“We know too much to ever be fooled into believing that prisons are natural or normal.” Willie James Jennings
“Arrest, incarceration, and imprisonment have never been and never are neutral processes, functioning according to basic rules of justice and human utility. Incarceration is a process at the disposal of the rich and powerful . . . . The prison has never been about criminals but about societies. As this story of Paul and Silas [Acts 16:16-40] indicates, the prison is a tool for control and containment. The question we must continually ask is, Who desires to use this tool? This question turns a searchlight toward finding who, how, and why the prison gets used. . . . This is why we are told to visit those in prison as though we ourselves were imprisoned with them (Heb. 13:3). We must be present in the prison to destroy its anthropology and challenge its false morality and to witness to all those incarcerated a God familiar with confinement and torture, disrespect and abuse. Yet we must also be present in all the places where laws are made and modified to advantage some and disadvantage others, and to challenge social policies that align those already suffering under poverty on a pathway to prison by strangling off the resources and social services they need in order to build a flourishing life.” Willie James Jennings
“But Saul began to destroy the church.
Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women
and put them in prison.” Acts 8:3 NIV
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- When you think of prisoners, do you think not only of Alcatraz and Rikers Island but also of John Lewis, John Donne, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Richard Wurmbrand, Adoniram Judson, William Tyndale, John Knox, Martin Luther, John Hus, Joan of Arc, George Fox, John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, William Penn, Meriam Ibrahim, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus himself? . . . Do you think of people you know? . . . family members?
- Do you think of prison as a necessary cure for the problem (as “inevitable”) or as contributing to the problem (“unjust” or “a tool for control/the “rich and powerful”)?
- Does God care about prisons and love prisoners? Does our society? Do Christians? What are your “trigger” feelings when you think about it?
Abba, may I never forget that I worship “a God familiar with confinement and torture, disrespect and abuse.”
For More: Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible by Willie James Jennings
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