by Emily Andrews
How does our faith impact the way we face a broken world?
Sometimes it seems like violent crime is everywhere. From doom-scrolling social media to scanning daily news, we often confront more discouraging information than we know how to handle. Bold headlines invite us to tap our phone screens for the next story or “hot take.”
How do followers of Christ apply a biblical lens to difficult issues like violent crime? We are curious. We are concerned. And we don’t always know how to respond. With any sensitive topic, it helps to set aside differing opinions on the fruit of humanity’s sin problem—the violence and brokenness in the world around us—and consider the root.
A BROKEN WORLD
We know from Genesis 1 that God created this world and called it good. He made humans in His image, giving them dignity and free will. Ultimately Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, and the impact of sin resounds throughout history. Scripture also indicates that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual darkness (Ephesians 6:12). We have an enemy who intends to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).
Still, God is good and sovereign beyond our understanding. His heart breaks at our sin and pain, and He is no stranger to the human condition. Jesus experienced the whole of human suffering and died on a cross for us. Then He rose again, conquering sin and death to set us free from darkness and reconcile us to Himself.
As believers, we journey this in-between space, knowing the risen Savior and still awaiting His ultimate victory when He will wipe every tear (Revelation 21:4). Then, death and mourning will be but a memory. Evil will not have the last say. While this desperate world groans to be made right, God is at work to restore all things.
FACING THE FACTS
Our world is far from perfect. Many Americans fear the rise of violent crime (murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault). While recent reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed a 29% increase in homicides from 2019 to 2020, violent crime overall rose by an estimated 6%. Despite this troubling increase, the homicide rate remains significantly below the national peak recorded during the 1980s.
Even a historically moderate increase in the violent crime rate is devastating to those directly affected and distressing to the general public. Americans often overestimate the violent crime rate. According to a Barna survey commissioned by Prison Fellowship, evangelical Christians are more likely than other groups to make this mistake—a tendency that developed even before rates started to climb. But the public’s perception is largely divorced from real data and more shaped by media stories and political rhetoric from leaders trying to garner votes.
A BIBLICAL LENS FOR VIOLENT CRIME
Hearing the worst news stories can inflate our sense of the current threat. While fear is an understandable response to violence, exaggerated beliefs can give way to unnecessary panic. Anxiety and misinformation fuel unfair views of some high-crime communities, leading to “tough on crime” solutions that do more harm than good.
Deadly violence dishonors the innate, God-given dignity of all people and brings grave loss to families and communities. It forces us to contend with the frailty of this life and the vulnerability of our human bodies.
One response is to reach for any shred of control, perceived or otherwise, within our grasp. Some people avoid the news to protect themselves. Others believe knowledge is power. It can be satisfying to post what we find to social media or send it to the family group chat—if nothing else, sharing invites connection when it feels like the world is falling apart. We need to feel we aren’t alone.
A CALL TO DISCERNMENT
Christians have a responsibility to examine our media sources and separate truth from spin. The Apostle Paul warned us not to be deceived by empty words: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8–10).
Every news source has a slant; as readers we must be sober-minded and aware of our own partiality. It can be prudent to read widely since no outlet will guarantee a neutral account every time. The more sources we consider, the closer we may get to discerning the truth.
Our primary citizenship as believers is in heaven. Our ultimate allegiance is to Christ. Together, we can pray for the wisdom and humility to be aligned with Him and set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2)—not just seek the voices that confirm our political preferences.
Ask yourself questions as you consume media and before you share with others
- Who is providing the facts?
- Could one of these sources benefit from its specific angle on the event?
- How are the figures being reported and are they accurate?
- Is this just clickbait? Is there an authoritative source?
- How do our media consumption habits and group affiliations shape, or fit into, our perceptions of the message being shared?
- How does the current situation compare to historical trends?
LOVE IN ACTION
Once we have considered the facts, we are compelled to respond. The Gospel turns us outward to shine a light and to act justly. We can show compassion as we are led by the Holy Spirit, even in the face of legitimate fear.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus clarifies the Christian calling to love our neighbors. The robbers who attacked the traveler and left him for dead aren’t the only villains in the story. Jesus calls attention to the ones who passed by the injured man and said, “That’s not my problem.” Perhaps they avoided getting too close out of fear that they might become the next victims.
As Christians, we are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet—to stand with victims, to love the grieving, to seek truth, to do justice. We can bear witness to this broken world with a sound mind and mourn with those who mourn. We look for practical and spiritual care for survivors of crime, motivated by love to come close to the hurting, poor, and most vulnerable people in our communities. We can advocate for just, proportional penalties for crime that reflect the human dignity of both the victim and the perpetrator.
RESTORING THE BROKENHEARTED
Prison Fellowship understands that drawing close is often the first step in mending the lives that crime once shattered. We can walk with families of the incarcerated and minister to the brokenhearted with care. We come alongside people who have a criminal record, knowing they are made in God’s image with boundless worth in His sight. We share God’s Word behind bars, believing the truth will set the captive free. In programs like the Prison Fellowship Academy, a prison sentence can transform into a journey of repentance, healing, and preparation for a life of purpose.
It’s been said that one way we honor victims is by ensuring that someone never returns to crime, thus creating fewer victims. Prison Fellowship sees the need for values-based programs that cultivate deep personal transformation, including curricula about victim impact. Programs like the Academy promote accountability and lay the groundwork for change. Prisons and jails can be centers of redemption, enabling people to be upstanding citizens and good neighbors rather than entrenching their criminal lifestyle.
Certain people should not and will not ever be eligible for release. But a violent crime conviction does not exclude someone from the chance to embrace hope and a future. God’s design for restoration involves even the person with a criminal past, and they should be able to serve their time and move on to safe, successful professions—just as Aaron, Jesse, Mia, and Eddie, and others have.
BECOME THE SOLUTION
A select few like Darrell will be equipped to one day step into a field full of trauma, such as violence prevention. After more than 20 years behind bars, Darrell returned to the Portsmouth, Virginia, neighborhood where he once saw himself as part of the problem. He had gone from abusing and selling drugs to breaking into houses and stealing cars. Fights were commonplace.
Now, Darrell strives to be part of the solution to violent crime. He founded a nonprofit, Give Back to Da Block, to intervene in young lives and steer them away from crime. He often shares his redemption story with local youth who remind him of a younger Darrell.
A trusted voice in his community, Darrell serves as a “credible messenger” by forging connections with law enforcement and the public. Credible messengers are often faith leaders, well-respected community members, or formerly incarcerated or justice-involved people who have experienced transformation and want to be a resource in their community.
“The police are paid to perform a duty, but we as citizens have a duty too,” says Darrell. “A safer community creates a safer environment which creates a safer society. It starts one block at a time.”
HOPE FOR THE HURTING
The message of the Bible not only saves individual souls, but also offers hope and practical guidance to restore broken systems that contribute to violent crime. It’s why Prison Fellowship serves as a leading faith-based voice shaping the public debate on justice reform. We enable Christians to champion a more restorative approach to justice that advances proportional punishment, constructive prison culture, and second chances. Together, we strive to “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” as far as it depends on us (Isaiah 1:17).
Prison Fellowship has inspired the Church to seek justice, love mercy, and restore hope to those affected by crime and incarceration for nearly 50 years. Why care for and invest in people who commit crimes? Because people matter to God, and people can change—and when they do, everyone stands to benefit. While we ache for peace and renewal, we do not grow weary of doing good (Galatians 6:9). Every transformed life, restored relationship, and faithful servant shines as a glimpse of the promise that hope does not disappoint, even in dark days.
May the hope of the Gospel anchor us, not that the reality of suffering would be avoided, but that our pain would be transformed through God’s abiding presence with us. He makes all things new. His Spirit empowers us to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). By sowing seeds of peace, we will not abandon our neighbors to face trouble alone.
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