Economic Justice

Second Chances: A Deeply Biblical Value

A dove flies above a cage of glass. Image courtesy Yu Lan/shutterstock.com.

A dove flies above a cage of glass. Image courtesy Yu Lan/shutterstock.com.

It’s no secret that the prison population in the United States has exploded in recent decades. We incarcerate our citizens at higher rates than any other developed nation. The federal prison population has increased by almost 790 percent since 1980. The number of children with one or more incarcerated parents has increased at an astonishing rate of 80 percent since 1991.

The mass incarceration of mostly Black and Latino men and women has moral implications in two ways. First, our current “tough-on-crime” approach to criminal justice has cost taxpayers a substantial amount with little effect on crime rates. These tax dollars could be spent instead on education, mental health, or drug rehabilitation. The way we spend public money reflects our public values. (Sound familiar?)

In addition, there are far-reaching moral implications of the act of naming someone “criminal." This label is inhumane, unjust, and unholy.

The “criminal” label has devastating effects on quality of life and equality of opportunity for many individuals. It is nearly impossible to shake. Most federal education grants are not available to someone with a criminal background. In many cities, access to subsidized or public housing is banned based on arrests or incarceration. Many states ban those with criminal backgrounds from food stamp eligibility. Being forced tocheck the box on an employment application indicating a past felony conviction essentially lands that application in the trash. The Sentencing Project estimates a total of 5.85 million people have been banned from voting because of a past conviction.

But Christians have a unique, biblically-based perspective on labels. In Christ, “sinners” become “beloved ones." The excluded, hated, and oppressed become included, wanted, and loved.

Social Justice for Us Today: Sojourners' Summit

Sojourners, a national Christian organization, is celebrating more than 40 years of faith in action for social justice. It has become an important movement within Christianity as it continues to "inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church and the world." Recently, Sojourners has taken on crucial issues such as the global economic crisis, health-care reform, immigration reform, climate change, racial justice and issues of gender.

Loving the Least of These - A Social Change Movement

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Jim Wallis, President and founder of Sojourners, a Christian organization committed to faith in action for social justice, Jim Wallis is also the author of "On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good,” a New York Times best seller. That book encourages Christians to love their neighbors and thereby serve the common good. Jim believes the good news of Jesus not only transforms our personal but also our public lives.

How to End Poverty by Jim Wallis

It is not often that Sojourners president Jim Wallis puts forth ideas that align with those of the Acton Institute. However, in a recent interview, Wallis (touting his new book, Uncommon Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided) said that he recognizes that there are three keys to ending poverty: work and economic activity, innovation, education.

Economic Equity and Gender Equality for South Africa: A New Agenda for a New Generation

Dawn in Cape Town. Image courtesy Denis Mironov/shutterstock.com

Dawn in Cape Town. Image courtesy Denis Mironov/shutterstock.com

In a township called Khayelitsha, a woman wakes well before dawn to catch a bus that will carry her to the beautiful home in Cape Town where her employer/boss/master wants his tea in bed by 7 a.m. That is what “post-apartheid” South Africa still looks like today.

I just returned from a remarkable month in South Africa—the country that changed my life. I’ve often said that I learned my theology of hope from South Africa, during the anti-apartheid struggle I was thrust into as a young man. South African church leaders invited me in years ago. I got to see and experience the costly movement for freedom in the 1980s, witness the miracle of the inauguration of Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation in 1994, and later join a wonderful reunion of South African activists, many of whom had been in exile or in prison, along with some of us international allies. So when I set out on a South African speaking and book tour 20 years after the new democracy, I didn’t know what to expect.

This time, I brought my family so they could see the country that had meant so much to me. What I discovered was a new generation of South African leaders ready to define their own vocation and mission as they help build a new nation. I quickly came to understand that making a deep connection with them was the real reason that I had come back. It’s tough to be in the shadow of a heroic generation of leaders like Desmond Tutu whose agenda has been the political liberation of South Africa—accomplished to the amazement of the world. On this trip, 20 years later, I saw the incredible freedom of movement now for all the former racial categories—but also how the systemic geography of apartheid was still painfully evident.

Economic inequality in South Africa is now greater than it was even during the days of apartheid, and gender violence is rampant. So these are the new agendas of a new generation: economic liberation and gender equality, with a commitment to lead on both in the churches. The rainbow of young people who turned up in such great numbers at all of our events truly want a new South Africa— a society yet to emerge.

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