We Need To Stop Criminalizing Poverty

A tweet:

“A Georgia man stole a can of beer. The judge ordered ankle monitoring. The company administering it charged him more than $1,000. He sold plasma, but fell behind on his payments & the judge jailed him for non-payment. We need to stop criminalizing poverty.”

I had to read this a few times. The first time I thought the author was excusing the man’s initial act of stealing the can of beer as a result of his poverty. So I wondered, what does stopping criminalizing poverty mean? It can’t mean excusing theft can it? Otherwise, as Chinua Achebe wrote, things fall apart.

Upon closer review, the overarching problem is falling behind on his payments for the disproportionate fine. And being jailed. Stopping criminalizing poverty means a poor person should not be fined $1,000 for stealing something valued at $5. Nor should they be jailed when they can’t pay the fine on time. Taxpayers pay for the person’s time in prison and society pays when they find it even more difficult to find work upon their release.

Community service makes much more sense.

Feminism and Church Patriarchy

I was too young during the Civil Rights movement to appreciate the participants’ sacrifices and accomplishments firsthand. We’re in the midst of another, admittedly more subtle, radical social transformation.

The U.S. is tilting left, in large part because younger voters are more liberal on a host of social issues including gay marriage, women’s rights, immigration, gun control, and legalizing marijuana.  As one especially illuminating example of this transformation, read not-so-young Republican Senator Rob Portman’s explanation of why he now supports gay marriage.

The key word in the previous paragraph was “tilting” as in 55%. There’s still a Grand Canyon-like partisan divide on social issues. Case in point, Portman is getting ripped by the Right for abandoning conservative biblical principles and by the Left for a too little too late conversion.

This is what I was thinking about in church Sunday when Melinda, our twenty-something year-old intern, started her sermon, a history of St. Patrick, and what his life might mean for our church today. It was excellent. I drifted as always, but more purposefully. I was fast forwarding, thinking about how bright her pastoral future is. I was picturing her taking future calls and serving a series of churches extremely well. A life spent modeling the gospel; providing spiritual counseling; teaching and preaching; rallying people to serve those in need; thoughtfully baptizing, marrying, and burying the young and old; and the community and larger Church, being better for it.

And then I thought about a religious organization that’s been in the news a lot lately as a result of a change in leadership. And how, despite accelerating social change in the U.S., that religious organization is passing on thousands of Melinda’s the world over every year. How, I wonder, does any institution in the 21st Century take a pass on the leadership potential of half its members?

Also listening to Melinda was our district’s congressman who flies home every weekend to see his wife. Looking at him made me wonder, what if Congress passed on the leadership of half the population? What if schools of medicine did? Or your workplace? What if (fill in the group or institution of your choice) did?

How do my feminist friends, both male and female deal with the church’s patriarchy? That’s only one of my many questions about the Church in the news. My friends would undoubtedly say that’s just one of a long list of unresolved challenges facing the Church. They oppose the Church’s official stands on a litany of issues, but remain committed to it.

How does that work? Does religious tradition trump discordant hearts and minds? How does it hold together?