Principles on Mass Incarceration by Christian Churches Together in the USA

Christian Churches Together in the USA was founded in Baltimore, MD in 2001. On April 6, 2002 in Chicago, the new ecumenical organization defined its membership and goals in what is called The Chicago Statement.

“Christian Churches Together in the USA…began to see a vision of a new life together. …With excitement we began to sketch the outlines of a new level of relationship and action that offer a common witness for Christ to the world. This common witness will be visible through our:

  • Celebrating a common confession of faith in the Triune God
  • Seeking the guidance of he Holy Spirit through biblical, spiritual and theological reflection
  • Engaging in common prayer
  • Speaking to society with a common voice
  • Promoting the common good of society
  • Fostering faithful evangelism
  • Seeking reconciliation by affirming our commonalities and understanding our differences
  • Building a community of fellowship and mutual support.”

 

The statement invited churches, associations of churches and Christian national organizations, who shared this vision to join CCT, open to the Holy Spirit, and working together in a collaborative effort to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

An Organizational Plan was developed at Houston, TX in 2004 determining that membership would be open two categories of participants: national church bodies and associations of churches which are national in scope, and, secondly, national Christian organizations. The latter would not exceed 20% of the membership. Provision was made for observers for those churches and organizations which are not able to do so at this time.

 

Initially about 25 participant member Christian Churches joined CCT after the Organizational Plan was developed and additional members were gradually added. The Catholic Church is one of the founding members and is identified as one of the five” families” of churches in CCT. Other families include the historic Protestant, African American, Pentecostal, Evangelical and Orthodox churches which “come together officially to strengthen their unity in Christ and empower their mission.” Among the Christian national organizations, currently listed as national Christian organizations are Bread for the World, Habitat for Humanity, Sojourners and World Vision.

 

 

Principles of Mass Incarceration

 

The CCT Statement of 2014 is entitled Principles of Mass Incarceration. The subject is the massive and sometimes prejudicial way in which people are profiled, detained, arrested or imprisoned by the justice system which exists today in the United States. CCT believes it is appropriate to focus the attention of Christians on the injustice that exists in the way in which people are herded into institutions without providing either the human needs or the reform which the institutions are created to provide.

 

In its reflection and proposals for solution, CCT states ten principles that need to be considered when evaluating what is happening in this domain. We quote the opening words of each of these principles:

 

  1. We begin by noting that all of us have a shared humanity.
  2. Christians believe that all people are created in the image and likeness of God.
  3. We need to acknowledge and confront the reality that prisoners most likely are from poor families and of African American and Hispanic Heritage.
  4. Mass incarceration does not synergize with the Christian principle of Love of Neighbor.
  5. As Christians, we believe the purpose of incarceration must be for the safety of the community and the restoration of violent offenders.
  6. Churches collaborating across denominational lines make for a stronger voice on issues of mass incarceration whether local, state or national.
  7. Local churches can offer a great deal to their sisters and brothers.
  8. There are further dimensions to the healing process.
  9. An ultimate goal, not easily attained, would be for reconciliation with the victim(s).
  10. Mass incarceration must stop.

 

 

Evaluation of the CCT Principles as Moral Discernment

 

Our purpose in studying the CCT Principles of Mass Incarceration is first of all to introduce our readers to the excellent work of the CCT and its importance to the ecumenical movement in the United States. Unlike the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches, CCT is something both new and different. It brings together churches and national organizations. It addresses society at large and particularly the social problems that exist in the United States and which are moral issues affecting the people of our society and the quality of our culture. It brings together a much broader ecumenical spectrum of churches and a new partner, namely, the national Christian organizations which serve people often beyond church lines.

 

The issues which the CCT has discussed from its creation are both central and significant. Poverty, immigration, and mass incarceration are all topics that need to be faced and problems that need to be solved. The Christian churches that founded the CCT believe it would not be Christian to stand by and let these problematic issues continue to tear the fabric of our democracy in the face of the mission of the gospel of Jesus Christ and his mission to the world.