Do we really believe in redemption?
Redemption is a word often uttered within Christian circles. It is referenced in our liturgies. In the confessions of faith, we express our gratitude to a God who has reached out to redeem us in our brokenness. But, I wonder, how much we really believe in redemption incarnate?
One group of Minnesotans will be testing our stated commitment at the state legislature this year. The Second Chance Coalition, an amalgam of groups working with persons who have some history of incarceration and re-entry into society, is seeking remedies to the obstacles experienced by felons who are re-integrating into the community.
Of course, some fundamental questions are raised: What is the goal of incarceration? What forms of punishment have the greatest impact? How can society support ex-felons so that they don’t re-offend? Is crime related to poverty and inequality?
These are important questions; congregations would do well to address them through adult forums and discussions. They take us beyond our pietistic platitudes into the heart of our deepest beliefs.
How can society support ex-felons so that they don’t re-offend?
Can we really believe in a transcendent message of redemption if we don’t believe in the very imminent hope that criminals can change? One of the common worries of ex-offenders is that they are perceived as “once a felon, always a felon.” Do others believe their past mistakes have become part of their essential nature?
Incarnating a belief in redemption
Advocates for ex-offenders are pushing for “ban the box” legislation. If you have filled out applications, you’ve probably been confronted by “the box” that is to be checked if you have ever been convicted of a felony. For some, a decision must be made to tell the truth, knowing you will assuredly not receive an interview, or to leave the box blank, hoping to be able to explain your circumstance to another human being.
For most jobs, such a question really has no bearing. It is simply used as a justifiable way to discriminate in hiring. Certainly there are more sophisticated ways to determine whether someone would be a good employee or not.
Banning the box is a first step to affirm that, within this system, we still believe that redemption is possible, that real people can be successfully re-integrated in society and can become productive members of their community. It would demonstrate that we still think that rehabilitation is a value. We still think reconciliation and re-integration is a goal.