A Review of
And the Criminals With Him: Essays in Honor of Will D. Campbell and All the Reconciled.
Will Campbell and Richard C. Goode, eds.
Reviewed by Chris Enstad
Will Campbell has been a Baptist preacher, campus pastor, and worked in the National Council of Churches during the height of the civil rights era. His work in the field of reconciliation has earned him accolades and rebukes by liberal and conservative alike. During the 60’s and 70’s Campbell’s work with the Committee of Southeran Churchmen confounded liberals who wished to damn racists to hell. Campbell’s endearing message can be found in the now-closed journal Kattalegete, named for the Greek word for “Be Reconciled.” In Scripture, Campbell discovered, Paul wrote to all sides of the Christian argument as though they were already reconciled to each other through Christ’s blood, the work had been done, now it was just up to us to realize it!
This patient presence in the midst of such high tensions in the country continues forth to this work focusing on America’s retributive justice system. Just as in the areas of race, so our definition of justice and punishment in this country needs to be examined closely in the light of faith and what Christ has already done for both criminal and the innocent alike.
The six parts of the book consist of essays that come from a wide range of areas and expertise. Notable are the essays by incarcerated men and women as well as the incorporation of a historical essay by Campbell that focuses our attention on that area of our life together we would rather not see.
America has quickly become the land of the incarcerated or paroled. Our system of justice now includes for-profit correctional institutions who can only increase profits by increasing the number of crimes for which an individual can be imprisoned! Spending on prisons alone has surpassed spending on higher education in six states already.
And all of this happens in a shadow world removed from our day-to-day vision. This book will enrage you and engage you. It will cause church-folks to ask, “If we don’t have a prison ministry in this church, what is stopping us?” It will force community leaders to ask, if we still believe in restorative justice, is that still happening and, if we are now truly a nation that wields retributive justice (as in an eye for an eye), how does that measure up to our faith and our life together?
At the very least it should give us pause to ask the question, “Why?” Why does a nation with only 5 percent of the world’s population contain 25 percent of the world’s prisoners?
Two of the most heart-wrenching essays focus on the death penalty and its immediate effects on the prisoner and their families. Let us first note that the death penalty has never served to bring anyone back from the dead, it is also worth noting that the death penalty also doesn’t really serve to alleviate murder and death in our culture. Given those givens, the Reverend Stacy Rector’s essay “My Friend Steve” and William R. Stevens’ “The Diary of an Execution” will not only call our attention to what is really going on in a death penalty situation but also from the clear as mud stance of a Christian ministering to a person about to die who may or may not have done a horrible thing. A person being murdered by their own government. That should give even the least engaged member of society something to talk about.
But, in the end, as Will Campbell emphasizes here, Christians must continue standing in the muck and pulling at the hard work of living in the here and now despite knowing that the end of our story has already been written. Christ has died, Christ has risen, for all people. Once and for all. Katallagete! Be reconciled!
Chris Enstad is the Poetry and Fiction editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also Senior Pastor of Elim Lutheran Church of Robbinsdale, MN. His blog can be found at http://livingtheresurrection.typepad.com