The Church Challenged to Lead

Jun 12, 2016

by Andy Hanson, Pastor at Celebration Fellowship, a three point congregation inside the walls of the Michigan State Correctional System


Can a child who grows up in an unloving environment have a proper understanding of love? Can a person who grew up in an environment where violence is the primary means of resolving disputes possibly, on his or her own, develop a proper sense of when and how to use violence? Should we be surprised when the victims of sexual abuse go on to perpetrate it?

During my time in prison ministry I’ve found that many, though not all, of the men who are incarcerated were indeed unwanted, uncared for, and unloved. Many suffered abuse at the hands of those who should love them the most – family, friends, and even clergy (who were likely abused as well). Of course, being on the receiving end of abuse as a child does not excuse anyone as an adult from perpetuating the cycle of violence. Violence toward others, whether that be physical, sexual, spiritual or mental, should not be tolerated. I’m not making excuses for anyone. Yet, don’t we as the church have a special call to nip the cycle of criminality in the bud? In practice, doesn’t much of the church effectively treat a large subsection of our society as if we wish they’d never been born? When will the church stop making excuses for itself and actually be pro-life?

God, as the creator of all life, is decidedly pro-life. The LORD was deliberate in how he created life and gave special status to humanity. While all the other creatures of the sea, air, and ground were made according to their kinds, the creation of humanity was different. Humanity was created in his own image, in the image of God he created them (Gen. 1:27). Pro-life means that we recognize the image of God within every human person. Human life is to be cherished because individuals carry within themselves, by virtue of being human, the breath of life made in the image of God. The image of God is to be respected and treated with dignity.

Does our treatment of prisoners reflect how we believe Jesus would have treated prisoners – people who bore the image of God? The writer of Hebrews had high regard for those behind bars. “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Heb. 13:3) Hebrews puts the incarcerated and the free on the same level. Christians should not desire for any prisoner to be treated in a way that he or should would not want to be treated.

I love the church and have seen it do a tremendous amount of good work. However, the church has left the “correction” of our society in the hands of state. Ours is an officially secular, one-size-fits-all justice system that is ineffective in preventing crime, often uses unnecessary force in enforcing the law, and actually perpetuates the cycle of criminality in our culture. The results? More abused children. More children without a mother or father at home. More children given over to the foster care system. More kids in the lobby of correctional facilities waiting to see their mommy or daddy dressed in prison blues. More kids who are being prepared, day by day, for their first day behind bars. The cycle continues, amplified by a system that is not pro-life.

Being pro-life means we stop expecting the government to do the job of the church when it comes to family relationships, poverty, and neglect that often find their logical conclusion in violence and incarceration. Being pro-life means being being pro-life for everyone, including prisoners. Being pro-life means recognizing that the same image of God that resides within each and every person outside the prison walls also resides within our brothers and sisters behind bars. Being pro-life means making vulnerable, broken families the special focus of attention for the church. Being pro-life means loving on prisoners as image bearers of God, no matter what their offense. Being pro-life means much, much more than going to the ballot box on election day. 

Category: Leadership

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