• Most U.S. crime is not violent and crime rates have been dropping since the early 1990s.
• The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
• Most offenses don’t result in arrest.
• Only a small percentage of criminal cases involve jury trials.
Source: “Hearing the Cries,” ELCA Criminal Justice Study.
The ELCA Criminal Justice Task Force will release a draft of the proposed social statement "Hearing the Cries" on March 15.
Social statements express the church's biblical and confessional understanding related to significant issues. ELCA members can use them for teaching and moral guidance. While social statements govern church policy, they don't bind an individual member's conscience.
In January, The Lutheran spoke with Roger Willer, director for studies in the Office of the Presiding Bishop, about the proposed social statement, which could come before the 2013 Churchwide Assembly.
The Lutheran: What's the ELCA's current position on criminal justice?
Willer: The ELCA doesn't yet have a comprehensive teaching and social policy document on criminal justice. A 1991 statement on the death penalty and a 1994 message on community violence offer limited reflection on the system as a whole. Why have a statement now?
Seven ELCA synods asked for this statement. The U.S. has the highest percentage of incarcerated people of any country in the world. Leaders from (former) Justice John Paul Stevens to legal scholar Michelle Alexander (author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) are calling the system broken. The timing puts the ELCA in the forefront of Christians contributing to public deliberation today.
As a church we are motivated by God's call to be in the world and to bear one another's burdens. Jesus tells us that ministry to people in prison is ministry to him (Matthew 25:40). We depend on Scripture and the knowledge of ELCA members in the criminal justice system to help us think about these things from the vantage point of faith.
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