The Prison-Industrial Complex and Institutional Racism
Behind every case of injustice, there is a case of idolatry. And where there is systemic injustice in a system, this is only because there is systemic idolatry embedded in that system. And if the church is not speaking against injustice, then the church is not speaking against idolatry, and therefore the church is not preaching the Gospel.
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With about 600,000 African American males between the ages of 25 and 60 in federal and state prisons, the United States is the nation with the highest percentage of its black male population enslaved, er, pardon me, imprisoned. But don’t let that sink in yet, we have much more and much worse to say about it. And what we will say today about it will go against the established “conservative” stereotypes. In fact, it will go against the established churchian and evangelical stereotypes – which means, idols – of our day. We will see where our society and our civil governments have stood in direct opposition to the Law of God; and because they have violated the Law of God, our governments have been involved in a mass scale injustice: not injustice as defined by Marxists and socialists, as in “not giving money to the poor,” but injustice as defined by the Law of God, as in “enforcing man-made laws with the purpose of oppression of one group and favoring another.” We will see that the church, led by its blind or corrupt shepherds, have remained studiously ignorant of the issue, refusing to look into it from a Biblical perspective, and therefore studiously silent, abandoning her task to speak for justice and righteousness in the name of Christ. I know I’m in trouble when speaking on this issue, because I know that most Christians have been conditioned to have certain beliefs and interpretations on it. But trouble or not, folks, there is a Biblical rule: Behind every case of injustice, there is a case of idolatry. And where there is systemic injustice in a system, this is only because there is systemic idolatry embedded in that system. And if the church is not speaking against injustice, then the church is not speaking against idolatry, and therefore the church is not preaching the Gospel.
Let me repeat this: With about 600,000 African American males between the ages of 25 and 60 in federal and state prisons, the United States is the nation with the highest percentage of its black male population enslaved. To place it in perspective, these 600,000 black males in productive age constitute about 6 to 7% of the total adult black male population in this age bracket, 25 to 60. Which means, 1 out of 14. This figure, of course, doesn’t include those that are in county jails, and it doesn’t include those on parole or already released. Statistically, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, according to government sources.
Yes, yes, I know the conservative stereotypical explanations: it’s a culture of dependence and laziness, “where are the fathers,” etc., etc.
But I am a Christian, and I think covenantally, not in mindless stereotypes. And thinking covenantally means thinking in terms of ethical/judicial realities. And thinking in terms of ethical/judicial realities, there is absolutely no way that one out of three black men is a criminal. I am not saying that there is no crime in the black neighborhoods of America. I am not denying that most of the crime there is black-on-black crime. I am not denying that there are cultural issues with the ghetto culture, and that there is much dependence, lack of vision and lack of entrepreneurship in the inner cities. I am not denying that the breakdown of the family is at disastrous levels. I am not shifting the blame for all that is happening in the inner cities to the white suburbanites of America. But folks, this is one out of three black males is a criminal, or will be at some point of his life??? And keep in mind, this is not limited to those who live in the inner cities; this statistics includes all black males, including those living in middle-class neighborhoods, including those who are among our nation’s elite. When we take them all together as a whole, one out of three is a criminal, if we trust our justice system.
Let me share some experience. Part of my mission work was among the Gypsy minority in Bulgaria. Gypsies are the most despised minority in Europe. And for a reason: Gypsies are the longest surviving thoroughly and self-consciously pagan culture in Europe. Their level of social organization and cultural morality is at the levels of our European ancestors 2,000 years ago, when my Slavic ancestors were pillaging the eastern part of the Roman Empire, and in the western part Cicero advised his fellow Romans to not buy Celtic slaves because they were hopelessly dumb and weren’t good for any work. For all practical purposes, Gypsies are a Stone Age tribe among a Computer Age population. If the surrounding culture disappears, the Gypsies would return to a Stone Age subsistence simply because their culture lacks what it takes to maintain a complex civilization with all its production, supply, entrepreneurship, communications, etc. Their morality is at pre-Christian levels as well. This is a culture that doesn’t see a problem in crippling newborn infants with the purpose of making them beggars when they grow up, or sell their daughters to prostitute. This is a culture where theft is assumed as a normal way of making a living. Etc., etc.
It is among such people that I spent part of my ministry, and it is among them that many courageous and faithful missionaries are working in Bulgaria, and have amazing success by the grace of God.
But even before we had those successes, even with the low morality and no Christian influence among the Gypsies, the criminal rate was not that high as our justice system makes it to seem among American blacks. I have been in black neighborhoods in the US, and I have been in Gypsy neighborhoods in Bulgaria. Black neighborhoods in the US are incomparably safer. And yet, among the Gypsies I knew, when we take it to individual level in that immoral, disgusting, pagan culture, not more than 10% had committed crimes that deserve punishments as harsh as prison time. Yes, most of them did petty thievery and pickpocketing. Yes, most of them got drunk or drugged very often. Yes, they treated their wives and children awfully. But serious violent crimes or serious thievery were only done by about 10% of their male population – and this is considered incredibly high for a separate, defined culture.
And our justice system makes it look like among the black male population – all of it, not just the poor, inner city neighborhoods – the crime rate is three times higher than that of the Gypsies! Forgive me if I – with my experience on the mission field with cultures much worse than anything America has ever seen in its recent history – remain unconvinced. I don’t have to agree with the leftists and the socialists and with their ideology to see that there is a problem with justice here. I don’t have to agree with everything the Black Lives Matter movement stands for to see that there is a problem here. I don’t have to agree with the Marxist calls for the so-called “social justice” to see that real justice is not served here, and that the data show a serious problem which can’t be simply pinned on the black community. One criminal to two non-criminals in impossible, and it cannot be accepted as indicative of one-sided problem only. No matter how much wickedness we postulate among the black male population of this country, it can’t explain the numbers. There must be wickedness on the other side of the equation as well.
In order to discern if there is wickedness on the other side of the equation, we must judge the other side – our civil government and especially our law-enforcement and justice system – by the Biblical standards. That we have failed to do as Christians for many generations now, and it is time to start, and now is the best time. (Yesterday would be even better, if we had a way to travel back in time.)
When we go to the Law of God to find out whether our justice, and law-enforcement, and prison system are really doing their job, we find something unexpected for the vast majority of Christians today: The Law of God doesn’t provide for professional law-enforcement structures, it doesn’t provide for a prison system, and it doesn’t provide for government laws and policies which control non-criminal individuals or regulate non-criminal actions. Correct, you heard it: The Law of God doesn’t allow for prisons, police, or government policies and regulations. None of it, completely. We are used to believe that our modern system of government can be found in the Bible, that it is in principle good and Biblical, except for a few bad apples who make it look bad; or for a liberal conspiracy which abuses this otherwise good and Christian system. But this picture is incorrect. Our modern system, first of all, is not the Biblical system, and very little of what our government is and does today can be found in the Bible or even justified by the Bible. And second, not only that, our current system is a radical departure from the original intent of the Founding Fathers, and from the original state of the American Republic in the first two generations after the War for Independence. The story of our departure from the original intent I will leave for another time and another podcast. Today we will stick to the Bible and its principles, and.
When I tell modern American Christians and churchmen – especially churchmen – that in the Bible and in the Law of God specifically there is no executive branch of government, there are no government policies and regulations, there is no professional police, and there are no prisons, I often get the response, “But the Bible doesn’t specifically forbid them, right?” This, of course, is a humanistic and pharisaic response, and it has nothing to do with covenantal obedience to the Word of God. What such response is saying is this: “We have our own man-made ideas of how a society should be organized and how the civil government should operate, we have our own ideas of what justice is and how it should be administered, and even though our ideas are not supported by the Biblical evidence, they are OK as long as there is no literal, direct command in the Bible against them.” But this is not how covenantal thinking operates. Covenantal thinking works ethically/judicially; it is concerned first and foremost with the Biblical concepts of righteousness and justice, and then, within that context, with the proper role and place of man’s institutions. As Christians, we can’t first make institutions, assign them roles in the society according to our autonomous ideology, and then try to adjust the practice of those institutions to isolated Biblical verses. Our practice – individual and social – must be based on a comprehensive understanding of the Biblical view of justice. It is on that concept that we built; not the other way around.
Our ideas of government today are based on the ideology of the Enlightenment, and specifically the ideology of the French lawyer Montesquieu: that such government is constituted well which separated in three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. One branch of the government makes the laws; another branch makes policies and executes them, and a third branch watches over the other two and judges them if they have violated the laws they have themselves made and vowed to enforce. So deeply ingrained in us is this concept of the Enlightenment that we as Christians have adopted it as if it’s God’s view of human government, and we have designed theologies to read in into the Bible. And when we eventually can’t read it into the Bible, we say, “Well, at the least the Bible doesn’t say anything against it.” But it does.
Biblically, there is only one function of the civil government: justice. There is no legislative function of the civil government; only God is the legislator. No one else is allowed to make laws, and no laws that are not the Law of God are acknowledged as laws in the Bible. The Bible has only two categories for law systems: the Law of God (Torah) and lawlessness (anomia, in Greek). (Read my article on this, “Torah vs. Anomia: rule of Law vs. Rule by Permit.”) There is a system of righteousness and justice in the Bible that covers – in a comprehensive and yet succinct form – all possible situations of how man treats God and how man treats other men. It is a case law; that is, it encodes ethical/judicial principles under the form of specific cases, and expects human judges to apply these ethical/judicial principles to specific cases at hand today. Nothing can be encoded as law that is not already encoded in the Bible; human governments are not allowed to declare legal something God has declared criminal (like killing an unborn baby), and human governments are not allowed to declare criminal what God has not declared criminal (like selling or using narcotics, crossing national borders without government permission, doing business without a license, etc.) When governments create such legal rules, they are not laws, they are encoded lawlessness, a violation of the Law of God, and therefore idolatry and abomination before God.
There is no executive function of the government either. The executive function of government is left to the individual and the family – because property in the Bible is entrusted to the individual and the family. The executive function of the government is by its very definition and nature a claim to ownership over resources, because any executive action requires the use of resources for certain purposes. Which means – pay attention now – that executive action by the government which involves regulating people and their behavior for certain purposes of the government is a claim to ownership over people! That’s what the prophet Samuel, in 1 Sam. 8, told the people of Israel who wanted an executive government (king over them): He will take your sons and daughters, he will take your fields, and produce, and servants, and flocks, and the end, you will become his slaves. Such ownership of individuals by the government is not allowed in the Biblical law; the government is not allowed to have an executive function, only the individuals and the families are. Owning property, managing resources, making economic decisions, this is all left to individuals and families, and even there owning slaves and making executive decisions concerning them is limited and subject to different rules than owning property.
The government we see in the Bible is only judicial: courts and judges. These courts and judges are passive, they only sit and wait for individuals to come to them for solving issues. They may sit in the city gates, they may sit in the Tabernacle (like Eli and Samuel), they may sit under a tree (like Debora), but they sit. The don’t go around to execute or enforce policies; there are no government policies to start with. They don’t go around to “protect” people or offer “security” or “safety.” Safety and security are executive functions and are therefore left to the people themselves, not to the government. The government’s role is simply justice: when one man commits a crime against another man, and his victim demands a restitution. Or when two men have a dispute over legal or economic matters. The government itself is not a side to a court trial; there is not such trial as “the state of Israel vs. someone” in the Bible. Only justice, and only between individuals or between families (or between private legal entities like companies). Our modern professional police today that goes actively around “maintaining order” and looking for trouble to fix is not Biblical; such institution is essentially pagan and anti-Christian in its very purpose and nature, even if it’s manned by the best Christian men in the country.
Also, the punishments in the Bible are all based on the principles of the Victim’s Rights and Restitution. There is not imprisonment in the Law of God, and there are no fines to the state, and there are no regulations by the state. If it’s a dispute, the court divides between the two parties. If it’s a damage, the court decrees restitution. If it’s theft, the court decrees double, 200% restitution (with the option of only 120% in case of pre-trial confession and repentance). Unlike the other nations, Israel had no prisons or dungeons; in Jeremiah 38 the city rulers had to drop Jeremiah in an empty water cistern to stop him from prophesying. Locking up people for a certain period of time as a means of punishment was a pagan, barbaric practice, and God never decreed it. Thus, our modern prison system and the laws that support it are pagan and barbaric, and there is nothing Biblical or just about them. The existence of both professional police and of prisons is a sign of institutional idolatry in America today, of institutional injustice, and therefore of institutional rebellion against the God of the Bible. No matter how many good and righteous people serve in these institutions, no matter how lofty the intentions of people in these institutions are, professional police and prisons as systems are pagan and wicked.
(As a side note, the United States at the beginning were much closer to the Biblical model. The courts were the only civil institution, with the Sheriffs being only agents of the courts. Most court cases were between individuals, and restitution was the most common resolution. The emergence of police and prisons came with the emergence of socialist/statist ideologies in the US.)
It should be clear that if an institution is by its very nature pagan and wicked, no matter how righteous and well-meaning the people in it are, it will eventually start producing injustice. Those conservatives and Christians who believe that the cases of injustice in the police and the justice system are only isolated cases, “a few bad apples,” don’t understand the nature of God’s reality. Any deviation from God’s Law will by nature produce injustice; when we set up institutions that have the monopoly of power and executive privilege that the Law of God doesn’t allow, these institutions will inevitably produce injustice. God is not mocked; once we break His Law, His judgment will start breaking our society. And systemic injustice will be one of the first signs for it.
In the name of “security” (which is not a function of the civil government according to the Bible), our legislation adds more and more actions to the list of crimes that demand imprisonment. Imprisoning more and more people is a good excuse for the government appropriating more funds by taxation. Private companies are then hired to build prisons and maintain them, at the expense of the taxpayers. Then professional police is assessed based on the number of arrests they make, or on the number of revenue-collecting tickets they write. At every level of our wicked, anti-Biblical system of justice and law-enforcement there are financial incentives – paid by the taxpayers – for the government institutions and their buddies in the private crony companies to make more laws, declare more and more acts “criminal,” and fine or imprison people for them, so that there is more and more excuse for more and more money flowing to the system. We all understand incentives when it comes to government welfare: of course, when the government hands out free money to the needy, the incentive for many people will be to stay “needy.” Do we apply the same principle to government institutions and private cronies hired by the government? If the system pays for every arrest, or ticket, or imprisoned convict, wouldn’t police, prisons, and even courts catch up with the incentives and start producing more and more arrests, tickets, and imprisoned convicts? And since there is no higher power that can judge that system – the system is its own prosecutor and judge – there are no negative sanctions for cops, prisons, and judges. That is, no expenses, and free money for injustice. What can go wrong?
The only thing that can go wrong is public opinion: if too many people are affected by the injustice of the system, there will be a mass movement against it. So the solution is in the good old principle of “divide and conquer” used by every tyrannical system in history: don’t apply injustice to the whole society but only to one group. That group needs to be large enough to provide the necessary human material, and yet not that large as to have serious influence on public policy. Ideally, the group must have some stigma attached to it, like some common perception about its cultural inferiority compared to the other groups, so that the broader society doesn’t have compassion to it and won’t be willing to associate with it. If such a group exists, it can be safely made an object of injustice without endangering the government’s approval among the broader population. Remember Niemoeller’s words:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
And since the broader population won’t normally object when injustice is done to a small group with an attached social stigma, and since money is to be made out of that injustice, we should expect to see such injustice in our society. And what group fits the description better than inner-city black males? The group is large enough to provide the material, and yet small enough to not be politically dominant. There is a social stigma attached to it (they are all thugs, right?), and there are established stereotypical responses to their complaints. (Where are the fathers? It’s a culture of dependency and laziness. What about black-on-black crime? Etc., etc.) A group that is an easy target, and lucrative target as well, for it provides the justification for more money taken from taxpayers and funneled to a corrupt law-enforcement and justice system and their cronies. And when some black men respond with violence in desperation again it, this is taken as an additional “proof” that, “see? It must be their fault.”
Do we see any real signs for such injustice? Sure enough. Multiple sources from within the police departments across this country have testified that planting drugs on black “suspects” is a regular practice. There are also multiple testimonies that police are specifically trained and encouraged to escalate innocent encounters to fabricate reasons for arrests – they even have the ludicrous accusation of “resisting arrest” when that arrest itself has no reason for it at all. Police laboratories have been caught multiple times fabricating evidence against suspects with the purpose of conviction. Prosecutors have ignored and even hidden evidence; and have manipulated juries and grand juries. And judges have been investigated – and some even convicted – of selling convicts to the prison system. We may prefer to close our eyes to these examples of injustice and corruption (until we become victims of them) but they are there, and they clearly show that a system established contrary to God’s Law produces nothing else but injustice.
Yes, most Americans today are personally and individually not racist, nor know anyone who is personally and individually racist. But the system can still be racist – not because of some inherent ideology but because of its inherent corruption and rebellion against the Law of God. As I said earlier, every case of injustice is a case of idolatry; and every systemic injustice is systemic idolatry. And when we as Christians fail to acknowledge and stand against injustice, we are guilty of being silent in the face of idolatry. And we are not preaching the Gospel.
It’s about time for the church to arise and address this injustice and idolatry. We have lost cultural influence because of our silence. We blame the moral condition of our country on the liberals and the left, but the reality is, it is our own fault that as Christians, we have remained silent, and we have allowed our pulpits to be manned by false teachers who have remained silent in the face of idolatry and injustice. There is institutional racism in the system: driven not by ideological but by financial considerations. It robs everyone: it robs black men of their liberty, it robs everyone else of their taxes, in favor of a small group of government tyrants and their cronies. And unless we as a church stand against this idolatry, we won’t see a restoration of Christian America.
The book I recommend to you today is Gary North’s Economic Commentary on the Bible. All 31 volumes . . . nah, just kidding. The volumes relevant to our topic this week are vols. 3 and 4 of Authority and Dominion, previous title Tools of Dominion, covering the case laws of Exodus 21-40. As you read it, pay attention to two principles in the Law of God: first, restitution, and second, victim’s rights. Then compare them to our system today. And then you will know what needs to change for justice and liberty for all to triumph.
And don’t forget to go to bulgarianreformation.com and prayerfully consider supporting my work in Bulgaria. If you think there’s injustice in the US, wait till you see Eastern Europe with its history of Communism. Idolatry is still alive and well in many places, and therefore injustice is alive and well. We have work to do, and your help will be of extreme value.