In the 1975 movie Dog Day Afternoon, Sonny, the character played by Al Pacino, supposedly to call attention to the aggressiveness of the police force outside the bank where he was holding hostages and evoking memories of what some considered the excessive use of force by the police in response to the 1971 prison riots in Attica Prison, begins chanting “Attica! Attica!” It has become a chant that has, since that first incident in Dog Day Afternoon, been used in pop culture to represent perceived oppression in TV shows from SpongeBob SquarePants to House.
But the real story of the Attica Prison riots is dark and disturbing. There are allegations that the prisoners were treated horribly – subject to random beatings and rape by guards – and that the conditions in the prison were deplorable – inhumane. The records show that there were over 2,000 prisoners in this institution built to house 1,000 inmates.
On the other hand, these were convicted criminals. They took hostages. They are reported to have beaten guards as well as their fellow inmates who didn’t support the rebellion. Once they found that negotiations broke down and their demands were not going to be met, they threatened to kill the guards they held hostage.
In the end 43 men died as the State took back Attica from the inmates.
Last week, the New York Times reported that Donald Jelinek died at the age of 82. Jelinek was a civil rights lawyer who defended conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War, defended Indians who took over Alcatraz Island and coordinated the defense of 61 inmates charged with nearly 1,300 crimes after the Attica Prison riot.
Let’s be honest here. For those who are unchurched, never taught about Jesus and/or who were taught something totally contrary to God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice, their ignorance is somewhat of a defense. They cannot obey what they don’t know.
However, those of us who are Christians, are all indefensible when it comes to sin. There is just no excuse, no waiver granted, no extenuating circumstances that gets me off the hook. I know better and I am guilty.
Yet we have a defender in the person of the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ. Of those who actually carried out His beating, mocking and crucifixion, the Divine Defender said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
He must have similar words to say about me, but He knows I understand that I am wrong, that I am, therefore, much more culpable in my sins. I am a convicted sinner. I deserve the death penalty. Yet, Jesus, stands in my defense and further, He, in effect, says “I have paid for this sin too.” He doesn’t just petition for leniency, He pays my debt through His own precious blood and bails me out of the condition of guilt I put myself into.
If I complain that the conditions of my life are too much to bear alone, even if I put myself into them, He carries me through. He sends the Holy Spirit to comfort me. He is available 24/7/365 to hear my grievances against those who might oppress me, against the injustices of this world against myself or others, against the great oppressor, Satan.
Job, in the midst of his trial said, “Even now my witness in heaven; my advocate is on high.”
However, that does not give me license to sin. 1 John 2:1, the disciple whom Jesus loved tells us how to view this and how to respond – “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for my sins (for all our sins) [1 John 1:2] and He is my righteous defender even when my actions are indefensible.
Praise God that His plan calls for our Savior to stand in heaven and advocate for us, or I would be left with nothing but my guilt and a pitiful cry to be noticed. Instead, I can call on Jesus Christ.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts too. You can write me at Nancy@DynamicChristianMinistries.org
Reference for information about Attica Prison and Dog Day Afternoon: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attica_Prison_riot. Reference for Donald Jelinek: New York Times, July 3, 2016, article by Sam Roberts.