Interesting piece in the NYT on a “dilemma” facing churches and the rest of society:
On a marquee outside and on a banner inside, Pilgrim United Church of Christ proclaims, “All are welcome.” Sustained by the belief that embracing all comers is a living example of Christ’s love, Pilgrim now faces a profound test of faith.
The Rev. Madison Shockley is leading his church through a discussion about whether it should admit a convicted child molester.
In late January, Mark Pliska, 53, told the congregation here that he had been in prison for molesting children but that he sought a place to worship and liked the atmosphere at Pilgrim.
Mr. Pliska’s request has plunged the close-knit congregation into a painful discussion about applying faith in a difficult real-world situation. Congregants now wonder, are all truly welcome? If they are, how do you ensure the safety of children and the healing of adult survivors of sexual abuse? Can an offender who accepts Christ truly change?
“I think what we have been through is a loss of innocence,” said the Rev. Madison Shockley, Pilgrim’s minister. “People think of church as an idyllic paradise, and I think that is a great part of that loss.”
This is not a new problem- what do we do with those who have served their time and need to re-enter society? I am afraid I do not have many answers. Years ago there was a terrifying series of reports (and I wish I could remember where I read them- I want to say it was the Atlantic) about what was going to happen in the middle to late 2000’s when an entire graduating class of drug dealers and convicts from the 80’s crack wars were released from prison. Essentially, an entire generation of men would be released on the public, and due to the punitive v. rehabilitative nature of modern incarceration, they would be released with pretty much the same skill set they entered prison with maybe a few new tricks learned from their peers.
What do we do with these people? Recently, moves have been made in Florida and elsewhere to allow former cons the right to vote, but that is really a smaller part of the bigger issue. With the numbers we have in jail at the moment, we have to appreciate the magnitude of the problem we will soon be facing. Where will these people live, work, worship?
Or are we, by the nature of incarceration, creating a permanent criminal class? Politics being the way it is, it is impossible for people to introduce sensible legislation to provide training and education to inmates- those who do are immediately assailed by the usual suspects for coddling criminals.
Scary, and like I said, I have no answers.