Who Is Our Neighbor Today?
We at Prison Fellowship® believe, as the Bible attests, since the fall of humanity, individual and systemic sin have threatened and destroyed the safety and peace God intended. The result: Broken lives, relationships, and communities that require the restorative justice envisioned and empowered by God and His Word.
With words whenever possible, and with our actions at all times, Prison Fellowship shares the unchanging truth and unending grace of the Gospel with all those affected by crime and incarceration. It is through the divine love of our neighbor that we grieve the historical and contemporary atrocities suffered by communities of color. With the loss of precious Black lives, we mourn with those who mourn. As we work to restore communities inside and outside prison, we will continue to reflect the mandate in Isaiah, helping individuals "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression"—wherever it emerges.
BIBLICAL JUSTICE FOR ALL
Indeed, our faith calls us to action and accountability as God's people. The Old and New Testaments of the Bible express a preoccupation with justice. For example, biblical teaching found in Isaiah, "Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression" and Hebrews, "… remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering" are just two examples of the ancient Judeo-Christian witness to a God with unwavering commitment to justice.
Therefore, as Christians, we at Prison Fellowship believe ending racism must be addressed at both individual and systemic levels; we have no less than a biblical mandate to pursue racial justice and equality in our communities, in our nation:
- "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly" (Leviticus 19:15).
- "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth" (Isaiah 42:3-4).
- "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:8-9).
- "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).
A BACKDROP OF IMBALANCES
In the wake of George Floyd's videotaped murder, public outcry rang out and protests erupted in U.S. streets and around the world. The nation experienced weeks of civil unrest, as millions of people demanded justice not only for Floyd—who died a horrifying death as a Minneapolis police officer purposely kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds—but also for the tragic loss of too many Black American lives as a result of police misconduct and racially motivated attacks.
All this occurred against the backdrop of this nation’s stark racial imbalances. At every stage of the U.S. criminal justice system, people of color—particularly Black Americans—confront systemic inequality and bias. For example, at the arrest stage, while only 13% of Americans are Black, 27% of those arrested are Black. Similarly, the 2018 adult probation population was composed of 55% white individuals but 30% Black individuals. The remaining probation population included 13% Hispanic, 1% American Indian/Alaska Native, 1% Asian, less than 1% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and less than 1% individuals who identify as two or more races.
Recognizing the necessary and important role of an effective police force, Prison Fellowship calls for accountability in law enforcement and justice reform that will both prevent misconduct and lead to healing in our communities. For, indeed, people of color are subject to higher-than-average rates of traffic stops, police searches, and African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be subjected to the threat or actual use of force by police. African Americans are significantly more likely to be arrested for a drug crime, even though rates of drug use and trafficking are roughly equal across all races. Further, federal sentencing data indicate that when convicted, Black males are often subjected to harsher-than-average sentences and less likely to receive any form of reduced sentence, charge, or plea agreement, when compared to similarly situated individuals of non-African American descent.
A DIVERSE CRY FOR ACTION
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Aubery are among the tragically long and growing list of Black Americans whose headline-capturing killings revealed before a global audience this nation's seismic schism of racial polarization.
As a result, activists, politicians, and athletes of all backgrounds—not just African Americans—publicly voiced outrage and condemnation. Many Christians, including evangelicals, acknowledged from the pulpit this nation's centuries-old, endemic racial inequality, calling for prayer, peaceful protest, and action in the pursuit of justice for all. Corporations, clergy, nonprofit organizations, and national sports leagues, joined in what amounted to a historical, multi-cultural chorus denouncing racism and affirming the value and dignity of Black lives.
FOUR DECADES OF FACING INJUSTICE
We carry on the work of our founder, Chuck Colson, who taught that Christians are called to discern a biblical perspective on the deep-rooted social problems so prevalent today. For more than 40 years, our experience in prisons has brought us face to face with racism, an individual and systemic sin that violates human dignity and worth. We have witnessed firsthand the stark racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Racial bias and injustice contribute directly to these trends, as do other pervasive upstream issues like instability in housing and family structures, unequal access to quality education, and poverty.
Due to the complexity of the justice system, the law provides limited but important opportunities to correct racial disparity. Prison Fellowship works hard every day to advance justice that restores and reflects the God-given value of all persons. In some cases, legislation can help mitigate inequalities, and we have been advocating for proportional sentencing and justice that addresses the systemic biases and prejudices borne by people of color. We also acknowledge that the ultimate elimination of racial bias requires each of us to consider our own beliefs, attitudes, and positions in light of the Gospel and with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Prison Fellowship works to advance more proportional accountability, constructive corrections culture, and second-chance opportunities. Given the disproportional representation of people of color at every level of our justice system, all of these reform efforts can have positive impact on fighting racial injustice, and we encourage all Christians to join us. As U.S. history bears witness with the abolitionist and Civil Rights movements, the Church is uniquely equipped to contribute Gospel-focused, nonviolent protest and advocacy for racial reconciliation and communal healing.