Penetecostals love talking about freedom. It’s what we do, right?

In fact, 2 Corinthians 3:17 might just be our slogan. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

We sing it, we dance to it, we pray it, and we proclaim it over the forces of darkness.

Here’s thing though, I don’t think we really care very much about freedom in any real sense of the word. Sure, we like to be free of regret over our mistakes, and free  from other people’s judgment. We like to be free of addictions and free of debt. We like the freedom of preaching the “truth” regardless of what our “enemies” say about us. American Pentecostals even like to celebrate the freedom secured by military might. But is any of that really what the Bible means by a “Spirit of freedom.”

Well…probably not. Or at least not  some of it.

The freedom of 2 Corinthians 3:17 is about being free to be  “transformed into Christ’s image” (2 Cor 3:18). And that is a pretty concrete image. Jesus was a homeless, wandering prophet who kept talking about this thing called the “Kingdom of God.”

He had a mission and this is how he described it in Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Now, we Pentecostals have a tendency to spiritualize things, but freedom isn’t always just something that happens in your heart. Let me throw a few statistics at you:

  • The United States prison population sits rights at 2.3 million people, most of them non-violent offenders.
  • Since 1980, state and local spending on prisons has increased three times as much as spending on education.
  • African Americans are 8 times more likely to be arrested as white Americans. Hispanics are 3 times more likely.
  • Since voting laws restrict many past prisoners from voting, a disproportionate number of people of color no longer have a say in the democratic process
  • Conservative estimates say that 2-5% of prisoners plead guilty to crimes they don’t commit, meaning tens of thousands of innocent people sit in prison for no reason.
  • In 2008, African Americans and Hispanics together made up 58% of the prison population. They are only 25% of the country’a population.
  • The United States has the largest prison population of any country in the world. In fact, though the United States holds only 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of the world’s prisoners.

Had enough? Yeah me too.

We love to talk about freedom, about the freedom we have in Christ, and that is great. Except, when we ignore the vast systems of oppression and captivity that threaten people’s freedom everyday, then we are ignoring the sort of freedom Christ seemed to be talking about.

When we ignore the effects of the criminal justice system on individuals and communities of color, then we are ignoring the people who need freedom the most. Jesus’ freedom seemed to be concerned about the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Are we really going to say he was just speaking in metaphors?

Perhaps, many of us need a bit of freedom from our self-imposed blindness. Maybe then we can get to work helping bring freedom to people who desperately need it.

While it might not be sexy as a song, maybe the Spirit’s work of freedom includes criminal justice reform.

Note from the Editorial Team:
Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.

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Author: Alex Mayfield

Alex is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Mission Studies at Boston University, and he is a minister in the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. He is married to an amazing wife who puts up with everything those two facts entail. When he's not reading or writing, he's usually dreaming of eating Chinese food.