Some people in my Christian faith tradition like to distort biblical passages to suit their political agenda. And sometimes when they do, they really show how distorted and twisted their worldview is and how it differs from some in their own faith tradition.
Take former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a current host on Fox News, who recently spoke on an Iowa radio program called Mickelson in the Morning. The show is hosted by Jan Mickelson, who began to discuss the criminal justice system with Huckabee, claiming it “has been taken over by progressives.” The Fix? Take it back to a literal reading of the Old Testament's book of Exodus.
Mickelson called for criminals to be indentured servants. Calling prisons a “pagan invention,” he suggested, “We indenture them and they have to spend their time not sitting on their stump in a jail cell; they’re supposed to be working off the debt.” He asked Huckabee if that would be a better choice, and the former governor replied: “Well, it really would be. Sometimes the best way to deal with a nonviolent criminal behavior is what you just suggested.”
Mickelson based his views on Exodus 22:2-3, which states:
“If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” (New American Standard Bible)Huckabee is an ordained Baptist minister who served as a pastor before his political career. As Think Progress points out, he is “no doubt familiar with the Exodus 22:3 passage to which Mickelson referred.” And he is no doubt familiar with the fact that the passage is actually part of a law code followed by the ancient Jewish people. Like anything in the Bible, it needs to be put into its historical and cultural context. There just isn't any justification for applying an ancient law code from a time completely different than our own to today's problems.
The prison population in the U.S. is over 2 million, the highest of any nation in the world. The incarceration rate for countries comparable to the U.S. hovers around 100 prisoners per 100,000 people, according to statistics by the Population Reference Bureau. But in the U.S., it’s 500 prisoners to 100,000 people. Most of the prison population is male and they are young. The incarceration rates for men in their 20s and 30s are the highest. They tend to be less educated, with the average state prisoner having only a 10th grade education. A whopping 70 percent haven’t completed high school. And incarceration rates are “significantly higher” for African Americans and Latinos.
Clearly, there is a link between poverty and crime. Some in my faith tradition get that, including Jim Wallis, an ordained minister, founder of Sojourner’s and author of numerous books. In his 1994 book, "The Soul of Politics," he talks about the "general devastation" in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
In every city, Wallis says there are two tales. He refers to first and third worlds being separated “not by oceans, but by city streets.” He calls for a the “radical assertion of the image of God in every human being” which he rightfully points out “lies at the heart of our best religious traditions." This image is a path to closing that great divide that flourishes between blocks. It's an assertion that recognizes the intrinsic worth of every human being. If only Huckabee and Mickelson would take this view toward their fellow humans.
They could actually have a positive impact on the criminal justice system.
Image credit: Flickr/John Pemble
Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.