Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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Earlier this week I attended the first annual Christian Unity Gathering for the National Council of Churches (NCC) in Washington, DC. The Council has been restructured due to declining resources and this was the first time for denominational leaders, pastors, and professors from a wide variety of Christian traditions to join together to discuss one topic from a number of different angles. The topic for this gathering was mass incarceration, and the societal challenges faced by our criminal justice system.
I went into the meeting knowing very little about the issues involved, and left feeling very convicted about our need to address the ills associated with mass incarceration. Some of the statistics are staggering: There are nine times as many women in prison now than there were in 1977, and 80% of these women have school aged children. The average literacy rate of an inmate in Mississippi is 5th grade. The United States have 28% of the world’s prisoners, but only 5% of the world’s population. Only about one in five of prisoners ever get a visit from someone on the outside.
In the midst of this overwhelming problem, it is the last statistic that has really stuck with me. I also learned that a visit to a prisoner by a clergyperson has a much greater positive impact on recidivism (going back into the criminal justice system after being released) than any other kind of visit, including those from spouses, children, parents, close friends, etc. I have felt convicted enough by this to email Prison Fellowship to find out how I can begin to make visits.
I was grateful to the NCC for setting up this event. I learned a lot, and hope that it will shape one aspect of my discipleship for years to come.
However, I am concerned about the new structure of the NCC. The participants laid out grand plans for what might be accomplished in the area of mass incarceration, from advocacy to resources to congregational ministries, over the next year. But there is little staff to help facilitate progress on the goals, and there was little time to bond with other participants in order to build momentum for the work. It seems to me that awareness building and relationship building may be the best the NCC can offer in this new structure. Time will tell what God has in store through this body.