This blog explores and examines the intersections of rhetoric, race, and religion.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
How A Poor Theology Of The Cross Created America's Broken Justice System
Our jails are overflowing, people are receiving life sentences for minor crimes under three strikes laws, racial disparities leave minority populations disproportionately represented in the incarcerated population, and we’re so obsessed with killing that we’re now using untested concoctions of drugs that recently took a condemned inmate more than 20 minutes to finally die.
Our system isn’t working. It might surprise you however, to understand how we arrived at such a broken justice system.
We got here because of poor theology. While we do have a separation of church and state, it is undeniable that through the ages Christian theology has influenced laws, patterns of thinking, and social structures — especially in early America.
One such theology is a theology of the cross. In theological circles we call it “atonement theology,” which has been an area of theology that has been consistently morphing for the past 2000 years. You and I most likely grew up with one specific type of atonement theology which has tended to dominate the landscape since the 16th century or so — an atonement metaphor called “penal substitution.”
If you grew up within conservative evangelicalism or have seen even one episode of Way of the Master, you are familiar with the penal substitution theory of atonement even if you don’t recognize the theological name I’m using for it. It usually isn’t described as an “atonement metaphor” but rather is passed off as the “Gospel” itself. It goes something like this (if you grew up a fundie, you might remember “Romans Road” to explain it):