Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter celebrates rebuke of an unfair justice system, but too few Christians seem to notice

Today, all of Christendom celebrates the victory over the grave of a man who was wrongfully convicted and executed, but I'm not sure most Christians ever think of the Passion story in terms of those criminal justice implications.

I wonder how many preachers in their Easter sermons this morning will ask parishioners to remember innocent people who've been convicted, or remind them that Jesus, were he convicted in modern times, might well be sitting on death row waiting for his appeals to be processed? Will any suggest that the Passion story may question the wisdom of the death penalty, since innocent people from Christ's time to the present day have been sentenced to death?

Will ministers suggest to their flocks that if Jesus Christ, perfection's own embodiment, could be wrongly sentenced for a crime, it could happen to them or to anyone so they should show compassion for the accused? Will any link Christ's own criminal conviction in the Passion story with his demand that Christians visit those in prison and provide them comfort?

And finally, when voices from the pulpit proclaim that Christ's victory over death "paid for the sins of all," will any religious leaders go on in the next breath to explain how Christians can then justify imprisoning 1 in 99 American adults, punishing them for sins already paid for by the blood and sacrifice of the Son of God?

Let me know if any of these themes cropped up in the Easter services you attend today. I hope so, but I'm willing to bet not.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Scott! Amen!

Anonymous said...

Before the great judgment seat of God all are guilty. The sacrifice of Jesus is effectual only to those who sincerely repent and turn away. It's grace, but it's not cheap do- as-you-will sort of grace. In the meantime,God has given us the responsibility to deal with those among us who do not respect the dignity of their fellow human beings. Let's not put God's perfect justice and our imperfect justice on the same level. When we do that we cheapen God's.

Anonymous said...

God Bless You Lilian.Well said and better thought out than the article. Yes Jesus was falsely accused and paid our price for our sins. However he also taught and eye for an eye and to forgive SO! with the free agency he gave us we do the best we can in any given time in history and pray he will forgive us our sins made with imperfect knowledge.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"God has given us the responsibility to deal with those among us who do not respect the dignity of their fellow human beings"

Is this why Jesus told those who would stone an adulteress, "Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone"? I think Jesus expected the Christian vision of justice and mercy to be embraced, by Christians, in their own actions here on earth.

Think of the parable where the master forgave the debts of the servant, but the servant failed to forgive the debts of another and was therefore punished. God's forgiveness requires that we also forgive one another here on earth, or we will not receive grace ourselves for our own sins down the line.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Grits!
Happy Easter.

Anonymous said...

angel wrote, "he also taught an eye for an eye"

No, actually Jesus overturned the eye for an eye doctrine. The disciples asked if they should forgive a sinner as many as seven times, and Jesus said, no, forgive seventy times seven. (Matt. 18:22)

Not only that, he told them to forgive people in the real world, and to do their best to practice "God's perfect justice" in their daily lives. He didn't tell them, "Don't worry, you're not God so that doesn't apply to you."

Anonymous said...

The religious right uses religion for their own agenda and so do you. Both are wrong.

Anonymous said...

As with many stories in the Bible, the trial and conviction of Christ has many current day parallels. Corrupt church and government officials convicted Christ for their own self centered reasons. If the nation of Israel accepted Jesus as the Messiah the religious leaders of the day believed they would have been out of a job. The Roman government saw Jesus as a threat to the Roman leaders. Today we have tough on crime politicians who make and enforce laws not to improve society but to insure reelection. Term limits for elected politicians makes sense in view of the self serving government corruption that has been documented for at least the past two thousand years.

God chooses to operate under a state of grace. Many people find it hard to believe God will pardon the killer just as easily as them. It just doesn’t seem they should be treated the same by God as the dregs of society in their mind. Many over look the Bible verse that tells us all have sinned and fallen short. The highest to the lowest are as filthy rags before God! Without Jesus all would be condemned as law breakers to death.

Matthew 25 is very clear in what Jesus expects of us. Jesus expects us to restore our fallen and troubled fellow man. Locking up people without restoration is in direct opposition to the core teachings of Jesus. Because we as a society of people in the United States fail to follow the teachings of Jesus our corrections systems are a dismal failure. The failure to restore people released from prison to full membership in society fuels the revolving door of our prison systems. Jesus didn’t suggest we take a chance on others, He commanded us to do so! We all fail on a regular basis yet Jesus gave His life for us. Jesus loved us even though we are sinners.

For the record I have a degree in Theology and have served as an inmate Chaplain for many years. Most of the years I served as a correctional Chaplain I did it on a voluntary basis. The life and teachings of Jesus have very profound implications people refuse to accept. How different our world would be if we could do a better job of thinking and acting like Jesus.

Anonymous said...

We in the US like to fashion ourselves as the most Godly country in the world, yet US justice is a far cry from God's justice. Folks like to quote out passages like the "eye for an eye" to justify harsh punishment, without ever realizing that that particular passage put a limit on what was then contemporary punishment. The Torah clearly calls for just and merciful dealings with our fellow humans, and the prophets railed against selfishness and injustice. Amos simplified the Teaching by saying, "What is required of you, O man, but to seek justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?" Jesus made it clear, as was quoted by others here, that God's justice is merciful and restorative. He even forgave, from the cross, those who crucified him!

Moses led the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, yet once out in the desert, they longed to return to bondage. Jesus provides us with a way out of bondage to sin and death, yet we keep ourselves in a bondage of fear and unforgiveness.

The Hebrew word that we translate as salvation, "shua," does not refer to pie in the sky, it refers to healing, and making whole, of restoring us to who we were created to be. Ye-shua (Jesus) died to make us whole. Why do we, in the name of religion, (like the religious leaders of his time) insist on refusing the invitation to the banquet?

Thank you for this post, Scott.

Old Salty

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering how many tats would you see with "WWJD" in correctional facilities?

Anonymous said...

I don't know about what kind of tats he might have had, but the great King David was an adulter and a murderer. Never-the-less, two of the Gospel evangelists make a point of tracing the lineage of Jesus to King David. Talk about restorative justice! Old Salty

Anonymous said...

I love how out of context the eye for an eye was taken. I used it to show that not every parable was fact, just a way of giving information for thought. I believe that we are responsible for our actions and restitution for wrongs must be made. Once this is done then we should be forgiven and given a second chance in life. Yep I am a do "gooder". I enjoyed the prison Chaplian's comment, it was very well articulated much better than I could have put it. I agree with most of the post to a point so no argument from me. Keep up the interesting articles Scott.

Anonymous said...

I am proud to say that I follow no organized religious doctrine, yet I am still able to follow a moral and ethical path in life. I believe "Do unto others..." and the many other examples of religious dogma that reminds us we are all the same flesh and blood. People often feel much more secure in their worlds when they can point to the "bad guys" and not look at themselves. It is a flaw of human nature. As a society, in spite of religion, we need to look at our humanity with each other. "What you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks everybody for the great discussion.

Angel, just for the record, "an eye for an eye" isn't a parable and isn't something Jesus said. That's Old Testament Jewish doctrine which, as Old Salty mentions, is often portrayed more harshly today than when it was pronounced. The New Testament Covenant (and our theologian friend can correct me if I'm wrong) tossed out that code in favor of an ethic of forgiveness.

Even if that weren't the case, even if "we are responsible for our actions and restitution for wrongs must be made" (though as Paul told the Romans, "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God"), for many crimes that hardly applies. E.g., to whom do you give restitution for drug crimes or prostitution (when compensation has already been had for goods or services)? For illegal immigration? (One notices the Israelites did not wait for approved visas before entering lands that didn't want them.)

So even applying your narrower view of Christian justice, I think a Christian ethic must have serious criticisms of our modern justice system. If you accept the New Testament's more radical dicta, e.g., "Judge not, lest ye be judged," then the system requires an almost volcanic rethinking.

And no, Lilian, by forgiveness I don't mean license. I mean that our criminal justice agenda should be driven by public safety goals and restoration, not punishment, which is God's purview.

Unknown said...

The question arises: Have you taken Jesus as your own personal mascot, in order to feel good about yourself and others with like feelings? Are you willing to do what it takes to expand his personal fan club - including amassing personal wealth, power and influence to coerce others into good behavior and proper lifestyles in his name and for the greater glory of his most loyal fans?
If not, then you are not a true Christian.

reach out said...

I didn't hear it in church but in my heart, I did. I am working on opening a free criminal defense legal clinic for the very ones you speak about -- those wrongfully convicted and unfairly sentenced. There aren't many places they can turn for legal help from those who know their sins are paid for, as are mine, and want to fight on their behalf. We are called to be gapstanders -- and I don't know anyone who needs that more than those locked away in the bowels of jails and prisons -- too easily forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Our Pastor mentioned those who are innocent but yet convicted. Jesus was perfect and yet He was convicted and punished and died a horrible death for all of us.

Justice in Texas does not exist, it is left to whatever the Judge and DA want to do and most times the defense lawyer is also involved and no one has a chance to beat the odds.

Anonymous said...

We can neither cheapen nor make the Grace of God more meaningful. Stop it!

Anonymous said...

Jesus was not falsely accused. He claimed to be God.

He was not believed and was wrongfully punished.

His death was ultimately the result of human power and politics. His resurrection was an altogether different story.

Religion as usual has screwed things up. Become misguided. Why religious people put so much time and effort into law and politics, rather than ministering to the needs of people is saddening. Certainly not Christlike, and certainly not consistent with the mentality of religious organizations that influenced the founding of our country.

God (i.e., Love) is both Justice and Mercy, Holiness and Grace.

Amen grits.

Anonymous said...


1 Timothy 4:9-10

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.