Thursday, July 14, 2011


(This article was first featured on the front page of the HuffPost on 7/11/11)
By: Palmer Chinchen, PhD

It’s all about shame.

That’s the motivation behind the Maricopa County (Phoenix, Arizona) Sheriff announcing that he will assign his chain-gang to weed duty outside Chase Field during the 2011 All-Star Game.

You read correctly, his chain-gang.

The first time I passed the sheriff’s chain-gang, when I moved to Arizona, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Women in prison-striped uniforms hoeing weeds … chained at the ankles, with shotgun-toting deputies standing watch. I was shocked. It looked like a scene from 1950s rural America.

My soul ached to the gut. Yes, these women may have committed crimes that deserve incarceration—but not this dehumanizing humiliation. I hurt for them. I wanted to cry for them. My thought was, “Palmer, you must do something …” So I hung a U and got out. I approached the deputy and asked if he would give a message to the sheriff. He listened patiently as I said, “Please tell your sheriff that in Chandler, we do not want women humiliated. In Chandler, we believe that every person should be treated with dignity and respect. In Chandler, we want this practice stopped.” He was kind enough to say he would pass my message along.

Starting with the opening pages of Genesis the Bible explains that all people inherently carry the Imago Dei (Latin for, Image of God). “So God created human being in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Because of this central theological truth every person has great value and dignity.

I think this is one of the reasons Jesus stopped the mob of men from stoning the adulterous woman, this is why he insisted the woman “famous for her sins,” be allowed to come near to him. This is why he focused much of his attention on the lame, the outcaste, the least, the sinners, the marginalized, and the despised. And this is why he insisted that those in his kingdom care for prisoners (Matt. 25:36).

You see, all human beings have great worth. Regardless of race, gender, ability, wealth, religion, or nationality, all people deserve dignity and respect. This is not simply a Christian theological argument, this is a moral position. To publicly humiliate and shame anyone is immoral and unjust. It’s wrong at every level.

Who among us would stand idly by while a person maliciously scarred da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with graffiti? We would scream NO! Stop!—we would take action because this painting is deemed beautiful and priceless. How much more beautiful and priceless is the life of a woman—even one in chains!

Why are we silent?

Maybe our silence is the greatest crime here.

It’s time to speak up. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, you and I are called to be a voice for the silenced; yes, even the ones in chains.

The King of wisdom Solomon writes, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all” (Prov. 31:8) He says, “Because we are precious in his sight” (Psalms 72:14). Then Solomon writes theses stinging words, “Don’t hesitate to step in and help. If you say, ‘Hey, that’s none of my business,’ will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know – someone not impressed with weak excuses” (Prov. 24:11-12 msg).

We point back in history, to another continent, and chivalrously boast, “I would not have been silent when that happened to millions of prisoners.”

Then why are we silent today?

We wait for our local or state or even federal government to do something while we say nothing.

Last week it was 117 degrees here in Phoenix. Our sheriff finds some twisted pleasure in keeping his inmates in stifling, unairconditioned tents. The women said it was cooler outside than in their tents. I don’t leave my dog outside this time of year, literally. But we said nothing.

He shames men by dressing them in pink underwear and pink slippers and we say nothing.

If you are on your way to the All-Star Game, would you stop and say something? Would you tell the women in striped jumpsuits and chained at the ankles that we are sorry, and they are beautiful. And tell them they are loved, if by no one else, by God himself. Then give them a bottle of cold water or a ballpark frank -- and give them dignity.

The women in the tents say it’s so hot at night they can’t sleep. God can’t sleep. I hope you can’t either.

It’s a sham and a shame, an All-Star shame.

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