Assembly News and Updates
Always Being Made New
Voting members of the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” — a social statement on criminal justice — Aug. 16 with an 882 to 25 vote. The social statement was formally introduced to the 952 voting members Aug. 13.
The assembly made two amendments to the statement — the first was to substitue a paragraph that now begins: “Confession is one ‘mark of the church’”, and the second amendment was adopted to correct what appeared to provide an editorial comment in the text.
The call for a statement on criminal justice emerged from concern among ELCA members over the “massive levels of incarceration in the United States,” said Cynthia Osbourne, chair of the ELCA task force charged with leading this church in a study about criminal justice and the development of a proposed social statement. She introduced the social statement to the assembly earlier this week.
While commending positive aspects of the system, the statement conveys dissatisfaction with many areas about the criminal justice system that urgently need reform.
The statement affirms the fundamental principles of the U.S. criminal justice system, such as due process of law and the presumption of legal innocence, and it also recognizes serious deficiencies — overly harsh sentencing and persistent inequalities based on race and class. It calls ELCA members to ministry and compassion through some practices: hearing the cries of those affected, accompaniment, hospitality and advocacy. It asks members of this church to recommit themselves to visiting the prisoner; correct the flawed criminal justice system; participate in God’s work with hands and hearts and to hear the cries of people affected.