Century Marks

Century Marks

Prison state

The highest incarceration rates in the United States are in red states, especially in the South, but some conservatives are having second thoughts about the war on crime launched by President Nixon. Among them is Chase Madar, former Virginia state senator and attorney general who was president of Prison Fellowship for ten years. Madar was persuaded that a new approach to crime is needed by visiting prisoners, seeing the conditions they live in, and discovering that virtually no rehabilitation of criminals is taking place. He now advocates the use of restorative justice, a plan that returns criminals to the communities where they committed their crimes to confess at public meetings and ask forgiveness (American Conservative, February 3).

Basic services

A study on international development released last month in the United Kingdom predicts that it will take decades and in some cases more than a century for some of the earth’s inhabitants to obtain basic services. Kenya has one of the fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa, yet at current rates of development it will take 150 years for the nation as a whole to get sanitation services. It could take up to 85 years for Rwanda, Burundi, and Lesotho to improve nationwide water supplies. “Our research for the last three years has shown us that projects delivering good results are locally led, politically smart, and often employ entrepreneurial techniques,” said the lead author of the report (Overseas Development Institute, February 3).


Following a speech by Nadia Bolz-Weber at the First Baptist Church in Madison, Wisconsin, a woman in tears spoke up to say that she was unable to forgive herself, because she had been told many times she was unforgivable. Bolz-Weber, widely known as a tattooed, salty tongued Lutheran pastor from Denver, responded: “Maybe for as many times as you’ve been told that, you need to hear that God is gracious, and merciful, and slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and loves you as you are. And as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by Christ’s authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all of your sins.” The congregation responded, “Amen” (Wisconsin State Journal, February 2).


During his only visit to America, theologian Karl Barth in 1962 visited three prisons: Bridewell House of Correction in Chicago, San Quentin in California, and Rikers Island in New York. He called Bridewell “Dante’s inferno on earth” and said it was a contradiction of the wonderful message on the Statue of Liberty. Barth wondered aloud why theologians weren’t denounc­ing the deplorable conditions in Amer­ican prisons, calling out Reinhold Niebuhr in particular (Jessica DeCou, “The First Community: Barth’s Amer­ican Prison Tours,” in Karl Barth and the Making of Evangelical Theology, Eerdmans).

Aid, not blockade

Roman Catholic bishops who visited Gaza in January have called for the Israeli government to lift its long-standing blockade of Gaza and to take greater action to alleviate poverty there. Members of the Holy Land Coordination group, which travels to the region annually, were struck by the widespread devastation from the recent Gazan conflict, which killed about 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis. Alleviating the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza is in the security interests of the state of Israel, the bishops declared. The Israeli government blames the poverty in Gaza on the ruling group Hamas (National Catholic Reporter, January 16).