From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Mission board votes to pursue prison justice ministries

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 23 Oct 1998 14:43:43

Oct. 23, 1998	Contact: Linda Bloom·(212) 870-3803·New York     {615}

NOTE: This story is accompanied by a sidebar, UMNS #616.

STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) --  The Rev. Lonnie McLeod has a message for
United Methodists: if you're going to make a commitment to prison
ministries, go the distance.

About 25 years ago, McLeod was a prisoner himself. A United Methodist
pastor eventually convinced him to give Bible study a try, leading to
involvement with other church members.

"It was the United Methodist members ... who were willing to walk up to
me in that (prison) yard and to challenge me to be more than I was," he
said. McLeod spoke to the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries
directors during their Oct. 19-22 annual meeting. 

The board directors took up their own challenge and voted to develop a
global mission on prison ministry and restorative justice. Restorative
justice defines crime as violating people and causing harm rather than
breaking laws, and it is aimed at making victims, offenders and their
communities whole again.

Proposals for specific program directions, policies, guidelines and
financial and personnel support will be brought to the spring meeting
next April. The 1996 United Methodist General Conference, the
denomination's top legislative body, also established a Restorative
Justice Ministries Inter-agency Task Force.

A panel of five speakers encouraged the directors in their
decision-making. Among them was  McLeod, who said he was grateful to
United Methodists for spurring his own faith journey but expressed
regret at how his connection with the church was broken. He explained
that as he was trying to go through the denomination's ordination
process, he lost his mentor when the pastor was transferred elsewhere.
Later, after his release, he was ordained through the United Church of
Christ. He now is pastor of a New York church and teaches in Sing Sing

McLeod urged board directors to "be like Wesley," Methodism's founder,
and go minister in the prisons.

The Rev. Betsy Singleton Bauer, a board director and a pastor at Pulaski
Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Ark., told how her
congregation's involvement in prison ministry in Russia opened up
awareness of local needs. 

"My church will continue to be there in Russia...but we are also in
prisons now at home," she said.

In North Carolina, the Rev. Jerry Murray has been doing prison ministry
since 1969, with a focus on the Disciple Bible Study program. Currently,
local congregations are leading Disciple studies in 17 prisons. The
North Carolina Secretary of Corrections "has asked us to keep going
until we're in every one of the prisons," Murray told directors.

The need to move beyond the prison system also was brought to the
attention of directors. They learned that the United States ranks among
the top two industrialized nations in incarcerating its citizens. Only
Russia has more prisoners per 100,000 citizens. Currently, more than 1.7
million of 5 million people under supervision of the U.S. criminal
justice system are in prisons or jails, with the remainder on probation
or parole.

If that number continues to increase, directors were told, it would
equal the 6 million students enrolled in higher education in the United

The Rev. Eddie Lopez, a United Methodist pastor and former chaplain for
the New York City Department of Corrections, said that any ministry of
restorative justice "needs to be one that has advocacy at its roots."

He declared that the United States cannot deal with the poor and those
it fails to educate "by building prisons to place them in" and added
that the church "needs to stand and call for a moratorium on building

Restorative justice also is necessary in countries where the government
has used imprisonment and torture for political means, in violation of
basic human rights. Becky Asedillo, a deaconness and peace with justice
educator for the Board of Global Ministries, described how such
violations occurred during the Marcos regime in the Philippines.

When the victims of these repressive regimes cry for justice, she said,
"it is essentially a call not for retribution but restoration" and the
need to recognize the injustices that have been committed. She pointed
to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa as a model of
how restorative justice can work.

United Methodist News Service
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