By Alan Bean
Are Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann part of a movement determined to forcibly Christianize every aspect of American culture?
If so, why does a blog dedicated to ending mass incarceration care one way or the other?
If Rachel Tabachnick is anything to go by, the answer to the first question is ‘yes’. Tabachnick knows more about the dominionist strain within contemporary evangelicalism than just about anybody and you simply must check out her recent interview with Terry Gross of Fresh Air.)
I am still thinking through my answer to the “so what” question (and will have more to say on the subject as my thinking clarifies); but the rough outline of an answer came to me yesterday when a reporter asked me why Louisiana (unlike Texas and Mississippi) has done nothing to reform its criminal justice system.
The avuncular visage of Burl Cain sprang to mind. Cain is slowly transforming the Angola prison plantation into a spiritual rehabilitation center. Inmates (90% of them in for life) are repeatedly invited to get right with Jesus. Life becomes a whole lot easier if they take the offer.
Then I thought of Ann Richards, the progressive Texas Governor who, during her ill-fated re-election campaign against George W. Bush, told the voters that she wanted to build more prisons so folks with addiction issues could get rehabilitated.
Burl Cain and his Louisiana fan club want to lock up more people every year so earnest evangelists can have a captive audience.
Friends of Justice works in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, three states that are gradually backing away from the punitive consensus that has controlled the American judicial system for more than three decades. Texas was embarrassed into rethinking mass incarceration through a series of scandals: Tulia (the bizarre drug bust that gave birth to Friends of Justice), Hearne (the American Violet story), the Dallas Sheetrock scandal, the Houston crime lab, the Texas Youth Commission fiasco, an incredible string of DNA exonerations in Dallas County and Governor Perry’s botched attempt to silence the Texas Forensic Science Commission. Thanks to a series of modest reforms, the Texas prison population has now plateaued in the 160,000 range (it was 40,000 in 1980) and will likely stay there for the foreseeable future.
Mississippi experienced a 3.5% drop in its prison population in a single year by deciding that inmates must only serve 25% of sentences before being eligible for parole (it had been 85%).
The old “lock ’em up” mentality is beginning to soften even in the state that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the free world. Folks in Louisiana want to lock up as many people as possible out of a misdirected sense of compassion. After all, isn’t it better to find Jesus in jail than to live an unregenerate life in the free world? We don’t hate criminals in Louisiana; we just want what’s best for them.
This is precisely the kind of theocratic logic that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann have embraced. They want to Christianize the nation (by force if necessary) the way Burl Cain has Christianized the Angola plantation. And if the liberals presently controlling Hollywood, the recording industry, the public school system, the evening news and the political life of the nation don’t want to be Christianized, that’s just too bad. Michelle, Sarah, Rick et al are God’s anointed apostles. At Angola, to oppose Burl Cain is to oppose God; the New Apostolic Reformation wants to extend this kind of thinking to every aspect of our national life.
Do the politicians currently feeding at the trough of radical religion really believe that the eclectic vitality of a diverse nation can be homogenized by the blood of the Lamb? Maybe not. But they want to push the political envelope as far in that direction as the public will allow. In these strange times, it’s smart politics.
If you think I’m overstating the case, please read Ms. Tabachnick’s conversation with Terry Gross.
The Evangelicals Engaged In Spiritual Warfare
August 24, 2011 – TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. (more…)