EthicsDaily.com asked a variety of Christians for their assessment of its new documentary "Through the Door," released two months ago.
Bill Kleiber, executive director of Restorative Justice Ministry Network, provides a crutch to an inmate with a dislocated knee released from the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
The responses disclosed that the film has struck a positive cord that transcends denominational boundaries.
"'Through the Door' is a prophetic witness, exposing fatal flaws in our retributive prison industrial complex. When a former president, current pastors and ex-prisoners all testify that the system fails individuals, fails families and fails society, the church should listen carefully," wrote Richard Goode, professor of history at Lipscomb University, a Nashville school affiliated with the Churches of Christ.
Goode said one of the important points to the film was noting the role that addiction played in crime.
"Too often we focus on the offense and fail to see the addictions that gave rise to the crime. Being proactive to addictions is wiser and more restorative than being reactive to criminal offenses," he said.
Eric Carr, a Midland Texas businessman, told EthicsDaily.com, "I was surprised to learn such an overwhelming percentage of our inmates are there because of substance abuse and addiction. The main truth I took away from this documentary was how desperately they need rehabilitation rather than punishment."
Carr is a member of First Baptist Church of Midland, whose foundation helped to underwrite the documentary.
"This documentary opened my eyes to the opportunities to do God's work in prisons right here in our state. We do a fair job ministering to the hungry and widows and orphans, but to a large extent we ignore those in prison," he wrote.
Elijah Brown, assistant professor of missions at East Texas Baptist University, called "Through the Door" "a timely and sobering consideration of one of the critical ethical issues facing the United States today: the high number of incarcerated individuals."
Brown said the film was "a message of hope that calls on individuals and churches to join Jesus in his invitation to live out the Good News within this all too often neglected area of our society."
He noted that the documentary's chapter divisions provided an easy resource to use in study groups – churches and universities.
"The video provides a sorely needed message of humanizing a population that is endemically demonized in our culture. It confronts Christians with our unwitting adoption of narratives regarding persons and prisons that are not coherent with the narrative of the gospel and points us toward participating in God's healing mission on both sides of the prison door," wrote Peter Smith, assistant professor at the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University.
Fresno Pacific University is affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren Church.
Smith said, "I was struck by the centrality of addiction and substance abuse as themes in prisoners and how these are patterns that mirror our addicted society. Since we have forged a society fraught with abuse of substances (materialism, pollution, extraction, obesity, etc.) it is intriguing to consider how the prison-industrial complex reflects the excesses of our society's addictions and the need for healing in prisoners and in ourselves."
Methodist James Winkler, general secretary/president of the National Council of Churches, said the documentary "should be viewed by local churches across our nation."
He said Christians "must respond by direct services and by advocating for a change to the harsh policies that have consigned too many of our fellow citizens to lives without hope."
Editor's Note: To order "Through the Door," click here. Information about upcoming, scheduled public screenings is available on the same page.