The Political Theology of Mass Incarceration
In The Political Theology of Mass Incarceration, Dubler and Lloyd outline the process in which changes in religious ideas about law and justice led to the emergence of the mass incarceration system. Before engaging with this week’s materials, I did know about the argument many segregationists made against Civil Rights movements and sit-ins as “breaking the law”, but only saw this argument as one that could be rooted in racism and the fear of losing white superiority. I had never really thought of it as one that could be rooted in religion (unless it was the ways in which religion had been used to justify white supremacy) or a religious understanding of justice. Dubler and Lloyd identify the debate between Kilpatrick and Dr. King as the beginning of a transition in American view of justice and its conflation with law. Instead of viewing justice as something which laws must constantly work and be altered to achieve, justice became equivalent to the proper execution of already existing laws. The authors explain how Kilpatrick’s argument became the foundation for both secular and evangelist views of justice as they both advocated the separation of religion from law and saw religion as a private enterprise. Using the argument of “immorality” to attack a law therefore was imposing religion on state operations. However this argument also allowed for the criminalization of the entire Civil Rights movement as their attempt to reach justice could only be seen by supporters of this argument as a breach of law and order.
This idea follows what evangelist Robert Jefress spoke to in the video we watched in class, and which had a significant effect on me. Jefress equated police officers with ministers of God, and in doing so labelled all state laws as God’s laws, making resistance to them sacrilege. This argument stunned me as it leaves no room or avenue to actually challenge state law. The association of state law with religious law immediately renders them good and moral and therefore leaves no way to challenge unjust laws. But the most striking element of this video was his disregarding the idea of evil doings by the police as infinitesimal and assertion that those that did exist were most of the time created by resistance of people to the law. In saying police injustice is tiny, Jefress is not simply ignoring police killings and evil actions, but worse: justifying them. Jefress cannot argue that these people were not killed by police because it is common knowledge, but he does argue that police evil-doing is infinitesimal, meaning he does not see a majority of killing by the police as evil but as justified. Furthermore, those he does recognize as evil are also justified by his argument that they resulted from the resistance to law. If I am understanding Jefress’ argument correctly, anyone trying to change state law to make it more moral is violating “God’s law” and therefore can justifiably be killed.