About 600,000: That’s the number of prisoners reentering American communities each year. Whether you know an ex-offender personally or not, you are bound to encounter someone with a criminal background in your day-to-day life.
The stigma around individuals with criminal histories has made their reentry into society exponentially more difficult. Though employers are liable if they discriminate and choose not to hire an individual because of their criminal background, employers can still get away with that bias fairly easily.
“They do their background checks and see something they don’t like, and they say, ‘Oh, we’re sorry, we’re not hiring’ or ‘We found someone else who’s more appealing to us’ . . . They would never even say that it was because of [the background check] or to any degree something beyond that,” explains attorney and Church Law & Tax Editorial Advisor Midgett Parker.
Enter the local church, supposedly a warm space that welcomes all. But in reality, does it fully embrace and support those with criminal backgrounds? Christianity Today magazine’s September 2016 cover story would argue that is, unfortunately, not often the case. “The United States has more than 300,000 churches, meant to welcome, build, and sustain relationships—and there aren’t many groups that need that kind of relational support more than people who are released from jail,” writes Morgan Lee, CT’s associate digital media producer. Yet “[i]n spite of the dramatic growth of incarceration, ministries to those in and returning from prison remain a distinct minority of evangelical organizations.”