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PRISm Taking Aim at the Gun Industry Faith communities fight back with prayer and protest

Exonerated death row prisoners speak out Can we afford not to educate “at-risk� youth?

September/October 2011

US Christians learn to love their Muslim neighbors

PRISM Vol. 18, No. 5  September-October 2011

Editor Art Director Copy Editor Financial Operations Publisher Assistant to Publisher Member Services

Kristyn Komarnicki Rhian Tomassetti Leslie Hammond Sandra Prochaska Ronald J. Sider Josh Cradic Debbie Caraher

Contributing Editors Christine Aroney-Sine Myron Augsburger

Clive Calver Rudy Carrasco Andy Crouch J. James DeConto Gloria Gaither David P. Gushee Jan Johnson Craig S. Keener Peter Larson Richard Mouw Philip Olson Jenell Williams Paris Christine Pohl James Skillen Al Tizon Jim Wallis

Issac Canales M. Daniel Carroll R. Paul Alexander James Edwards Perry Glanzer Ben Hartley Stanley Hauerwas Jo Kadlecek Marcie Macolino Mary Naber Earl Palmer Derek Perkins Elizabeth D. Rios Lisa Thompson Heidi Rolland Unruh Bruce Wydick

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Renewing your subscription? Visit Regular PRISM Subscription Only $30 a year. Type: US/Canada via air mail Good Stewards Subscription (PDF) Receive the same PRISM as everyone else but in your email box and save big! Only $15 a year. International Subscription Receive PRISM electronically. Only $15 a year. Library Subscription Order PRISM for your library! Only $45 a year. 6 E. Lancaster Ave, Wynnewood PA 19096 484-384-2990/ Note: Standard A mail is not forwarded; please contact us if your address changes.

A Publication of Evangelicals for Social Action The Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University All contents © 2011 ESA/PRISM magazine.

Cover Image: Rhian Tomassetti

September / October 2011

In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky, and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. Hosea 2:18

Contents 2 Reflections from the Editor Sticking It to The Man

10 Crossfire The gun lobby is rich and ruthless, but God's people have the power of prayer and protest on their side.

3 Talk Back Letters to the Editor 4 Word, Deed & Spirit Islamophobia

18 A Costly Thing to Waste Donors wanting bang for their buck should understand that the payoff for educating urban youth far outweighs the cost of failing them.

5 Hands & Feet Safety Cop 7 A Different Shade of Green The World Is Watching 8 Global Positions Nigerian Christians Seek a Theology of Conflict 9 Washington Watch Passionate Politics



39 Art & Soul Beauty Out of Tragedy 40 Music Notes Broken and Sacred 41 On Being the Church The Good News of Vulnerability 42 Off the Shelf Why we expect more from technology and less from each other, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, rescuing the lost children of Nepal, ministering to prisoners, debunking Alfred Kinsey.

22 Found and Standing Firm The Lost Boys of Sudan open the hearts of American Christians to the broader immigrant (and indigent) needs around them. 26 Privileged, Prepared…and Powerless An American struggling to bring his niece out of the Congo learns a harsh lesson about the vagaries of US immigration policy. 28 Freed to Speak Exonerated death row prisoners put real faces on the high cost of the death penalty. 34 What's So Radical about Loving Muslims? A look at evangelicals who are learning to love their Muslim neighbors.

46 Kingdom Ethics Christianities 48 Ron Sider Reflections on 50 Years of Marriage The weapons of the strong are smashed to pieces, while the weak are infused with fresh strength. 1 Samuel 2:2 (The Message)


R eflections from the Editor Sticking It to The Man “Sticking It to The Man” is generally understood as performing an act of subversion or disobedience in order to oppose some faceless but powerful entity, such as the government, big business, or the moneyed class. In everyday life, it is often characterized by petty, cowardly acts of entitlement, such as stealing paper clips from one’s employer or using work time to browse the internet. There is something deep within us that revels in rebelling, but I marvel at the smallness we often exhibit in the form—and object—of our rebellions. This is a downright shame, because many things are genuinely worth rebelling against—prejudice, usury, violence, to name a few. Pick any form of oppression, please, and rebel away—with God’s blessing. But how much time do we spend “sticking it” to those versions of The Man, shaking our fists in the face of evil and standing firm in the knowledge that the God of the universe has our back? In this issue we take an up-close look at several of The Man’s most unpleasant manifestations: the gun lobby, the criminal “justice” system, an educational system that fails the kids who need it most. We also witness how God exalts the lowly in order to expose, challenge, and humble those the world exalts. That’s God’s trademark move, of course, but it never ceases to astound me. Our cover feature tells a David and Goliath tale of faith communities taking a stand against national gun control laws that favor politicians (those in the NRA’s pocket) over people. The evidence is overwhelming—guns regularly and easily get in the wrong hands, leading to more than 100,000 US citizens being maimed or killed every year. Yet many legislators continue to respond to pressure from the cash-rich gun lobby, effectively saying with their votes that money is more important than life, liberty, and human flourishing. This stinks, but it’s not the end of the story, and

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Kristyn Komarnicki

in this feature you’ll learn about gun wield rhetorical weapons, in both the violence victims, such as Jamillah Posey Christian and the Muslim fundamentaland Jim Brady, who have turned their ist camps—than to learn to live in love pain into a platform to speak out against and harmony with our neighbors? This is laws that fail to protect. radical rebellion at its finest! In “Freed to Speak,” the This is the first and the final frontier in the frankly criminal inequities of the rebellion that God invites us to. US court/prison system come into sharp focus as exonThere is one more version of The erated—that is, convicted, proven inno- Man that we all, no matter who we cent, and released—death row prisoners are or what we believe, need to rebel tell hair-raising stories of jury tampering, against, perhaps with more passion and lawyer incompetence, and fabricated rigor than any other—and that is the testimony from bought witnesses. Al- “natural man” that lives within each of though beaten down physically, mentally, us. As Paul wrote in his first letter to the and spiritually, these men have found the Corinthians, “the natural man does not faith and courage to return from death’s receive the things of the Spirit of God, door and testify to the political manipu- for they are foolishness to him” (2:14). lations that go on behind the scenes and Our own sinful nature—so determined lead to such terrible injustices against to strut, to justify, to grasp at power and the poor. While justice would require get its own way—is our biggest obstacle that they be compensated for their pain to living in harmony with God, ourselves, and rewarded with a long luxury cruise, and our human family. This is the first reality fails to conform to that picture, and the final frontier in the rebellion that and they instead donate their time ad- God invites us to, calling us to “throw off vocating for others who have yet to find everything that hinders” (Hebrews 12:1) their voice, a responsibility they take and “cut off and throw away” every part dead seriously. of us that causes us to sin (Matthew In “A Costly Thing to Waste” we 18:8). meet a young man who, in spite of Corporately and individually, let us all the rhetoric about “at-risk” youth commit to “sticking it to” The Man that and how much they drain the system, lurks within all of us. Let us rebel against defied every stereotype and obstacle the rebel within us and follow Jesus— to become a successful banker—only the greatest and most radical rebel-rousto return to the streets in order to er that ever lived—in a rowdy, jubilant help lift other kids out of poverty and protest of all that is unjust in our world. hopelessness. The Man asks, “What’s Are you in? the point of pouring resources into these Kristyn Komarnicki kids who are going to end up in jail is partial to anyway?” UrbanPromise’s Bruce Main children, the sticks it to The Man by asking, and then elderly, sexual acting on, “How can we afford not to abuse victims, educate these kids, who, if not snatched prisoners, from this system of despair, will end up immigrants, opencosting taxpayers millions of dollars in hearted people of court fees, welfare, and damages alone?” And as 9/11 turns 10, we look at all faiths, and all who are in touch Christian/Muslim relations in the US with their own inner frailties. Among and are encouraged to learn of grow- her “everything that hinders, ”she wrestles the most with controlling ing efforts to build bridges between the her temper, refraining from offering two faith communities. What better way to stick it to the terrorists—both those unsought advice, and remembering who use physical violence and those who the Sabbath.

Letters to the Editor I have been reading PRISM since about 1998. I have given subscriptions to our college interns for the last seven years, to friends, seminarians, and now the youth staff at both of our church's sites. Thanks for one of the best periodicals in what’s left of the West. Rev. Drew Henderson Colonial Presbyterian Church Kansas City, Mo. I couldn’t help being slightly amused by David Gushee’s column in the May/June issue, “Moral Excellence in Small Things,” lamenting the decline of Bible study among younger Christians while simultaneously decrying the alleged sinfulness of gambling. After 20 years of Bible study, I’m fairly certain that Scripture is silent on the subject of gambling. It is undoubtedly abused by many, like sex or alcohol, but that hardly makes it inherently sinful. I really don’t think legalistic hangups are how Jesus calls us to be set apart from the world; that was the Pharisees’ approach to spirituality. Mike Nacrelli Portland, Ore. PRISM is simply outstanding and unique in the field of Christian journalism. It addresses the tough issues of our time—such as poverty, political and social injustice, violence in the home and

T alk Back on the street, economic exploitation, environmental degradation, human trafficking, illegal immigration—from the perspective of a deeply grounded biblical faith. It is evangelical without being doctrinaire; hard-hitting and prophetic but not judgmental; forthright and incisive yet irenic in tone and generous toward dissenting voices. I respect and laud its authentic witness to the whole gospel. Dr. Manfred T. Brauch Palms, S.C.

Thanks for a “A Call to Compassion for Our Brothers the Animals” in the July/August issue. Unlike the religions of the East (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism) which have clear injunctions against eating meat, the Bible is ambiguous. Certainly, people cited in the Bible ate meat, yet the book of Genesis suggests a vegetarian path. “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground…I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:29-31). This passage indicates that humans were to eat seed-bearing plants and fruits while animals were given green plants. Victor M. Parachin, author of  365 Good Reasons to Be a Vegetarian (Avery, 1997) Tulsa, Okla.

We’d love to hear from and keep in touch with you. There are lots of ways to interact. Email the editor at Check us out on Facebook @PRISMmagazine and Twitter @EvanSocAction. Sign up for the free weekly ePistle at, also published by Evangelicals for Social Action, for timely news and action alerts. Join the conversation! We look forward to connecting with you.


6 PRISM Magazine

Rusty Pritchard

The World Is Watching Creation care opponents have thrown caution to the wind. Emboldened by demagogues like Glenn Beck, they’re not averse to painting as “totalitarians” anyone even slightly concerned about pollution, resource conservation, biodiversity loss, or energy efficiency. The Washington Times published a piece on May 19, 2011, by creation care critic Cal Beisner purporting to reveal the “hidden dangers” in the National Day of Prayer for Creation Care, which was sponsored by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN). Among their “dangerous” prayer requests: reducing mercury pollution that passes from pregnant mothers to their unborn babies. Aside from being a worthy cause in its own right, the campaign seemed to me to be good apologetics as well. Here were evangelical Christians claiming publicly that God’s call to compassion and wise dominion extends to stopping air pollution that affects our most vulnerable citizens, growing the credibility of the pro-life witness by linking it to more than fighting abortion (the frequency of which, we must all admit, remains our greatest current national travesty), and doing so with smart, well-documented research and policy recommendations. I personally know of formerly pro-choice environmentalists who have changed their positions on abortion because of encountering prolife evangelical environmental advocates. But the most visible anti-environmentalists never let concerns about the church’s witness in the world overcome their fundamental desire to fight even the suggestion that democratically elected governments might use their regulatory authority to protect the environment. The libertarian ends consistently trump the means, and evangelism tends to be the first casualty, with regard for truth a close second. In Beisner’s critique, he constructed two straw-man claims that EEN’s materials didn’t make; and even the way he rebuts the fictitious claims reveals a lot about his commitments. Beisner said EEN claimed “the main source of mercury pollution is dirty air re-

A Different Shade of Green leased by coal-burning power plants” and that international sources are more important. Beisner apparently didn’t read the materials he was criticizing, because they didn’t say what he said they did. Apparently the Washington Times can’t afford fact-checkers. EEN gave a quite detailed explanation on the sources of mercury pollution and the relative contribution of domestic and international sources, which varies from place to place (they even provided a map). But the reason Beisner invented that red herring is that he sniffed out an attempt to strengthen regulation on emissions from coal-fired power plants. He challenged a fictitious version of EEN’s claims about sourcing, because he didn’t want to draw attention to their well-researched claims about the economic benefits from regulating mercury emissions (which predict $60-140 billion in total health benefits, or a return of $5-13 for every $1 invested in meeting the regulations). It wouldn’t be surprising, when we look back from the future, if the costs of limiting mercury went down relative to predictions and the benefits went up. That’s been the case with other environmental regulations as well—something even those opposed to regulations at the time now admit. Since we enacted the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the economy has grown 64 percent while air pollution has gone down 41 percent, a puzzle to those who predict economic collapse in the face of strong environmental regulations. Beisner goes on to accuse EEN of being a mouthpiece for the environmental lobby, repeating someone else’s suspect talking points about how bad mercury is for fetuses. But he ignored the peerreviewed scientific literature the EEN documents clearly cite—again, he simply makes stuff up about EEN and its campaign to suit his own rhetorical purposes. Beisner gives a drastically lower figure for unborn babies afflicted with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood—but he doesn’t say where he got his figures. So it turns out that Beisner committed the vice he (wrongly) accuses EEN of. EEN cited multiple studies that demonstrate not just

how many infants are affected by mercury in utero but also to what degree, and (crucially) puts a dollar value on the health benefits of mercury pollution reductions. I’m sympathetic to the problems of exaggeration and the nuances of weighing costs and benefits. I railed in the past about the irrational fears some parents have about the tiny amounts of mercury in vaccines, when the private and public health benefits from being vaccinated so far outweighs any negligible risk. Atmospheric mercury emissions are a different case—but it’s an empirical question, not an ideological question. Because Beisner is motivated chiefly by a libertarian worldview, he simply assumes that the costs of reducing mercury emissions will outweigh the direct and indirect benefits, when the best evidence shows that the reverse is actually true. Beisner is certainly a devoted advocate. He is faithful to his ideology and political positions and tireless in their defense. There is indeed a strong case to be made for the free market and for capitalism; environmental policies for a flourishing economy would be much better if they reflected the concerns of economic conservatives. That case is not made stronger, however, by a sloppy critique that runs roughshod over facts or by deafness to reasonable counterarguments. Beisner cites, without apparent sense of the irony, 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (in reference to prophecies, the readers are told to “test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil”). Free market advocacy and creation care advocacy can be done with care, rigor, and honesty. When the lost world is watching the way we argue, it is a necessity. Editors’ note: We invite readers to sign EEN’s End Mercury Poisoning Pledge at

A natural resource economist, Rusty Pritchard is the cofounder and president of Flourish (, a national Christian ministry that serves Christians as they grow in environmental stewardship, healthy living, and radical discipleship.


A Costly Thing to W BY BRUCE MAIN


few months ago I heard—via the grapevine—that one of my donors thinks our programs for inner-city kids at UrbanPromise in Camden, N.J., are “too expensive.” I guess he feels that the $7,000 cost we incur to educate a child in one of our private Christian schools (versus $16,850 per child in the local public schools),1 or the $1,500 we pay to employ a teen for seven weeks during the summer, or the $350 we spend to keep a child in a full-day, six-week summer camp is just too much money—not enough “bang for the

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buck.” For a few weeks I brooded over the comment. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I tend to think twice before biting the hand that feeds me, so I wanted to be sure I thought through my response before I hit the reply button. Ironically this funder—a Christian I should add—has no problem sending his children to private schools, taking his family on a summer vacation, or tapping into his vast social network to get his kid a summer internship. All of these activities cost money—

How much is too much to educate “at-risk” urban youth? large amounts of money. Not that it is incompatible to be a Christian and take your family on a summer vacation or lobby your friends to help your kid secure a résumépadding internship. I have no problem with sharing the gifts God gives us with our family. I do have a problem, however, with the notion that organizations working with impoverished, inner-city youth have to always cut corners, do bargain-basement programming, and stretch the dollars like saltwater taffy. Why is money spent on one group of kids justifiable but the same amount spent on other kids deemed “too much”? It’s an interesting statement about values. One afternoon I walked briskly across the parking lot at our ministry, located on the corner of 36th and Federal Street in East Camden. It was just after 1 p.m., and I was late for my meeting. I picked up my pace. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a young man sitting on the curb— about 8 feet from the front door of our high school. Odd. I kept walking. From the depths of my subconscious emerged the old youth worker. “Why is this kid sitting on a curb, in our parking lot, at 1:05 p.m.? I stopped, swiveled, and headed


towards the young man. “What’s up?” I asked, trying not to look like an overly concerned adult. “Waiting for a friend,” he muttered. “What’s your name?” I continued. “Angelo. “Angelo.” I pressed, “Where do you go to school?” “Up the street.” He motioned towards the public high school a few blocks down Federal Street. The school houses about 1,300 students and is ranked 315 out of 316 schools in New Jersey. Yes, that’s the second worst high school in the state. According to a recent article, it graduates about 55 percent of the students who enter in the 9th grade.2 “Do you like it?” I continued. “Like your school?” “Not really. “Why not?” “Four fights today,” he confessed. “There’s a group of kids. They just pick fights.” “Would you be interested in coming to our school?” “Yep! But can’t afford it.” I motioned for Angelo to follow me, took him up the steps of the school, and introduced him to Principal Marlowe. They began to discuss possibilities of getting him enrolled in our school—with a scholarship. My “expensive” programs just got more costly. Criminologists might refer to Angelo as a “high-risk youth.” Youth workers prefer not to use terms like “high risk” because of its pejorative implications. Labels like “high risk” are negative. Youth workers prefer phrases like “youth growing up in high-risk communities.” But criminologists do not necessarily see things as youth workers do. Criminologists would insist that Angelo, because he is sitting on a curb at 1:05 p.m. on a weekday and is not in school, is high risk. If Angelo is not in school, the likelihood of him graduating from school diminishes significantly. If Angelo is afraid to go to school, he is prone to wandering the streets—or sitting on curbs. If Angelo is roving the streets, the probability of him getting involved in criminal activity is appreciably increased. According to criminologists, by sitting on my curb at 1:05 p.m. on a weekday afternoon, Angelo is no longer just a kid growing up in a high-risk community. He is “at risk” of getting into all kinds of trouble. In 1996 Vanderbilt University economist Mark Cohen wrote a definitive paper called “The Monetary Value of Saving a High-Risk Youth.” I know the title sounds a little cold and calculating, but that’s why economists are economists and not


Girls hanging out at UrbanPromise afterschool program

UrbanPromise alumni Tony Vega returns to Camden as role model and teacher.

youth workers. Economists generally don’t lead heartwarming Our young friend had no idea that his afternoon in court was renditions of “Kum Ba Ya” and “Amazing Grace.” Economists fueling an expensive industry. And every time this young boy crunch data, make financial forecasts, and play with numbers. returns to the courthouse or goes to jail, society's costs conSo Cohen decided to sit down with his calculator and calculate tinue to escalate. the potential cost to society of Angelo sitting on a curb at New Jersey spends $690 million on 15,000 prisoners each 1:05 p.m. on a school day. Cohen wanted to assess the actual year. At $46,000 per bed3, this is the largest growing pormonetary value of saving a high-risk youth like Angelo from a tion of the state budget. As our politicians continue to slash life of crime and low productivity. budgets, I think Cohen’s data becomes increasingly relevant. I never found numbers very fun. My dad was an accounIn our city, for example, state aid will be reduced from $71 tant; I headed in another direction. For me, budgeting and million to $54 million. That’s real money. Fewer police, fewer doing financial forecasts for our ministry have always been a firefighters, fewer social workers, fewer parole officers, less little like filing tax returns—painfully tedious, but required. But money for libraries and communities services. I realize that I am glad there are guys like Cohen who find joy in numbers. there are policy issues that need to be changed in regards to His findings are staggering. According to Cohen, if you factor sentencing, but I also realize that if we can save more kids like in taxes on lost income over a lifetime, potential prison costs, Angelo from dropping out of school and engaging in crime, parole costs, remedial programming, law enforcement, and the monetary savings to our society will be profound. potential support for kids through welfare, the cost to society My ministry budget for the entire year is $3.2 million. This is—ready for this?—approximately $2 million. In economic comes from individuals—mostly church folk who already tithe terms, Angelo sitting on my curb at 1:05 p.m. is potentially a portion of their salary to their church, warmhearted people a $2 million liability to society. (Of course, this doesn’t even who want to make a difference in the world. Most are tired of touch on the exorbitant human costs to Angelo, his family, watching politicians tangle over government-run programs that and his neighborhood.) seem to produce little or no results. Most are dismayed and If you think Cohen is exaggerating, visit a juvenile courtangered when they read about growing prisons, failing schools, room. I recently spent an afternoon at the Camden Court and a drug industry that shows no signs of slowing. House. A group of UrbanPromise staff were supporting a That might seem like a lot of money for an urban minis16-year-old who had gotten in trouble with the law. The try, but when compared to the cost that Cohen projects for young man already had a rap youth who get swept sheet a foot long, but with our up into the system, it is a drop in the bucket. help he was now taking strides According to Cohen, if to turn his life around. As I UrbanPromise moves looked around the courtroom, just two kids from the I made a mental calculation “high-risk” category to of the cost to the taxpayer the “productive and enof this one-hour hearing: a gaged” category, we are judge, two court reporters, a saving taxpayers at least public prosecutor, a defense $4 million. I know for a lawyer, a woman who monifact that we are moving tors electric ankle bracelets, a more than two kids from social worker, a psychologist, Students enjoy quality Christian education the high-risk category and several security guards. at UrbanPromise's CamdenForward School. each year. Each day All salaried and with benefits.

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500 kids are off the streets and engaged in activities that are leading towards self-sufficiency and contributing to society. In essence, 500 kids are not sitting on the curb at 1:05 p.m. on a Wednesday. And more good news: They are not sitting on the curb at 3:30 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays or on school holidays. Just for fun, what if 500 kids are “saved” over the next five years? That would total a $100 million payback on a $16 million investment. Even Warren Buffett might retire with that kinds of gain. Besides looking at Angelo through an economic lens, there are other reasons for investing (and spending money) on programs impacting kids like Angelo. Last November, I received a phone call from Carl Clark. Carl started with our ministry in 1988 as a camper. He grew up in one of the worst housing projects in East Camden. His uncle was a big-time drug dealer on the Eastside. His mother was chronically ill. No father in the household. Carl came to our after-school programs and summer camps, secured a summer job with our ministry, and eventually went to the College of New Jersey on a full scholarship. He studied business and spent his post-graduation years as a banker. “Can we meet for breakfast?” he asked, in a greatly matured voice, over the phone. “I have something I need to talk with you about. “Absolutely!” I replied, thrilled that one of my old kids had called me. The next week we sat down at Denny’s, drank coffee, and ate our double stack of pancakes. Carl quickly got to the point “I just finished The Purpose Driven Life,” he began. “I think I’m supposed to leave banking and start an UrbanPromise in Trenton. What would I need to do?” Somewhat surprised by his certainty, I pressed him a little. “Why do you feel called to do this? You know, there is no security in nonprofit work.” “I see myself in these kids,” continued Carl. “You know, Bruce, if it wasn’t for people who invested in me, there is no way I’d be where I am. If I’m not supposed to do this, who is?” I had no answer for Carl. I could hardly think of another person as qualified as Carl—educated, committed, visionary, street-smart, and full of faith. This past summer Carl birthed a summer camp in Trenton’s West Ward. It’s a tough community—high rates of violence and a proliferation of gangs. As Carl explains, “The gangs have their own after-school programs. They rent out space for younger kids to come and play video games.” About 100 flooded through the doors each morning this summer. Ten

teens were employed as camp leaders. It may not seem like a lot of youth, but based on the camp’s success, Carl is adding another site in the fall. More kids will be pulled off the streets into programs that encourage academic, social, and spiritual growth. Fewer kids will be sitting on curbs during the middle of the school day. Ten years from now I expect a whole new generation of Christian leaders will be raised from Trenton’s toughest neighborhoods—neighborhoods that traditionally have sent more kids to jail than to college. Just like Carl, these young leaders will go to other cities and make a difference. They will return to Trenton as social workers, teachers, pastors, and youth workers. I have seen this happen in Camden many times over the past 25 years. Cohen was shortsighted in only attaching a monetary value to saving “high-risk” youth. He forgot to calculate the impact of young men and women offering their lives and gifts to God. He forgot to attach the monetary, social, and spiritual value that each young person—like Carl—can have on others when he or she returns to the community and impacts the younger generation. Are our programs too expensive? No. The real risk lies in not spending more. Bruce Main is president of UrbanPromise Inc. (;, an adjunct professor at Eastern University’s Campolo School for Social Change in Philadelphia, and the author of five books, including Why Jesus Crossed the Road (Tyndale, 2010), Holy Hunches (Baker, 2007), and Spotting the Sacred (Baker, 2006). (Editor’s note: due to space limitations, the endnotes for this article have been posted at

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FREED TO SPEAK by Janell Anema Photography by Sofia Moro 28 PRISM Magazine

Top (left to right): Perry Cobb, Randal Padgett, Nathson Fields, Ron Keine, Shabaka WaQlimi. Bottom (left to right): Ray Krone, Freddie Lee Pitts, Dale Johnston, Albert Burrell, Harold Wilson



very six months an exclusive fraternal order gathers in a different US city where members can fellowship, celebrate, and support each other. To enter this brotherhood one must endure a cruel hazing and an induction process perpetrated by the American criminal justice system. Inclusion in this fraternity requires that one must be arrested, falsely convicted, sentenced to die…and then set free. This is the brotherhood of the exonerated. Capital punishment has long existed in America but was temporarily suspended on a national scale between 1972 and 1976 after the US Supreme Court declared executions to be unlawful violations of the Eighth Amendment (protection from cruel and unusual punishment) and the Fourteenth Amendment (granting the right to due process). Individual states quickly enacted revised legislations, adapted to address constitutional questions concerning capital punishment, and the first execution in the modern era occurred in 1976. Since then a total of 1,253 people have been executed in the US. Today over 3,000 people await execution on death row, but as of this past June, 138 men and women have been exonerated. Exoneration occurs when a person is proven, through a trial of appeal, to be innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. For a multitude of reasons, ranging from the discovery of jury tampering, lawyer ineptitude, false testimony of incentivized witnesses, and DNA evidence, these men and women have been acquitted, exonerated, and released from prison.1 Many American citizens remain oblivious to the politi-

cal issues that don’t directly affect them. Those who have never been the victim of a crime, never served on a jury, and never set foot inside a prison are not likely to spend much time thinking about the nation’s criminal justice system. But the brotherhood of the exonerated, served by Witness to Innocence, one of their most active advocating agencies, wants to change all that.

Witness to Innocence

Based in Philadelphia, Witness to Innocence (WTI) is the only organization of its kind in the United States—created by, comprised of, and working for exonerated death row survivors. Since being established in 2005, WTI has had as its primary goal to “empower death row survivors and their loved ones to be effective leaders in the movement to abolish the death penalty.”2 For the first time in the history of the abolition movement there is a body designed to empower the exonerees. WTI does this, in part, by placing them in classrooms and on stages, in professional organizations and on city hall steps to champion the cause of abolition. Kathy Spillman is WTI’s speakers bureau director, dedicated to acquiring platforms for the exonerated. “I’ve seen them change minds,” enthuses Spillman. “People who come into a talk pro-death penalty come out, after hearing our guys, against the death penalty or, at the very least, supporting a moratorium. It’s extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it. Even the most expressive activist would not have the effect that they have

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PRISM Vol. 18, No. 5  September-October 2011

Editorial Board

Miriam Adeney Tony Campolo Luis Cortés Richard Foster G. Gaebelein Hull Karen Mains Vinay Samuel Tom Sine Harold DeanTrulear

George Barna Rodney Clapp Samuel Escobar William Frey Roberta Hestenes John Perkins Amy Sherman Vinson Synan Eldin Villafane

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A Publication of Evangelicals for Social Action The Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University All contents © 2011 ESA/PRISM magazine.

Guns kill 83 people every day in the u.s.

Congress has the power to enact federal laws requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales. Put lives before politics.

PRISM Magazine Sept-Oct 2011 Preview  

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