The Church, Trayvon, and Prison Study

You may have never heard of the Prison Study.  It was a part of my Psych 101 class in the 1970s.  Philip Zimbardo a Stanford University professor designed the study, and the literature for my class. No, I did not attend Standford, but I was next door (smile).  The study has its critics, but when I first observed the study I had no doubt about its findings.    It’s called the Prison Study, but the findings were more far-reaching than prison.  Zimbardo’s study proved unequivocally what happens to well-adjusted normal people who are given the authority to dehumanize others; and what happens to well-adjusted normal people who are being dehumanized.  The results were so profound, and so damaging to both groups they had to stop the study within “days.”


Being Christ-based, we didn’t need Zimbardo’s study to demonstrate the overwhelming implications of dehumanizing people for any length of time.  Biblically, the Hebrews were so damaged by their enslavement in Egypt, they preferred the condition’s of enslavement as opposed to the challenges of liberation (Exodus 14: 11-12; 16:2-3…). Several generations of Hebrews were so spiritually, socially, and culturally infected by the conditions of Egypt they had to die in the wilderness to limit the infection upon subsequent generations (Exodus Chapter 14).  The Hebrews were enslaved longer than the United States is old for more than four hundred years.  However, the slavery of the Hebrews was a bond-enslavement.  They were not disenfranchised.  Their families were not disrupted.  They were not treated like non-human chattel. Their history was not erased. Clearly, the more depraved and lasting the conditions, the more devastating the outcome, and the longer lasting the results.

Zimbardo’s study illustrated for atheist and anyone caring to observe, what the conditions of prison can do.  However, it also demonstrated what the condition of slavery does to any people and generations thereafter.  Those who think the implications of slavery and unjust laws were years ago in the United States are not facing reality.  Think about it!  Anyone born in the United States including minorities and females before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and amended in 1967 did not have the same rights as our white-male counter-parts. We are talking about your and my life time.  This is why the issue is so sensitive today.  This is why there is such outrage about the Travon Martin case.  His life appears to be less than a human being.

Here’s the Biblical truth:  Once a people are devastated by years of dehumanization, it will take God almighty to liberate and deliver them, or each one.  While government has a responsibility to ensure that laws are just (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-16), government can never pay the damages incurred by the generational victims of slavery and unjust laws like Jim Crow (i.e., lawful discriminatory practices).  My Christ-based perspective is that those who have been able to rise above the results of ages of dehuminization have overcome by fate, fortune, and faith.  Thank God, Caleb and Joshua represent those persons who were able to escape years of dehumanization by their faith.

Paul in prison introduces a whole new concept called, “joy” in the midst of an unjust imprisonment (Philippians). First Century Christians endured incredible persecution; and no one overcomes the ravages of injustice like our Lord and Savior, Jesus.  We are convinced that a life in Jesus Christ is the most liberating message to any people or persons of any race, color, or gender suffering the ravages of dehumanization.  The Lord is the difference-maker.  Amen!

The Prison Study


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