|Father John Crossin, right, participates in an ecumenical event on criminal justice at the USCCB headquarters in June.|
Recent public events call attention to serious divisions in our country about justice and race relations. Christian Churches Together [CCT], the most diverse of the ecumenical groupings of churches in this country, has been considering such justice issues for many years. The Catholic Church has been an active participant in this work.
In its recent document, "Principles on Mass Incarceration," CCT noted: “Each person is of inestimable worth—even when the likeness of God is marred in a person’s life and distracts others from seeing the image of the divine.”
The consensus of the churches is that all people are due respect. They go on to say that “We need to acknowledge and confront the reality that prisoners most likely are from poor families and of African American and Hispanic Heritage.”
Racial prejudice is part of our heritage. Some say that it is the American original sin. Martin Luther King addressed the question head on in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” On the 50th Anniversary of the letter, the leaders of the CCT members met in Birmingham and signed their response to the letter, calling for renewed efforts for racial justice. They also developed a study guide to go with their response to the letter, which enables church members to engage one another on the racial divisions that trouble America today more than ever.
I was very impressed with the presentation of a Jewish leader who spoke at our recent dialogue with the Council of Synagogues. Two things he said stand out in my mind as they apply to prejudice and injustice. He noted that anti-Semitism thrives on what I would call misinformation: these Jewish people are not really how they appear. Of course the solution for this is for people to get to know one another in some depth. Relationships help to dispel misinformation and prejudices. The study guide provides a way to build relationships that break down walls. But this, of course, requires taking some time to be with others and, as Pope Francis says, "walk with them."
The leader also noted that leaders in Europe are responding to the recent bout of anti-Semitism there. They are taking action. Leaders have to stand up. The CCT leaders closed their recent Principles with a call for leadership.
"Mass incarceration must stop. Mass incarceration has not produced the correction of errants, healing of addicts, restoration of families, nor increased our national wellbeing. We are challenging ourselves together with government and the nation to seize this moment when multiple forces are aligning toward positive actions to correct the injustices within our 'justice' system."
Father John Crossin, OSFS is executive director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. He tweets @crossinusccb.