Every Tuesday afternoon men and women gather at the Front Porch to support each other throughout issues of Reentry (stepping out of prison/jail and reentering society). Every Tuesday morning Pastor Duane Crabbs visits the Summit County Jail. Every Sunday morning, two South Street members visit CBCF (Community Based Correctional Facility) to lead a Bible study. Everyday returning citizens stop by the Front Porch Cafe to use the telephone, warm up, wait for a ride, or search out some service or help in their process of reentry.
Why do we posture ourselves in such a position of service, ministry, and partnership with the ex-offender community?*
For a few reasons:
1) The prisoner is close to the heart of Christ. When Jesus inaugurates his ministry in Luke 4, He quotes from the prophet Isaiah equating ‘Good News’ with release for the prisoner and freedom for the captive. When his ministry draws to a close, Jesus references the Judgement Seat of God and the separation of the sheep and goats. His rubric for judgement includes visiting those in prison.
“When did we visit you in prison?” they inquire. “Truly whatever you have done unto the least of these you have done unto me,” is Christ’s reply.
2) South Street positions ourselves in service to the Reentry and Incarcerated communities because to a large extent we are those populations! At South Street half the staff come from an experience of incarceration. The South Street fellowship has a large portion of congregants and ministers that have known life behind bars. Although South Street intentionally structures our fellowship and organization to welcome the released, this percentage is a growing trend in America. Presently 1 out of 31 Americans are under some form of criminal control (incarceration, parole, etc.). Chances are within your own fellowship, family, and friends you know an individual or two who has gone through the system.
3) God has a way of reversing roles in His Kingdom. If you take the important seat, you may be asked to step down. If you choose the lowly position, you will be lifted up to the higher one. Don’t consider yourself a citizen of this nation, rather count yourself as God’s sojourner. Feeling left out of society, don’t worry you are God’s Chosen people!
This reversal continues to those free and those captive. In I Corinthians 7:22, Paul writes,**
For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.
I would posit a contextualization for today’s world,
For the one who was incarcerated when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is incarcerated unto Christ.
God has a way of reversing roles for his people. As I have walked with many friends through their own reentry journey, freedom in Christ (and legal freedom) is such a central part of their transition and sense of identity. Likewise, it has deepened my sense of personhood to consider my American freedom yet count myself as incarcerated unto Christ.
Incarcerated unto Christ. That is how I try to view my self. It is a view that humbles me and helps me connect with my neighbor, which helps when you live and work within a few blocks from the Summit County Jail!
Grace & Peace
*The conversation around reentry and mass incarceration is broad with a wide range of opinions and viewpoints. I recognize a need for justice both for victims of crimes and for folks navigating that system from within. The hope of this blog entry is to present a theological framework for engaging that conversation honestly and humbly.
**I recognize also the contextualization of I Corinthians 7:22 throughout American history. This was a passage historically used to subjugate slaves unto the position the have found themselves in. I am more and more convinced that Paul’s writing is ultimately a framework for who we are in Christ (as well as the overall thrust of the chapter being about singleness and identity). It is a sin how we have used Scripture in the past to oppress others.