From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Political and church leaders fall short of Jesus' justice, dean says

Date Wed, 12 Jun 2002 15:45:08 -0400

June 12, 2002


Episcopalians: Political and church leaders fall short of 
Jesus' justice, dean says

by Val Hymes

(ENS) "Why on earth do we have the death penalty in this 
country?" demanded Dean C. David Williams of the Cathedral of 
Newark in a sermon closing the Seventh National Prison Ministry 
Conference in Indianapolis June 9. "Would those in power today 
have demanded that Jesus pass a lie detector test and give a DNA 
sample before they would help him?" the former Rikers Island 
chaplain asked.

Williams and other speakers urged the 70 lay and clergy 
prison ministers attending the conference to challenge the 
Episcopal Church, political and corporate leaders, to take the 
lead in criminal justice reform. 

Most politicians have been baptized, Williams said, about 
half of America's presidents were Episcopalian, and "countless" 
members of Congress belong to the Episcopal Church.

"Has everyone in this world gone insane?" he asked, weaving 
into his sermon those who watched the tormenting, trial and 
execution of an innocent Jesus 2,000 years ago. "If you execute 
my king," Williams said, "it must be over my objections and 
sometimes over my dead bodyWe have abrogated our responsibility 
for what is right and wrong to the courts. Billions of 
government dollars are spent on the containment of two million 

Williams said, "Would our leaders today have voted for the 
death penalty because Chief Justice Pilate condemned him to 
death? And what did Jesus say on the cross? 'Forgive them for 
they know not what they do.' The irony of ironies: the innocent 
calls for forgiveness for his accusers."

"We are a nation obsessed with punishment," he added. "The 
politics of expedience literally built the largest prison system 
ion the world, larger than China and Russia together."

The "quality of justice" for African American males is 
different than that for white males, depending on the color of 
their skin and their money, Williams pointed out. "The man who 
steals a carton of toilet paper gets a five-year sentence. The 
corporate executive who steals billions gets a slap on the wrist 
 Our correctional system is a system of injustice."

"It is too late to save Jesus," Williams added, "but maybe we 
can stop it from happening to someone else. Let us make an oath. 
>From now on we will fight for true justice and true freedom 
until all God's people are free. Then and only then will the 
church be a true advocate for the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The conference, "Restoring God's Kingdom," held June 6-9 at 
Christ Church Cathedral, focused on restorative justice and the 
restoration of spiritual health for those who minister to 
prisoners officers, victims, families and the community.


--Val Hymes is coordinator of the Prison Ministry Task Force of 
the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

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