From the desk of Chris Barbera of Jesus the Liberator Seminary

December 28, 2020

I have written about churches and prisons as primary institutions within the development of the concept of Prison Theology.   A common thread with many people within these 2 institutions is a religious zeal.  When devotion (bhakti), is focused upon something greater than you, a person enlarges their sense of self.  Oftentimes that something is a divinity.  The divine is larger than the self and therefore can liberate a person from the confines of self.  Jesus “incarnated” into the flesh.  That is, he voluntarily imprisoned himself within “this mortal coil.”  This idea of incarnation and imprisonment relates to both church goers and inmates.  This is a key to Prison Theology. 

December 23, 2020

For better or worse, American culture is married to religious liberty.  Some Christians believe that medical procedures and social laws infringe upon Jesus worship.  A virus does not abide to Jesus worship.  Nor does a virus make distinctions to what Paul calls “Jew or Gentile, slave or free.” 

A virus spreads from person to person.  Distancing from a person, therefore, would reduce the spread of a virus.  Society, therefore, makes health ordinances to distance people.   Prisons and religious congregations are 2 places where people congregate.  These 2 places have been required to distance people and reduce their congregating.

Is a Jesus worshiper’s or prisoner’s rights infringed upon if society requires that their living situation and behaviors must change for their own health and the health of others?  A person may have a right to get sick or die, but does a person have a right to pass on sickness and death?  A person can die but can a person kill? If a Jesus worshipper with a virus wants to praise God but not protect the health of their neighbor, then perhaps they should “go to the Dead Sea to bury the dead.”   Prisoners do not have this liberty. 

For better or worse, prisons and churches are primary and fundamental institutions within Prison Theology.  

December 16, 2020

Pontius Pilate ordered the execution of Jesus while pardoning Barabbas.  The outgoing federal administration is on a seemingly sadistic quest to kill as many poor people as possible with the federal death penalty while pardoning rich and politically powerful white-collar criminals.

Receiving a letter/poem from a man on death row was a deciding moment in our efforts to focus more on education with people in prison.  That was about 20 years ago, in the early 2000’s.  I have understood that as life within death, and that is one way to understand Prison Theology.

The yearning for life and freedom, especially within captivity, is a theme within Prison Theology.  It is also a theme within Black Liberation Thought and Biblical Storytelling.  This synthesis is a key to the narrative threads within liberatory education within the prison cell world of America.  Within all of it is love and service. 

Photo by Oleg Magni on

December 9, 2020

Christian evangelicals by and large support “Christian nationalistic” policies such as the death penalty.  With the recent increased use of the federal death penalty, “good Christians” can now consider ethical questions such as: “Should the one killing see the one killed?” “Should other people be able to observe the killing?” “Should killing be done with one or several chemicals, a firing squad, gas chamber, electrocution, or by hanging?” “What is the most merciful way to kill?” “Will the image of Christ on the cross reduce killing?” Will more killing reduce killing?” 

Jesus Christ was killed, not the one who killed.  This means that the message of Christianity should not endorse killing while simultaneously engendering more empathy for the victims who are killed.  If the embodied emblematic symbol of love is sacrificed for the pain of the world by being killed, then shouldn’t Christians want to reduce violence?  Is violence reduced by killing?  Can the death penalty kill its way into love?

Prison Theology does not believe in or support the death penalty.  We push back against the death machine culture of prison/death.

December 4, 2020

3.5 miles from the Candles Holocaust Museum and 9.9 miles from the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary – of –the – Woods, along the Wabash River in Indiana, is the Terre Haute Execution Chamber, where U.S. federal executions occur.  Since 1988, when the Supreme Court restored the federal death penalty, all executions have been here.  

The Supreme Court struck down the law in 1972.  Before that, that last execution was in 1963.  Since the Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1988, there have been only 3 people executed.  Therefore, continuing general trends against capital punishment both within the court system and in the court of public opinion, the last half century has seen the elimination of federal executions and with the restoration of the law, a reluctance to use it. 

This changed in 2019, when William Barr became Attorney General.  Following the dictates of his (and current) president, enforcement of the death penalty was reinstated.  The following year, 2020, as of this writing, 8 people have been executed and 5 more are scheduled to be, the last one on the anniversary of Dr. King’s birthday, January 15th.  The federal government is simultaneously pushing for a variety of methods for the administration of the death penalty, such a 1 or 3 chemical lethal injections, electrocution and the firing squad.  In half a year, we have more than doubled the federal executions of half a century.  In a final act of Christian Evangelical supported cruelty, the outgoing administration will add to its legacy of state sponsored death.  

Prison Theology pushes back against the death machine.  We have created and sustained a libratory education process with individual souls within the death camps of America.  Prison Theology is a Theology of Hope.   

*Note – Statistics from and public records

Photo by Chris Barbera