Source: (2004) In Peter Sedgwick, ed., Rethinking sentencing: a contribution to the debate. A report from the Mission and Public Affairs Council. London: Church House Publishing. Pp. 50-63. Downloaded 16 September 2005.

I spend a good deal of time trying to press upon churches the notion that the criminal justice system, and those who fall foul of it, should be a cause for Christian concern. It still surprises me – although perhaps, by now, it shouldn’t – that this is not always as glaringly obvious to others as it is to me. There are many reasons why churchgoing Christians might not put criminal justice top of their list of concerns. Some may see the subject as too political, or too radical, while some may feel safer supporting a mission field far from home. Others may make a simple distinction between the deserving and the undeserving – with offenders being regarded as undeserving because of their offences – failing to separate the sinner from the sin. The truth is that the law, and those who come into conflict with it, has been a prominent focus within Christianity from the very beginning. The thrust of Christ’s earthly ministry was to those who, daily, clog our courts, prisons and probation offices. He engaged the cheat, the robber, the beggar and the prostitute. He had time for the mentally ill, others whom nice folks avoided, and those not quite able to make their way in the world. And, of course, he experienced for himself the harshness of the justice system at the time. He was arrested in the middle of the night on the word of a friend who was a paid informer, subjected to intimidating questioning and remanded in custody. He was subjected to police brutality, and condemned to die by a weak judge who was put under pressure by the prosecution. (excerpt)