He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God?
What does it mean to “do justice?” What does it mean to “love mercy?”
This week we discussed justice, mercy, and forgiveness – primarily in the context of crime and punishment in America. We had a really fruitful conversation, and even managed to avoid high-school-English-class flashbacks to the book Crime and Punishment (alternate title: That Really Long Russian Book I Totally Did Not Get, to the Supreme Disappointment of Mr. Favino).
First off, we discussed a recent podcast with Bryan Stevenson, a well-known Death Row defense attorney and leader of the Equal Justice Initiative. In the podcast, Stevenson told numerous compelling stories, including that of Walter McMillen, a man falsely accused of murder who was exonerated years after. In his short career, Stevenson has gotten over 100 people off of Death Row. We discussed our feelings on the death penalty amongst the group, with many of us expressing conflicting opinions: on the one hand, none of us can relate to victims and victims’ families who have been subjected to terrible crimes. It hard to say what we would or would not feel. On the other hand, we brought up the issue of the (hopefully) rare occurrence of a false conviction, such as McMillen’s. Moreover, is not God’s forgiveness and saving grace accessible to all? Who are we to say who deserves it and who does not?
We also discussed racial disparities in our prison system – African-American men are disproportionately imprisoned in America, and our imprisonment rates in the US are the highest in the world. Racism is easy to spot when it is person-to-person, less so when it is caused by institutions and systems and government policies. Nevertheless, it is important we try to empathize – one person in the group told a story of how their views on the Black Lives Matter movement changed when they realized the point of it is to say black lives are equal, and deserved to be treated equally.
Building on that, we then moved to the story of Billy Moore, a convicted murderer who found God on Death Row. After his conversion, he wrote a letter to the family of the man he killed and apologized. To his surprise, they wrote back, saying that they forgave him and were praying for him. After years of struggle, Moore finally found the peace in his heart to forgive himself and move on. In 1991, years after his conversion, he was released from prison and now he travels around ministering to those in prison. Everywhere he goes, he asks this question: “can you forgive like they forgave me?”
Link to Bryan Stevenson podcast: http://thisiscriminal.com/episode-45-just-mercy-6-17-2016/
Link to USA / international prison statistics: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2016.html
Link to Billy Moore story: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/forgiven/nW6tj/
- Jensine: niece Claire and her eye procedure; brother-in-law Earl is deployed and taking military tests; mother Jill recovering from ACL surgery; peaceful election
- Jay: grandmother Susan having physical and mental ailments
- Taylor: younger brother got some playing time in football!