Congress Guts Crime Victims Fund

What do you do when you want to balance the budget and don't know how to compromise? Well, if you're Congress, you raid $1.5 billion from a fund set up specifically for crime victims and hope no one notices.

The Victims of Crime Act fund, set up by Congress in 1984, is distributed to states to support local domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and a variety of victim assistance programs for survivors of trauma and crime. The thing is, this is a self-sufficient federal fund — meaning that it doesn't come from taxpayer money but rather the fines and penalties imposed on criminals and offenders.   

The Lives of Others

WE LIVE IN A TIME of widespread violence. No country, no community, no person is untouched by violence. It is a complex problem stemming from our thought patterns and actions that are, in turn, shaped by various forces in our daily lives. Because violence is so complex, we often seek an easy answer—typically, naming a specific religion, culture, ethnicity, or nationality as a cause of the evil that perpetrates or stimulates violence.

But we all know that such scapegoating is another crime that only creates more violence. Each and every individual and community has good and bad, strength and weakness, merit and demerit. Just as no one is perfectly good, no one is perfectly evil. In her well-known book Eichmann in Jerusalem, philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt points out that evil is related to the lack of reflective thinking. “The longer one listened to [Eichmann],” writes Arendt, “the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of someone else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and presence of others, and hence against reality as such.”

For Arendt, to think reflectively means to be aware and to take into account the reality that one’s own life is always in relation to the lives of others. This is also what the biblical texts this month invite us to contemplate.

Min-Ah Cho is assistant professor of theology and spirituality at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn.

[Novemeber 2]
When Injustice is 'Normal' 
Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12 

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St. Louis Archbishop Carlson Said He's Not Sure He Knew Sexual Abuse Was a Crime

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson exiting the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. By Geerlingguy (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday.

During the deposition taken last month, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”

Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.

Can We Be a Society of Second Chances?

Man praying, KieferPix /

Man praying, KieferPix /

For most folks, these names will not mean much: Eric Pizer, Christopher Barber, and Andrew Harris.

They are names that may have a bit resonance in Wisconsin, where I am from. What they represent, though, are the struggles we face as a society dealing with concepts of repentance and redemption. They represent the way those concepts get overrun by politicians seeking to exploit the public’s fears. We as a people, after all, do not seem to be in a very forgiving mood these days.

So the distinctive stories of these three Wisconsin residents might offer a good starting point for Christians thinking about what our faith tradition calls us to during this season of Lent.

Gun Crime Decreases, Americans Think It's Up

Two studies of government data show US Gun crime has decreased from its peak in the middle of 1990s. However more than 50% of American think gun crime has risen. The media coverage of recent mass shooting may contribute to the misconception. The Los Angeles Times reports:

The number of gun killings dropped 39% between 1993 and 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in a separate report released Tuesday. Gun crimes that weren’t fatal fell by 69%.

Read more here.

What If It’s Not the Prisoner Who Needs Forgiveness?

Screenshot from Redemption of the Prosecutor

Screenshot from Redemption of the Prosecutor

We started making our new documentary “Redemption of the Prosecutor” for the same reason we always do: someone told us a story.

Bill Mefford works in the social justice office of the United Methodist Church, and he called us last August to say he’d just seen an amazing talk. The talker was one Preston Shipp, a devout Christian and former prosecutor from Nashville who went into a local prison to teach. When Preston heard the inmates’ stories, he began to realize how unjust the system was. He was especially torn up about an inmate named Cyntoia, who was Preston’s star student and had received a life sentence as a juvenile. Preston underwent a spiritual crisis that boiled down to a fundamental question: “How can I reconcile the job I was being asked to do as a prosecutor with my faith in Jesus, who proclaimed release for prisoners?” We won’t give away the ending, but there’s a surprising twist that left us saying this is a story that needs to be told in churches across America.

The Weight

Does anybody else feel this weight?

I woke up this morning in tears. I don’t know why today is different, but I do know the weight is for my brothers and sisters who are in pain.

I imagined what the night was like for folks in my neighborhood who had to fend off threats last night.

I imagine the young girl in a car — against her will or against her first choice — with the guy named John, and I lament for her soul.

I imagine the young guy standing out all night selling death so he can have a little life — whether it’s in the form of food, dignity or just to feel like he is meeting some need, somehow.

I imagine the mom lying in the bed next to someone she would rather not touch, but because he pays the bills for her kids to eat and sleep, she puts up with his abuse and doesn’t say anything about the other woman he also lies with around the corner.

Project Safe Surrender

Last week, 2001 cases were resolved — many were dropped and others left offenders with minor fines. People who showed up to the event also received resources and assistance for services related to health, housing, employment, and education. 

While the program is not explicitly religious, church and clergy involvement shed light on the Christian spirit of the initiative. Project Safe Surrender is not quite Jubilee— offenders aren’t guaranteed amnesty — but there is a taste of the Resurrection.

Say It Ain't So, David

King David (left, by Paul Reubens) and Joe Paterno (coaching in 2010)

King David (left, by Paul Reubens) and Joe Paterno (coaching in 2010)

Abuse of physical strength and power hasn’t been limited to the locker rooms at Penn State. Nor is it limited to middle-aged men. It's in every culture, every city and state, and in every generation. And, I might add, it is both wicked and foolish.

I think we’ve been given enough examples of such abuse being handled incorrectly—to be swept under the rug instead of dealt with directly. The silence of witnesses only allows the abuse to continue. When I spoke with Daniel Walker, author of the new book God in a Brothel, about child slavery and prostitution, he noted that the men who oppress women and children don’t need to be ministered to as much as they need to be held accountable.

Joe Pa, 84, who had coached at Penn State for more than 45 years, has been fired, and the university’s president has resigned over the abuse scandal. Both actions were reactive responses to a problem that really needed proactive intervention.

Crime, Forgiveness and Retributive Justice: A God's Politics Interview with Naseem Rakha

Naseem Rakha, author of the 2009 novel The Crying Tree sees justice differently. Rakha, an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on National Public Radio and elsewhere, has covered two death penalty cases in Oregon -- the only two in that state's history -- and has spent considerable time exploring the deeper story behind capital punishment, retributive justice and forgiveness.

"What I learned from talking to these victims is that there is a place, not called closure, not called moving on, but there is a place of empowerment," Rakha said in a recent interview with God's Politics. "Crime strips people of power, and there's nothing that the justice system or really even churches can give to you to replace that power. It is an act of wanting to sit down and meet with the person who strips that power from you that has transformed people's lives and gotten them to a point where they can forgive the act, because they see the perpetrator no longer as a monster, but as a human that has made a terrible mistake."