It is a tense time to be a pastor in America. Following the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, as well as the shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, many religious leaders are grappling with how to best guide their congregations in this heated time.
The Collegeville Institute Fellows, a two-year program that brings together clergy from Minnesota, engaged in timely conversation about the state of the criminal justice system during their July 18th and 19th meeting at the Minnesota Humanities Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This is the fourth meeting of this Fellows cohort, which convened in 2015. Several participants pronounced the criminal justice system in the United States as broken and were not sure incremental improvements in it were sufficient.
Four guest presenters met with the fellows over the course of their two days together, including Rachel Campbell, Former Program Coordinator, Community Justice Project, Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, Timothy Dolan, law enforcement consultant for the Police Executive Research Forum and the Joyce Foundation, and former Police Chief, City of Minneapolis, Hillary Freeman, internationally-recognized expert on ex-offender re-entry programs by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the U.S. Department of Justice, and Denise Reilly, Judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals and Member, Minnesota Supreme Court Children’s Justice Initiative Advisory Committee.
Key insights gained over the two days together included:
- We have differing paradigms of criminal justice. How do we as a congregational leaders help people think about their paradigms of criminal justice?
- Ex-offender, re-entry ministry requires a readiness for “relational work.” So many church members and congregations avoid that and prefer the easier social justice advocacy approach. But isn’t relational ministry what Jesus calls us to?
- Policing in America is one of the most fragmented things we can imagine.
- The United States is a violent place.
The day following this gathering a participant in the meeting posted this comment on his Facebook timeline: “I just got back from a wonderful two days talking about criminal justice and theology with my colleagues in the Collegeville Fellows program. Far from the negativity that I often hear about organized religion, these smart, faithful, and shrewd colleagues are working hard to make the world around them a better place, especially in these troubled days. Hats off to you all, my dear Fellows.”