MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Thursday the 3rd of September, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. First up: a new effort to promote justice.
BASHAM: The Prayer & Action Justice Initiative brings together black, Hispanic, and Asian Christian organizations along with other high-profile Christian groups, like the National Association of Evangelicals, National Day of Prayer, Prison Fellowship, and World Relief. Together, they’re advocating for criminal justice reforms.
WORLD senior correspondent Katie Gaultney reports on what they hope to achieve.
KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: The persistent cry for criminal justice reform has become a deafening roar in recent months. And a group of influential Christian organizations recently added its voice to the effort.
Jenny Yang is vice president of advocacy and policy with the Christian humanitarian group World Relief. It’s one of the organizations supporting the Prayer & Action Justice Initiative.
Yang says those backing the initiative agree the church can’t be silent in the face of injustice.
YANG: I do think that the racial injustices that we’re seeing grieve God’s heart. I think this is an incredible opportunity for the church to step in, to demonstrate the love of Christ and to point to a better way.
The coalition advocates for police reform—education, training, policies. But it also believes the need for reform goes beyond what happens at the moment of arrest.
Heather Rice-Minus is senior vice president of advocacy and church mobilization for Prison Fellowship. She notes disproportionality exists at every level of the justice system for people of color. Black Americans are more likely to get harsher sentences than similarly situated white Americans. They’re less likely to get a plea deal. And the rate of people of color in prison is higher.
After release, Rice-Minus says black and brown people tend to have fewer opportunities to rejoin society.
RICE-MINUS: What we want to do is not only continue to push forward those reforms, but provide unity and clarity about the impact that this has on communities of color and be with one voice and saying that the church does not tolerate racial injustice and is actually going to be part of the solution.
The coalition is looking for lawmakers to enact specific measures that will “level the playing field so that outcomes” for offenders will be “driven more by justice than wealth or race.”
The statement also said its signatories mourn those who have lost their lives and goes on to say, “The church must take these injustices personally, and take initiative to expel racial hatred and partiality from our society.”
Gabriel Salguero pastors the multicultural Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in New York City. He’s one of several pastors who have signed on in support of the initiative’s efforts.
SALGUERO: As an evangelical, I have deep concern around racialized violence. And I think that many of us do but many evangelicals across the country do, but maybe not have a framework on how to engage from a gospel center to biblical centered worldview.
While the group seeks to reshape policies, it’s also after hearts and minds. It’s planning social media outreach and organizing prayer rallies. It’s also training pastors and churches on how to speak about the topic of race and justice biblically, and encouraging pulpit swaps between Biblical pastors of different races, classes, and denominations.
SALGUERO: I’d like to see more pastors engage this. I think the gospel has a lot to say about how we exact justice and how we pursue justice in the public sphere…
This isn’t the first time Christian groups have promoted equality, or even criminal justice reform. But people seem more engaged now. Why? Part of it may be the video evidence of so many of these incidents. Rice-Minus referenced footage of George Floyd’s death as an example.
RICE-MINUS: Having that all on tape for such an extensive time and force that seemed so excessive and unnecessary, given the circumstances, I think really did play a role.
Salguero points to changing demographics as another factor, both in terms of Christians leadership—more people of color are taking positions of influence in evangelical organizations—and in the generation of believers now coming of age.
SALGUERO: Younger evangelicals are asking for real leadership and real solutions on some of the most deeply unresolved issues around race and justice and community and reconciliation.
Of course, “social justice” is a polarizing term. Some think of it as virtue signaling, or consider it a code word for some sort of secular humanist religion. Those I spoke with who are involved with the Prayer & Action Justice Initiative encouraged fellow believers to set those notions aside and remember the Biblical emphasis on justice. World Relief’s Jenny Yang said justice is inherently social, since it reflects God’s character, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relating to each other.
YANG: And so when we pursue justice as His representatives on this earth, we’re really trying to build His kingdom here on earth. It’s actually enacting the very thing that God did throughout the Scriptures that reflect His character in a broken and sinful world.
With elections looming, it’s unlikely the Prayer & Action Justice Initiative will make significant headway from a policy standpoint over the next several months. But Rice-Minus said there’s plenty to do until then, for those who want to make a difference.
RICE-MINUS: While we want to engage people in policy, and there’s timely opportunities to do that, in many cases, we really want to lean into prayer first.
Pastor Salguero prays all these efforts won’t lose momentum.
SALGUERO: I am prayerful and hopeful that this movement will capture the imagination of evangelicals and Christians of every stripe, so that the kingdom of God and the justice of God could be established in our hearts. That’s my prayer. As one rabbi said, “If not now. when? And if not us, who?”
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Katie Gaultney.