Criminal Justice and a Broken Theology of the Cross

This article by Benjamin Corey looks at the legacy of how punitive atonement theologies are reflected in our justice system. He makes some positive claims about what Jesus dying on the cross is doing, which you may or may not agree with and which makes for great discussion as well.

But I think his reflection on our justice system is simple and powerful. Whether or not it is a legacy of one theology of atonement that arose out of Feudal Europe or not, a strong contingent of popular theology today holds that If there is offense, then someone needs to be punished. A recent Pew poll on American support of the death penalty still showed white Christians across the board as supporting the death penalty substantially more than the broader American adult population (and the racial differences in support of capital punishment are worth another discussion unto itself).

Granted, punishment as a form of “making things right” has been around for much of human history. But we can see instances of choosing a different path, such as in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-Apartheid South Africa. In that case, those offenders, those who committed heinous crimes and murders, heard the stories of how those left behind, the survivors, were affected. And the offended against heard the stories of their offenders. Across the board, offenders and survivors were humanized in each others’ eyes.

In a culture where violence and punishment make up justice, how can we be agents of reconciliation? How can we keep another’s humanity, his or her joys and struggles,  at the forefront before anything else?

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