"Prison Bars" by Michael Coghlan / CC BY-SA 2.0

How law-and-order evangelicals helped shape today’s criminal justice system

Nov 17, 2020

By Yonat Shimron

When it comes to mass incarceration, American evangelicals are complicated. So says Aaron Griffith in his new book, “God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America.”

On the one hand, evangelicals led the charge for greater law and order in the postwar era, with the National Association of Evangelicals favoring the death penalty and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover penning regular columns in the pages of Christianity Today on combating lawlessness.

On the other hand, evangelicals saw crime as a missionary opportunity, launching innovative ministries to bring compassion and healing to prisoners across the country. Former Nixon aide Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship is perhaps the best-known example of evangelicals providing faith-based programming to those in prison and advocating for criminal justice reform legislation.

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