Evangelicals for Peace—at Home and Abroad
by Sarah Withrow King
I made two trips from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. last month, within just a few days of one another. I don't do a lot of travelling for The Sider Center, but these two opportunities struck all of us as important.
The first day, I joined a group from my church and the Mennonite Central Committee to speak to our House and Senate representatives about prisoner justice and specifically about The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. While it's not a perfect bill, the act would target and reform mandatory minimum sentences, allow more judicial discretion in sentencing, retroactively apply the Fair Sentencing Act (which reduced the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine offences), strengthen efforts to reduce recidivism, and limit juvenile solitary confinement. It's a small step in the right direction and would, we hope, send the message to states (who imprison far more people than the federal government) that we are in desperate need of prison reform in this country.
The second day, I met as part of a group of faith leaders called Evangelicals for Peace who are discerning a way to bring the good news of Jesus into violence and conflict, in order to reconcile enemies and heal nations.
On their face, the two days bore little resemblance. One was spent scurrying between federal office buildings, meeting with bright young policy aids, repeating the same message over and over again. The other was spent in a conference room, iron sharpening iron as we discussed strategy, messaging, and mission.
Of course, both errands were steeped in the call to live into ESA's vision of a world that is whole, reconciled, just: "on earth, as it is in heaven." Jesus advocated peace between enemies and mercy for the accused. We're following Jesus' profound mission to see and reflect the image of God in every person.
The imago Dei. How different might our world be if we lived as if we truly believed that every person is made in the image of God? Would we be able to lock up children and throw away the key? I was at a seminar recently on juvenile justice where a lawyer, who himself had been adjudicated as a teenager, described visiting a New Jersey youth detention center as part of a project to document and improve conditions in juvenile facilities. On this particular day, a building meant to house no more than 45 young people held a whopping 130. The floors of each cell were covered in mattresses, and in every room, one child had to sleep with his head under the toilet. The image of God is in those children.
How different might our world be if we lived as if we truly believed that every person is made in the image of God?
The image of God is in each Syrian refugee who clings to his children as he attempts to flee the bombs dropped by his own government, and by the governments of the US, Russia, Turkey, France, and others.
The image of God is in Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Laquan McDonald. The image of God is also in Jason Van Dyke, Brian Encinia, and Tim Loehmann.
The image of God is in Cecile Richards, Robert Lewis Dear, Garrett Swasey, Ke'Arre Marcell Stewart, Jennifer Markovsky, and every born and unborn baby whose mother has walked into a Planned Parenthood office.
The image of God is in us. The ads (the endless, insipid ads) that tell us we're not good enough and don't have enough and can't ever be enough don't hold a candle to the bright, shining light of the Savior God that shines in each of us.
When we see and honor the image of God in others and ourselves, we see a world of possibility invisible to the myopia of a fear- and loathing-based worldview. We see and seek human dignity and flourishing and refuse to settle for anything less.
Sarah Withrow King is Deputy Director of The Sider Center. In addition to keeping the trains running on time, she writes about the intersection of animal protection and Christian theology and drinks a lot of fair-trade, shade-grown coffee.