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
"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
"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.
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
The draft statement is available at http://www.ELCA.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements-in-Process/Criminal-Justice.aspx