Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Poverty of Theology in Face of Mass For-Profit Incarceration

"During his only visit to America, theologian Karl Barth in 1962 visited three prisons: Bridewell House of Correction in Chicago, San Quentin in California, and Rikers Island in New York. He called Bridewell 'Dante's inferno on earth' and said it was a contradiction of the wonderful message on the Statue of Liberty. Barth wondered aloud why theologians weren't denouncing the deplorable conditions in American prisons, calling on Reinhold Niebuhr in particular" (Christian Century, March 4, 2015)

Unfortunately this denunciation still applies to most contemporary theologians, and really the church in general. I have trouble thinking of a more clear sign of the bankruptcy of Christian faith in the United States than the lack of attention we give both in our practice and in our theology to the fact that we have become, by a wide margin, the largest incarceration culture and country in the world.

I am proud of the ELCA, because we adopted a social statement on Criminal Justice in 2013. It is not only a great social statement, but one of the more original theological proposals from our denomination in the last decade.

LIRS also does quite a bit advocating against unjust detention of families and children. Their backgrounder on the topic is helpful and illuminating:

One of the best on-line pieces I have read on the theology of mass incarceration is "Towards a Black-Womanist Theology of Mass Incarceration."

We have a long, long way to go. If we are serious about our faith, we will not allow our culture to do what it is attempting to do: to incarcerate millions of our neighbors in facilities shunted off and away from society, and to the financial benefit of for-profit prison corporations.

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