Faithful Christian communities are pivotal places for second chances.
Each year, more than 600,000 men and women are released from prisons in the United States. They will encounter stigma and barriers that threaten to derail their reentry, and nearly two-thirds of the individuals released will be rearrested within three years of their release.
Too often, our current criminal justice system offers returning citizens more challenges when what they need is a second chance. Where our systems and culture fail, the Church should stand up. Faithful Christian communities are pivotal places where second chances are extended.
HOW CAN CHURCHES HELP RETURNING CITIZENS?
In the United States, there are more than 44,000 legal barriers impacting reentry for those with a criminal conviction. More than half of these documented barriers impact a returning citizen’s opportunity for employment, with nearly 16,000 barriers specific to occupational licensing. Barriers to reentry also limit access to housing, education, financial help, and civic participation.
The Church is well-positioned to respond to the needs of returning citizens.
Woven into the social fabric of communities, churches can provide the sense of community and accountability that are the first line of defense against recidivism. Formerly incarcerated men and women may be aided through community outreach programs at churches, which often:
- Have food pantries, clothing closets, and offer help providing basic household furnishings.
- Offer marriage counseling.
- Host addiction recovery groups.
In addition to this, churches can lay the groundwork by reaching out to the families of prisoners before their loved one is released. A church's Sunday school program can embrace prisoner's children. A women's ministry can offer encouragement and sisterhood for women whose partners are behind bars. Churches are uniquely equipped to show God's love to everyone impacted by incarceration, including those in need of a second chance.
HOW CAN FAITH COMMUNITIES HELP RETURNING CITIZENS?
Help doesn’t have to come through church leadership only. Churches are made up of people from a variety of backgrounds, and the connections made there can extend support in unique ways. Christian business owners can extend employment opportunities to men and women hungry for a second chance in the workforce. Christian lawyers, civil servants, teachers, etc., can be a voice in their public squares, advocating for justice that restores.
Finally, supporting returning citizens can also happen in small, everyday ways:
- Offering to carpool to work because your friend can't legally have a driver's license.
- Babysitting the kids when a mom must work late because losing her job could put her in violation of her parole.
- Teaching a neighbor how to set up and use a smartphone because their prison sentence isolated them from technological advances of the last 20 years.
In short, for every need a returning citizen and his or her family might face, many churches already have the resources to help respond.
SECOND CHANCES: CHURCHES AND COMMUNITIES
At Prison Fellowship®, April is Second Chance® Month. Each year, we set aside the month of April to raise awareness about the challenges men and women face upon reentry. Throughout Second Chance Month, we highlight ways churches and faith communities can unlock second chances.
One way we raise awareness is through Twitter chats. Each Wednesday in April 2022, Prison Fellowship, along with a panelist of Second Chance partners and Christian leaders, engaged in Twitter conversations on topics related to the issues returning citizens face today.
Why is it important for churches and communities to offer second chances to people with a criminal record?
A2 We believe that everyone is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) & has inherent value, worth & dignity. We should all be treated equally, considering the second chance that we believe we were all given through the self-emptying sacrifice of Jesus #SecondChanceMonth
— National Community Church (@NCC) April 6, 2022
A recent Barna Poll shows 69% of Christians agree more positive language should be used for people with a criminal record, such as “returning citizen” instead of “ex-felon.” Why is using language that honors God-given dignity important?
A6. There is life and death in the tongue. These men and women are struggling with identity, Using these labels continues to objectify and isolate them. We have to remind people In transition what God calls them; Beautiful, Beloved, Child of God! #SecondChanceMonth
— Maverick City Music (@MavCityMusic) April 6, 2022
In Matthew 23:23, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for neglecting important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. How can the Church pursue these three values today?
Q7. Churches can pursue justice, mercy and faithfulness (Mt. 23:23):
1. Preaching/discipling on these themes
2. Partnering/volunteering w/ organizations that serve returning citizens
3. Advocating w/ local and nat'l officials for better policies/resources#SecondChanceMonth
— Thabiti Anyabwile (@ThabitiAnyabwil) April 6, 2022
Only 23% of practicing Christians report that their church is engaged in raising awareness among its congregants on the issue of criminal justice. How can the Church be intentional about addressing justice issues in their community & seat of government?
i think the American Church has bought into the misconception that ministry only exists inside the walls of a church. when the Church allows their minsitry to roam freely and not be confined to a building, merely talking about injustices becomes insufficient https://t.co/538uBR1c1s
— Ev (@BeatBoxinCurry) April 6, 2022
Re-entering society from prison can often be a lonely, difficult path. How can churches and communities support people who are navigating reentry?
A10. People need help over the long haul. This isn't the type of ministry you do on a weekend & say "see ya!"
It is incarnational, ministry
Callouses on your praying knees, ministry
Live life w/them for a while!#SecondChanceMonth
— Rev. Johnnie Moore ن (@JohnnieM) April 6, 2022
Q10. Gut check time. Ask your church who do you want to be a church for? If you say you want to be a church for sinners in need of the Savior then that includes former prisoners reentering society, returning to your community, and needing a church home that will love on them. https://t.co/MChS1Z7W2l
— Andrew Brashier 📖🫓🍷 (@abrashierlaw) April 6, 2022
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