This semester, I am taking a class at the Graduate Theological Union called “Christian Ethics: Radical Love Embodied” from Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Professor of Theological and Social Ethics. One of the texts for this class is Dr. Moe-Lobeda’s own 2013 book, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. Chapter 4, “Unmasking Evil that Parades as Good,” has caused me to think deeply on how background social and cultural understandings perpetuate and affirm the way things are, even if those understandings are destructive or evil. The author characterizes this as “‘hegemonic vision’… the constellation of socially constructed perceptions and assumptions about ‘what is,’ ‘what could be,’ and ‘what ought to be’ that maintain the power or privilege of some people over others, and ‘blind’ the former to that privilege” (Moe-Lobeda, 88).
Dr. Matthew Clair, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, uses the word hegemony with regard to U.S. law, but does not use the phrase hegemonic vision in his 2020 book Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court. He presents similar concepts, writing of how racism and classism intersect, “I found that the working class and poor, especially racial minorities, often sought to learn their legal rights, contest their defense lawyer’s expertise, and advocate for themselves in court. Meanwhile, the middle-class people I got to know found themselves in trusting relationships with lawyers and thus were more likely to defer to their lawyers and the court. Privileged people were rewarded for their deference, whereas the disadvantaged were punished for their resistance and demands for justice” (Clair, xv). That is, Dr. Clair reports that the U.S. justice system has a vision of how people should behave that is based in middle-class assumptions and communication patterns. He finds that those who are poor or working class who do not communicate as expected are disproportionately penalized.
The Prison Policy Initiative affirmed what Dr. Clair has written in their “Mass Incarceration: the Whole Pie 2020” in which Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner write, “People in prison and jail are disproportionately poor compared to the overall U.S. population. The criminal justice system punishes poverty… Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration; it is also frequently the outcome.”
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“In How to Fight Racism, Jemar Tisby writes, “White supremacy is the belief or assumption that white people and their culture are inherently superior to other people and cultures.” I said in our class discussion of Tisby that understanding white supremacy and its associated racism in the United States is incomplete without also considering class and classism. In this paper, I expand my argument that class is a key factor in racism to include why people of color are imprisoned disproportionally. In support of this, I consider historical, literary, and academic sources as well as my personal experience as a jail chaplain in Santa Clara County.
In researching this topic, I found that race and class were conflated in most analyses, and that usually only race was addressed. Sometimes it seemed as though class and classism were invisible. For example, historian Tyler Stovall, whom I quote on race and class below, has racism in his Index but not class or classism, even though both are extensively discussed. Publications where race and class were considered individually came from many academic disciplines, including anthropology, economics, education, history, sociology and literary analysis. I begin with definitions of class and race.”
“In this paper, I begin the discussion of my Doctor of Ministry project and dissertation for the Berkeley School of Theology. In the first section, I present the problem of creating a theological study program for use in jail and my vision for its solution. The second section considers my theological basis, including three inspiring scriptures that have influenced my thinking. These are followed by a summary and conclusion. My theological basis and the proposed project and dissertation are informed by my experience as a Santa Clara County, California, jail chaplain since 2015.” The three Bible scriptures are Matthew 25:31-46, Genesis 39-41, and Acts 16:22-40. Read the whole paper here.
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ProQuest has just published my Master’s thesis, “Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners” – Hooray! I am still waiting for the 158 page document to appear in the Graduate Theological Union Library catalogue, which will be more easily referenced. I have been waiting since my thesis was signed off in February 2021 for the GTU and ProQuest to make my thesis available so I am very happy that this process is (mostly) complete.
Most congregations interested in jail or prison ministry start slowly, with a desire to act righteously, with moral correctness and integrity but without a strategic plan, goals, or structure. The range of chaplain engagement with prisoners reflects aspects of both sociology and theology. This thesis presents data and a novel tool to extend ministry participation and best practices to benefit prisoners and those reentering society after incarceration.
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On Sunday, a group of family and friends gathered to remember Daniel Vega Martinez (1969-2021). Daniel or “Big O” was a beloved member of our Stepping Stones reentry community, and had been in my class at Elmwood county jail. The Rev. Peggy Bryan, who leads the Stepping Stones community with Jack Fanning, wrote this tribute and account of Daniel’s death.
“Sadly, we said goodbye yesterday to Daniel Martinez, one of the first men I met at Elmwood and who, in reentry, was my teacher about the authentic challenges faced by living on the streets. Daniel was handed a tough life and the demons of addiction and shame finally tracked him down. Sunday he was found in flames in the cab of the truck he was living in. He was transported to VMC’s Burn Unit but his injuries were deemed unsurvivable so yesterday I offered final prayers as his wife, children and sisters circled him with love…Expressions of condolences and love are pouring in from those incarcerated and those outside who knew, loved and respect Daniel, ‘Big O’, as a man of God and a real St. Paul when leading behind bars, in prison or jail. The cause of the fire is unknown—accident, suicide, homicide…Please keep everyone in your prayers, those who call him father, brother, husband, mentor, friend and teacher are spread far and wide. As plans for a service are known, I’ll let you know. My heart is broken, this has been beyond brutal, but it helps knowing Daniel finally rests In God’s perfect peace.”
Fifty of Daniel’s friends and family got together in the San Jose parking lot to honor his life and lay flowers at the burn site where he was fatally injured.
Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him
30 May 2021 Update: Daniel’s Memorial Service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
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I finished a two-part January Intersession class in “Introduction to Pastoral Care and Theology,” and am now taking three GTU classes, “Diversity in Counseling,” “Pediatric Chaplaincy,” and “A Good Death.” Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all classes are online. Professors have to make up for the lack of in-person class time and meet the nine-hours-per-week / per class requirement. In addition to assigned reading and papers, my graduate classes meet by Zoom once or twice a week, plus posting 250 to 500 word reflections to Moodle (learning management system). Each class has a different schedule, so I created a table to remember when I need to post and when replies are due to other students’ posts. Every time I log into Moodle, it tells me how many more reflection posts I need to read. I end up posting to Moodle twelve to fourteen times a week. I will be happy when we can get back inside a real classroom.
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