Photograph by Julie Fletcher
Voting members gave a resounding yes to "Hearing the Cries," the ELCA social statement on criminal justice, approving 882-25 the denomination's 12th social statement and, by a subsequent 891-22 vote, its 11 implementing resolutions.
During debate voting members referred to the high incarceration rate in the U.S. and the disproportionate way in which racial minorities are jailed and serve more time for the same offenses. The debate also revealed significant discomfort with racial identifiers and the language the church uses for ethnic minorities.
Beth Dirkin, North/West Lower Michigan Synod, said the statement can help ELCA members "confront racism in our culture."
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate of any state in the U.S. or the world, said Michael R. Button, a pastor in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod. Bringing reform to Louisiana, he said, means "we will have to contend with one individual who goes by the name of Jim Crow. Do not mistake him for the Old Jim Crow. [He] wears $1,000 suits, $500 shoes and gets $200 haircuts. And he will cut you before you know it.
"[Reform will] require more than our dozen or so ELCA congregations. You came to our assistance during [Hurricane] Katrina. We need your assistance now. We will not get through the door of the governor's office [without] your help."
Congregations should become intentional sites for criminal justice ministry, said Heather Kulp, Metropolitan Chicago Synod. "People who have been incarcerated and their families sit next to you at church already," she said. "You may not know, and they may not want to tell you."
Matt Musteric of the Northwestern Ohio Synod favored the statement but had one complaint: "At the center of our faith is an unjustly accused and executed criminal. ... My only lament is that [this statement] didn't begin robustly with Jesus Christ."
The amended implementing resolutions call ELCA members, congregations, synods, social ministry organizations, institutions and churchwide ministries to prayer, discernment and Christian education; advocacy for reform; hospitality to both victims and offenders caught up in and those committed to serving in the criminal justice system; and more.
The resolutions charge churchwide staff with creating and maintaining a resource database, additional liturgical resources and educational materials.
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