1/27/2019 – Justice, not Jails

Posted on : Jan 24th, 2019 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

In the mid-1980’s a team from our Church and MCC/LA used to go downtown to the Men’s Central Jail to lead a morning worship service for the gay inmates.  LA was one of the first cities to separate gay inmates from the heterosexual population.  This was done to protect the gay men from being raped and beaten up. 

Entering a jail, even as a civilian, is an intimidating process.  I can still hear the clanging of the massive gates as one closed behind me and then another opened in front of me, only to clang shut after entering the walkway to the cells.  And walking by the cells of inmates is another unforgettable experience.  The noise is deafening as people shout back and forth to one another communicating with those in different cells.  And the images of humans being locked up in cages is shocking.

After what seemed like a very long journey, the guards got us to a community room where we held the worship service. 

The first time I stood before that congregation, I was stunned.  Two things are still embedded in my memory.  One is, even though I knew I was in the MEN’S Jail, about a third of the worshippers were women, some of them, very beautiful women.  The guards referred to them as “the Queens.”  They were in fact, transgender women.  There were about 100 or so inmates, so there were a lot of transgender women in the gay men’s unit.  The other stunning reality was that almost all of the inmates were people of color.  There were only four or five Caucasians in the entire congregation.  That was my first introduction to the issue of race and gender in the criminal justice system.

This Sunday we will look at Jesus’ proclamation that “the Spirit of God is upon me because God has anointed him to proclaim release to the captive, the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”   Those words sound great, until you try to advocate for prison and sentencing reform.  I was surprised to learn that “liberal” California was actually the national leader in pushing mass incarceration with (for example) a state prison population that shot up from 25,000 in 1980 to 175,000 over the course of thirty years. 

This Sunday we are blessed to have two guests who embody the command of Jesus, to release the captive and open the prisons.  The Rev. Peter Laarman, one of our great UCC Ministers and a volunteer worker with “Justice Not Jails” (a program of the interfaith movement for Human Integrity) will share with us some of the background on how we came to have a mass incarceration crisis and why such a hugely disproportionate number of incarcerated persons are people of color.  And joining him will be Ms. Tiffany Johnson, Co-Director of the “New Way of Life Reentry Project,” who will share her personal story of “release and reentry.”  Both Peter and Tiffany will be speaking Saturday at an interfaith conference on “Faith and Race:  Challenging the Culture of Criminalization.”  We are unbelievably lucky and blessed to have them be with us on Sunday morning!

See you this Sunday.



Isaiah 61

The spirit of God is upon me,
because God has anointed me;
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of God’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Holy One, to display God’s glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines;
but you shall be called priests of God
you shall be named ministers of our God;
you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
and in their riches you shall glory.

Because their shame was double,
and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
therefore they shall possess a double portion;
everlasting joy shall be theirs.

For I your God, love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom God has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in God,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for God has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
God has covered me with the robe of righteousness.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so our God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.

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