like.
Why do people of faith care about mass incarceration? And what are UCC members and congregations doing about it? Hear the voices of people throughout our denomination.
Show your commitment and raise attention about this important issue. Change your social media profile pic and tell the world why you care about mass incarceration and what you plan to do about it.
For example, you might say:
• ”My faith calls me to stand in solidarity with people who are suffering and incarcerated. That’s why I’m joining the UCC in taking a stand to address mass incarceration. #FaithBeyondBars."
• ”I believe mass incarceration is a critical human and civil rights issue. #FaithBeyondBars"
• ”My faith calls me to stand with those who are in prison. That’s why I’m calling on my elected officials to pass needed sentencing reform. #FaithBeyondBars"
Dismantling racism in our criminal justice system subject of two Synod resolutions
General Synod's Sacred Conversations on Race
National Council of Churches to set new path at Christian Unity Gathering
Ferguson-area UCC pastor preaching at Ecumenical Advocacy Days
'Faith Call to End Mass Incarceration' kicks off weekend advocacy effort
UCC grassroots coalition continues racial justice work post-Ferguson
Chicago clergy bring 'Souls to the Polls' for early voting in mayoral election
UCC minister for racial justice to remember King's 'Letter from Birmingham Jail'
One in every 32 adults in the U.S. is under justice system control in prison, or probation or on parole. Among the currently 2.3 million men, women and youth in prison, there are a disproportionate number of people of color. By in large, people of color are sentenced more harshly for the sames crimes committed as white counterparts. It is impossible to separate the issue of mass incarceration from the issue racism.
The Apostle Paul insisted that we are ALL valued in God. He also emphasized that our belief and our actions, as part of the social body, affect the other parts closely (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). What does this spiritual insight mean for our criminal justice system? How can we act out the belief in the inherent worth and dignity of each and every person created in God's image where justice issues are concerned?
• The New Jim Crow | Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
• Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference has created a faith-based study guide for The New Jim Crow to help facilitate study groups and consciousness.
• Teaching Tolerance has created The New Jim Crow curriculum, specifically designed for students in grades 9-12.
The time for Sentencing Reform is now. Urge the Senate to pass S. 2123!
The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would address years of unjust and inflexible sentencing laws that mete out punishments that do not fit the crimes committed. Mandatory minimum sentences have contributed to an overwhelming increase in the federal prison population since 1980. These penalties are unwarranted, exacerbate racial disparities and perpetuate dangerous and expensive prison overcrowding. Act now!
The United Church of Christ’s Historical Witness
Throughout its history, the witness of the United Church of Christ General Synod has reflected a faithful and prophetic engagement with our calling to address injustice in the criminal justice system.
Most recently, General Synod 30 (2015), passed two resolutions related to this work:
Dismantling Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration in the United States
A Resolution of Witness [PDF]
Reaffirming its commitment to restorative justice, improving the criminal justice systems of state and federal governments, and recognizing that the privatization of the prison industrial complex has promoted and sustained the practice of mass incarceration, the General Synod adopted a Resolution to Dismantle Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration. The resolutions calls on the bodies of the UCC to build our organizational capacity to address this injustice through national public policy advocacy and by:
Helping members to understand mass incarceration as a critical human and civil rights issue in the U. S.
Providing opportunities for education, mobilization, public witness, and policy advocacy
Recognizing the system’s disparate impact on people of color, youth, and people with limited economic resources
Dismantling the New Jim Crow
A Resolution of Witness [PDF]
For many years the United Church of Christ has advocated for the elimination of racism, the real driving force behind the New Jim Crow. The General Synod adopted this resolution to rearticulate its vision of, and commitment to, the common good concerning the New Jim Crow, which describes the disenfranchisement, marginalization, and re-subjugation of African Americans resulting in the creation of a permanent caste of second-class citizens. The intention of this resolution is to mobilize conferences and members to:
Renew engagement in Sacred Conversations on race;
Endorse public policies that promote government accountability for prison management and Justice system reform;
Provide opportunities for education, mobilization, public witness, and public policy advocacy to dismantle the New Jim Crow.
Learn more about past policy stances related to criminal justice and mass incarceration.
Our Stillspeaking Voice is a monthly issues-oriented multimedia initiative, created to amplify the bold public voice of the United Church of Christ. Part of General and Minister and President John C. Dorhauer’s first 90-day initiatives, Our Stillspeaking Voice is the product of all the UCC’s national ministries–– the Office of the General Minister and President, Justice and Witness Ministries, Local Church Ministries and Wider Church Ministries –– in partnership with several UCC conferences, around a dozen issues that are part of the church’s DNA.
Previous UCC "Our Stillspeaking Voice" intitiatives.
Work to End Gun Violence Site | Story
Keep it in the Ground Site | Story
Focus on Israel/Palestine Site | Story
Spotlight (on sexual abuse in churches) Story
Why I Protest Video | Story