When explaining the ministry of Humanity for Prisoners in many of my public presentations, I refer to our daily advocacy as “Jesus Work.”
I know that, in the minds of many people, the thought response is something like this: “Just another soft-hearted, liberal, ‘do-gooder’ who wants to empty all the prisons and put all the hardened criminals on the street.”
I contend that the phrase “Jesus work” is accurate, based on his own words and his own life.
I’ve claimed to be a follower of this itinerant preacher all my 78 years, although there were many times that I certainly didn’t act like it. But not until my third career (30 years as broadcast journalist first, then 20 years as church organ salesman) did I really grasp the deep and profound Christian implications of being an advocate for those whom Jesus referred to as “the least of these, my brothers (and sisters).”
Let me explain.
We fight for the wrongly convicted. We’re not attorneys, but we do our best to help and support those who claim innocence. And contrary to popular belief, all prisoners do not say they are innocent. In reading the gospels, I am constantly struck by the fact that the humble Jesus had done no wrong, yet was handed the death penalty! He was wrongfully convicted.
We fight against the abuse of prisoners, which comes in many physical and psychological forms from simple verbal attacks to the denial of appropriate medical and dental care, the serving of bad food with small helpings, refusal to properly care for the mentally and terminally ill, and refusal to grant deserving paroles. Back to the gospels. While a prisoner, Jesus was beaten and guards had no problem spitting on him and making fun of him…in other words, it was really kind of fun inflicting physical and psychological pain. Before I leave this subject, let me point out how our Savior responded to this shameful abuse. Among his final words were these: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Really? Sure sounds to me like they knew what they were doing, and they relished the experience.
We oppose not only the death penalty, but excessive sentences for even the most heinous of crimes. Our state’s Attorney General will argue that this position doesn’t take into account the feelings and pain of the victims of crime, who often say that executions and life sentences give them a “sense of closure.” A Christian psychologist who chairs our Board of Directors quickly points out that this is just not true. But aside from that, scriptures clearly teach us that rehabilitated felons can still lead productive lives. Moses killed a guy, David arranged for the slaying of man so he could have his wife, and the Apostle Paul readily admitted that he had terrorized and condoned the deaths of followers of Jesus. These days we scoff when we hear that persons who committed serious crimes show regret and remorse. Once more, let’s go to the life of Jesus. A man was hanging on a cross next to him who was not innocent…he had committed such a terrible crime that authorities believed he deserved the death penalty. At the very last moment, chatting with Jesus, he showed remorse and without hesitation our Lord said, “…today you will be with me in paradise.” Hold it! This convicted felon gets all the heavenly benefits that I’ll receive for following Jesus all my life? That’s what the Bible says.
Back to my contention. I say that holding the hands of lonely and hurting prisoners, trying to obtain humane treatment for them, fighting against abuse, battling for compassion at time of death, helping them properly prepare for meetings with the Parole Board is not the work of soft-hearted liberals. It’s Jesus Work!
The Sunday School song that we all sang could not be more appropriate here, as convicted criminals stand beside us to sing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
[Image: Flickr user Michelle Lynne Goodfellow]