A prisoner in California reads his Bible.
Associated Press/Photo by Rich Pedroncelli
A prisoner in California reads his Bible.

Non-Christians choose Christian prison programs


If you were a gay atheist in prison, would you rather be in a “faith-based” program or in the general prison population?

My “Do you believe in magic?” column in the current issue of WORLD magazine gives a couple of reasons why statisticians who disparage the success of Christian programs in reducing recidivism are wrong. I should have mentioned two more: Some who enter faith-based programs have no faith in God, and some who teach in such programs are mixed up.

A letter from one WORLD member gives good specific detail on these points by looking at one gay inmate who’s part of a Christian ministry in a federal prison, where he’s serving 12 years on a child porn charge. The inmate is an avowed atheist, continues to be a practicing homosexual, and attends Bible studies and “church” services whenever they’re held—so if he gets out and is incarcerated again, some statisticians will cite his failure as evidence that faith-based programs don’t work.

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If that inmate sincerely wanted to know about Christ, that would be great. But he attends Bible studies for purposes of self-preservation and not even self-improvement. He’s effeminate, docile, and intelligent, and all three traits put him at risk for attack and rape inside prison walls. So he’s smart to grab for “faith-based” protection. Some Christians see his lack of macho as evidence of spiritual meekness, and those who see through him don’t attack him as others in prison would.

This particular inmate knows the Bible well enough to construct a biblical prayer, but he doesn’t believe it. He believes he can spot phonies like himself and says his “Christian” group is full of them. So if a faith-based group does not have a lower recidivist rate, it doesn’t mean that coming to faith has no effect on future crime. Such a stat may merely indicate that the wheat and the tares are mixed together, as Jesus in chapter 13 of the Gospel of Matthew said they would be.

One other problem: This prisoner knows the Bible well enough to spot the unbiblical lessons that poorly chosen volunteer pastors and laymen may offer. I’ve been impressed by programs developed by Prison Fellowship and others, including Forgiven Ministry, the Hope Award For Effective Compassion grand prize winner in 2009. I’ve also heard of lots of weirdness in other programs. Happily, the Holy Spirit can work even when humans fail, but blunt statistics about purported faith-based quantitative failure do not tell us about either pupil sincerity or teaching quality.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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