I have long thought that while Christians should never make excuses for sin, we should also be sympathetic to the environmental factors that can significantly affect the course of a person’s life.
I recognize that many CBI students are incarcerated due to wrong moral choices. I also believe that people who break the shalom of a community should be held accountable, though through restorative means. But let me put it this way: I would never say that the reason I am not in prison is because I possess a superior moral compass.
I was reflecting on this notion after reading a recent op-ed from the New York Times. The article focuses on the story of Rick, a working-class man who, despite having a brilliant mind, cannot break free from the cycle of poverty into which he was born.
This article forced me to consider how certain advantages of my own upbringing paved the way for my life today. As a child, I had a father who ran a thriving business, a mother who was attentive and read books to me, a warm dinner on the table every night and a strong sense of community in my church and neighborhood.
However, I know that my childhood does not mirror the childhoods of a large number of CBI students, or prisoners in general, who could tell you how chaos, fear and survivalist instincts ruled their early lives.
Stories like Rick’s and like those of many CBI students are powerful. These stories remind me that recognizing the seriousness of sin should never fuel a moral superiority complex. Instead, these stories reveal that we are all birds with broken wings looking for healing in a fallen world. As CBI passes its thirty-year mark of ministering to God’s people in prison, such stories remind me all the more that true restoration must always seek to mend both broken people and the broken systems in which they live.
Click here to read the full New York Times article.