Good news for New York can be good news for Illinois. New York City has achieved one of the lowest crime rates the metropolis has ever seen. Last year, gang-related killings were down by almost a third from the year before. Police Commissioner James O'Neill credits a new approach for offenders: "Either be arrested or seek help for their problems, such as job training, counseling, or mentoring." This is evidence that we can help individuals leave behind illegal and degrading ways and find a progressive and moral life.
The recent book, Place Matters: Criminology for the Twenty-First Century by David Weisburd and others, explains a shift in attention "from people to events, from those who commit crimes to the crimes themselves." It appears that more and more law enforcement officials are discovering the effectiveness of separating the crime from the criminal. In other words, if we can learn to treat the offender and help him find a better sense of himself, we can bring healing into many lives, and decrease crime itself.
This differentiation between the individual and the sin is not a new way of thinking. As a matter of fact, it was practiced successfully over 2000 years ago by Christ Jesus who brought reformation and healing into the lives of those he met. It seems to me the reason he was called the "friend of publicans and sinners" is that where most of us would see someone as dirty, criminal or unworthy, Jesus saw a child of God and this divine understanding and love brought changes in the individual's character and lifestyle.
The same is true today. Louis Fuentes can attest to that. Incarcerated in upstate New York for crimes committed under the influence of drugs, he desperately wanted to heal the dishonesty and addictions that had run rampant in his life.
During a prison church service, he was introduced to the idea that he had a spiritual selfhood or innate identity that was sinless - wholly separate from his criminal and behavioral history. And as he began to understand and accept this about himself, he found he could begin living from this basis as promised in the Bible verse, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5: 17).
An important part of his search for freedom from addiction to cigarettes and drugs was his study of the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy, which helped him understand the Bible. In her book, Eddy describes Christ, which Jesus embodied, this way: "Christ is the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to the human consciousness." This inner voice speaks to everyone, telling us of our worth and essential goodness as a child of God. The Christ also gives us the ability to turn away from harmful habits and behaviors, as Jesus showed by healing Zacchaeus of dishonesty and Mary Magdalene of adultery.
Fuentes listened to this divine message and prayed each day to be obedient to God and have his life changed. When he was released and looking for a job, his employment counsellor told him to "doctor his resume" in order to find a job. Fuentes declined to do that.
"I knew I had to be completely candid about my past in order to obtain employment, and had been ready to make full disclosure. My faith in God was growing daily. With these points in mind, I felt very confident that God would lead me to suitable employment," Fuentes related in the book Healing Spiritually. He was hired, trained as a mechanic, and worked in that job for many years.
He stated, "In a world where it appears that doing dishonest deeds often aids in advancement, my experience has proved that, by being honest, you will be justly rewarded by our heavenly Father."
The recognition that God is the unconditionally loving Father and Mother of all releases us from hereditary constraints, past mistakes, or the feeling that we are helpless before an addiction or any other degrading behavior.
As we understand our spiritual identity as a child of God and express divine qualities such as honesty, integrity, compassion, forgiveness, insight, and moral courage, we too can be redeemed by the healing Christ, which frees us from wrong and enables us to be a blessing to others.
Thomas (Tim) Mitchinson writes on the correlation between spirituality and health. He is also the Christian Science Committee on Publication for Illinois. You can follow him at @TimMitchinson on twitter or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org