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Thursday, March 15, 2012

March 15, 2012

ELCA releases draft social statement on criminal justice
     CHICAGO (ELCA) - The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is addressing issues in the U.S. criminal justice system. The perspective of an ELCA task force on the topic is featured in the "Draft Social Statement on Criminal Justice" released to ELCA members and to the public March 15. While commending positive aspects of the system, the draft conveys some dissatisfaction with many areas about the criminal justice system that urgently need reform.
"The task force was formed in response to concerns expressed from ELCA synods about the alarmingly high incarceration rates in the United States," said Cynthia Osborne, chair of the ELCA task force charged with developing the social statement.
She said the United States ranks among the top two or three countries in the world in percentage of people under control of a criminal justice system -- one out of 31 adults and, for people of color, as high as one out of 11.
"These concerns, an increasing societal doubt about the effectiveness of our national incarceration strategies in reducing crime and its harms to individuals, families and communities, compel our church to address the need for change and to ask, 'What should this church have to say about crime, its harm and justice in this country,'" said Osborne, adding that the need for change must not be understood simply in the abstract.
"We are also compelled to ask, 'What can people of faith, specifically ELCA members, do in ministry to actively participate in creating and guarding a system that is just, balanced and effective in responding to those who do harm and to those harmed?'" she said.
While the ELCA affirms the fundamental principles of the U.S.
criminal justice system, such as due process of law and the presumption of legal innocence, the draft also recognizes serious deficiencies - overly harsh sentencing and persistent inequalities based on race and class.
The draft statement calls ELCA members to ministry and compassion through four practices: hearing the cries of those affected, accompaniment, hospitality and advocacy. It asks members of this church to recommit themselves to visiting the prisoner; correct the flawed criminal justice system; participate in God's work with hands and hearts and to hear the cries of people affected.
The draft social statement has a prologue and four primary sections titled "Justice"; "Yearning for ever-fuller justice"; "Wise responses of love"; and "Paths to greater justice." As a draft, the statement also includes a response form designed for the 10,000 congregations of the ELCA to share feedback.
The task force has invited the ELCA's 4.2 million members to contribute responses to its work.
Responses to the draft from ELCA congregations are due Oct. 31. The task force will review responses and use that as feedback to prepare a proposed social statement with implementing resolutions for the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to possibly consider as a formal statement on behalf of this church.
ELCA social statements are teaching documents that assist members in forming judgments on social issues. They set policy for this church and guide its advocacy and work as a public church.
The 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly authorized the development of a social statement on criminal justice. The task force has been studying the issues and providing resource material for members since 2008.
The draft statement is available at http://www.ELCA.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements-in-Process/Criminal-Justice.aspx

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