In 2013, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted the social statement "The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries." This 62 page document includes 3 pages of glossary, and 9 pages of endnotes. It attempts to cover a huge array of topics all related to criminal justice. They include: victims; law enforcement; judicial system; corrections; racism; reentry; immigration detention; the church's call.
Noting that the Bible presents a vision of God's justice, the statement builds a theological case for the church's involvement in issues related to the criminal justice system. The statement lists 4 practices for ELCA members to engage in:
+ Hearing the cries
Other trends the statement supports include:
+Victims' rights and needs
+Community-based alternatives to incarceration
+Reentry programs to prevent recidivism
In addition, the statement notes the significant harms-both personal and social-- resulting from mass incarceration. It encourages :
+Alternatives to incarceration
+Reform of sentencing laws and policies
+Rethinking national drug policy
Other recommendations include:
+Address the racism within the system (both implicit and explicit)
+Recognize special needs of juvenile offenders
+Stop privatization of prison facilities
+Effective re-integration of ex-offenders into community.
You can find the full text of this and other Social Statements at www.elca.org/socialstatements. You can also find study guides for discussion. With legislative sessions coming up in both Montana and Wyoming, you may find this to be an excellent way to engage faith in action.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Advent isn't just about the preparation for Christmas. It is about the waiting in the in-between time for the coming of the Lord. And so the texts that we read are challenging-challenging to the status quo. We do not really know what the coming of the Lord will be like. They didn't know the first time, and we don't know now.
Despite my theological training and my years as a pastor, I carry deep within me an expectation that Advent will be an orderly and predictable progression from Advent 1 to Christmas Eve. In my mind, the candles in the Advent wreath are burned in nice uniform steps.
But life isn't that way, is it? And neither is Advent. Advent is as full of the unexpected, the disruptive, as any other time of year. During Advent in my first call, my grandfather died. An unanticipated trip to Pennsylvania to be with family and speak at the funeral meant that the Advent candle for that week didn't get to burn down the way I had expected. Another year our first child was born. Another year my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Another year a friend's son was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident. Another year my brother found out that his cancer had come back.
Probably our most meaningful Christmas as a family was when we had to cancel a week in Bermuda with extended family because of a dubious MRI that looked like the return of a brain tumor. We had no commitments, no parties to attend, no gifts to wrap. We just had ourselves, and we experienced Christmas in a way more profound than we ever had before.
The Advent texts we read are not particularly comforting. They tell of divisions and upheavals. That may not be what we expect to hear in Advent. We want to hear about the coming of the Christ child-peace on earth, good will towards all.
In my experience, Advent shows us why we need peace on earth, good will towards all.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
In the Northern Hemisphere the days are getting shorter.
Each day the sun comes up later, and sets earlier. I am still driving to work in daylight, but I go home in the dark. The Christmas lights on the houses as I drive home- some garish, some sweet- cheer me as I join the traffic heading across town. I don't know what it is like to spend Advent in the Southern Hemisphere with the days getting longer as Christmas approaches. Maybe some day I will find out visiting one of our companion synods. Until then, I experience Advent as a time of increasing darkness. At least physically.
But there's this light that shines in the darkness, and no matter what, the darkness does not overcome it. It is the light of Christ, coming into the world, shining in spite of the darkness, refusing to give in to despair, to grief, to pain. Advent's darkness reminds us of our need for life-giving light. Without light we cannot survive. A catastrophic event, whether natural or human caused, could block our sunlight and cause life on earth as we know it to cease. That is darkness unto death.
As December plunges us into darkness, we seek God's presence with an intensity that we do not necessarily experience in the summer months. And we wait for God's coming to be among us. We never really know what that will be like, do we? Did the occupied Jews of first century
Palestine expect that God would come as a nearly homeless infant, and die as a condemned
criminal? Do we recognize Jesus in the stranger, the refugee, the prisoner, the homeless person?
Advent challenges us to seek God, to see the light in the darkness. The people who have walked in darkness shall see a great light. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.
Thanks be to God.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA