Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) has launched ”Learn, Pray, Join: Mass Incarceration,” an initiative to raise awareness about the injustices in our criminal legal system that cause pain and suffering, especially for poor people and people of color. This initiative is in response to a recently adopted MC USA study resolution titled, “For Justice in the U.S. Criminal Legal System,” written by Zachariah Begly and Eli Reimer.
During September and October, MC USA will seek to engage people in the initiative by offering resources, prayers and ways to care for those harmed by our criminal legal system and to address systemic issues that lead to mass incarceration, such as racism and poverty.
The United States imprisons more people per capita than any other nation, at a staggering rate of 573 per 100,000 residents, according to a 2022 report by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) (https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2022.html), a nonprofit research and advocacy organization. Currently, there are more than two million people incarcerated in the U.S.
Incarceration rates also reveal disparities in the race, gender and income of those imprisoned. White people are underrepresented in prisons and jails, while Black, Native and Latino people are overrepresented, according to the PPI report and U.S. Census Bureau surveys. Women’s incarceration rates have been rising faster than men’s for decades, often due to financial obstacles, such as an inability to pay bail.
The U.S. cash bail system — “one of the most fundamentally unjust tenets of the American legal system” as described in the MC USA resolution − is the cause of some of this disparity. One in three people behind bars is in a jail – and 80%of those in local jails have not been convicted or are presumed innocent. Many are detained simply because they cannot pay the bail amount to secure their release, according to PPI’s report.
“Mass incarceration is easy to ignore when you believe you are not directly impacted, if you haven’t had a loved one incarcerated, if you’ve never spent time behind bars which then impacts your eligibility for housing and employment,” Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, MC USA denominational minister of Peace and Justice. “The reality is that Jesus calls each of us to connect our faith with our actions, to care for those in need as we walk with God and that means acknowledging and responding to the injustice within our communities.”
The Learn, Pray, Join initiative will look closely at the theology that drives our response to the social justice issues that have led to mass incarceration and will offer hope through an Anabaptist vision of restorative justice.
MC USA’s “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective,” Article 22 provides a vision for restorative justice, encouraging Mennonites “to forgive rather than to seek revenge, to practice right relationships, to rely on the community of faith to settle disputes, and to resist evil without violence.”
Through “Learn, Pray, Join: Mass Incarceration,” MC USA is providing members with:
- Opportunities to learn about mass incarceration through a variety of resources, including congregational study materials, books, videos, college courses and more. In addition, leaders from MC USA agencies, congregations, affiliated colleges and ministry partners will contribute blogs over the next several weeks, which will explore how mass incarceration harms people and society, how churches are responding and how their Anabaptist faith values are compelling them to do this work.
- An invitation to pray for repentance for participating in a “culture of criminalization” and for a new vision of peace and justice.
- A call to join by ministering to those harmed by mass incarceration and a call to advocate for more just policies.
For more information on “Learn, Pray, Join: Mass Incarceration,” visit the online resource page throughout the campaign at: mennoniteusa.org/lpj-mass-incarceration
Subscribe to PeaceMail, MC USA’s weekly email newsletter, and follow MC USA on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube) to view resources, blogs and more throughout September and October.
MC USA’s “Learn, Pray, Join” initiatives seek to create opportunities across the church to deepen understanding around a common topic and to come together in prayer and support.
“Learn, Pray, Join: Mass Incarceration” reflects the denomination’s #BeTransformed theme. #BeTransformed is Mennonite Church USA’s call for individuals and congregations to fully live into our Renewed Commitments to follow Jesus, witness to God’s peace and experience transformation. Learn more at https://www.mennoniteusa.org/betransformed/.
Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 16 conferences, approximately 550 congregations and 59,000 members. An Anabaptist Christian denomination, MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 59 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana and Newton, Kansas. mennoniteUSA.org
To support Mennonite Church USA’s peacebuilding work, donate to #BringThePeace initiatives at https://www.mennoniteusa.org/give/.