One of the hardest things about attracting support for wrongful conviction is that it makes people uncomfortable. Stories of wrongful conviction are unsettling and full of things that human beings like to turn a blind eye to. Murder. Evil. Corruption. No one wants to think about innocent people persecuted and guilty men free. It makes us fear our neighbors and shakes our view of justice. No one finds comfort in considering that the world may be very different than it appears to be – that perhaps the people and institutions we have been led to believe are good and trustworthy are sometimes dark and corrupt. In general, people turn away from the troubles of others when they are afraid to turn toward them.
Wrongful conviction is also not familiar. It is easy to raise money for hungry children. Everyone can relate to the plight of a hungry child. It is fun to raise money for education. Nothing unsettles us about a bake sale for a field trip, or a car wash for new cheer leading uniforms. Wrongful conviction is a very important social issue, but one most people turn from in discomfort. You don’t see many wrongful conviction bakes sales and car washes. We would like to change that.
Through months and months of raising awareness about the case of the Fairbanks Four we have often wished for a way to make wrongful conviction familiar so that the general population could understand how terribly important it is and could relate. We even wished for a famous example of wrongful conviction or imprisonment…..more famous than Gandhi, more understood than even Martin Luther King. It just seemed like if there was a wrongfully convicted person whose story was well-known – whom billions believed absolutely was innocent, whose story was woven into the fabric of society – that perhaps people be more willing to take a stand on wrongful conviction. And then, we remembered someone. Guess who?
Here are a few hints:
- 24.9 million people search his name on Google in an average month.
- About 40% of the books printed in the history of the world are about him.
- There are 7 billion people on the planet. It is estimated that greater than 6 billion of these people know his life story. 2.3 billion of them worship him.
- 76% of Americans participate in a religions whose primary objective is to learn from this man’s life and lessons.
- He was wrongfully convicted of a crime by a corrupt court.
- He was found guilty, in part, with the false testimony of an associate of his who had some small thing to gain with the lie.
- One of his closest friends denied knowing him to avoid being associated with the situation.
- He was beaten, tortured, and executed.
- He was then exonerated. He rose back up from his execution. All of this, according to the Bible, to teach the people on Earth. Lessons on judgement, kindness, compassion, and justice. Ultimately, to teach them that it is important not to turn away from suffering and injustice but to live a life that opposes it.
The most famous man to ever walk the Earth is Jesus Christ. He was also a wrongfully convicted man. His wrongful conviction is not an aside or interesting plot twist – it is the central event in the story. If a story that 76% of America studies and believes is literally a story of wrongful conviction, it is a fascinating hypocrisy that most of his modern-day followers turn in disgust when the same story plays out.
So, am I comparing the Fairbanks Four to Jesus? Yep. Isn’t that the point? That Jesus was only a human being, sent here to suffer through the worst trials and pains a human being can encounter? And wasn’t all of this suffering deliberate and intended to make the world and its people better able to live just and kind lives through the understanding of his life?
In his time, Jesus was simply a wrongfully convicted man. Most who witnessed his unfair trial stayed quiet or looked the other way. Much of the crowd cheered at his crucifixion.
Today, many of his followers say things underneath articles about the Fairbanks Four case in the local Fairbanks Daily Newsminer like, “they had a trial, let them rot.” Or, “bypass Fairbanks if you are ever release,” or, “These men should be hung…scratch that, the electricity it would take to put them in a chair would be less expensive. They aren’t worth the rope it would take to hang them,” or, “I’m going to start my own website, ‘Fry the Fairbanks Four.” A recent one read, “I pray these men never see the light of day and suffer ten times more than the victim, in Jesus’ name.” Wow, I bet Jesus really dug that.
The examples are endless.
These people are statistically very likely to be self-identified Christians. As a matter of fact, 80% of Alaskans identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ.
The great tragedy of organized religion is its complete departure from the tenants on which it was founded. The great tragedy of humanity is that we almost always choose inaction when we encounter the kind of suffering that makes us uncomfortable.
Nearly every person in Fairbanks, Alaska who has taken the time to wish the Fairbanks Four dead, send death threats to their supporters, refuse to look at the facts, and insist that wrongful convictions are not real, also profess to believe that the most important story ever told was that of a wrongfully convicted man and that understanding it the key to heaven. How ironic. How typical. How sickening.
If the Fairbanks Four had been drug through the streets of Fairbanks, tortured, beaten, and crucified in 1997, much of the crowd would have been cheering. Most of the crowd would have been self-proclaimed followers of Jesus Christ literally cheering at a crucifixion.
This post is not in any way meant to be an attack on religion. Many of our supporters are Christian people who DO see the importance of taking a stand against injustice. This post is, however, intended to call out the members of our community who show sickening racism, hate, ignorance, or an unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of wrongful conviction while worshiping a wrongfully convicted man. We hope you will take some time to think about that. We hope the church leaders who offer support in private but are afraid of offending their congregations by talking about wrongful conviction from the pulpit will consider that every single one of those people is coming to church to hear a story of wrongful conviction.
Maybe it’s time to tell a new one.
Maybe it’s time to talk to your church leaders, or seek church leaders who walk the walk and talk the talk.
We hope that this post reaches the 80% of the Fairbanks population who, apparently, should be very familiar and comfortable with the injustice of wrongful conviction. And the next time any of you want to condemn these men, or take no action, think for a moment how familiar your role in the story is. Anyone who professes faith in Jesus should be ready to acknowledge the existence, importance, and injustice of wrongful conviction.