I was going to blog on Synod's affirmation of the Anglican Covenant and all the shenanigans of GAFCON. Well, you can read about them by clicking on the links if you like, but his week is National Prison’s week, a campaign to raise awareness of those in prison, their families and victims and the role that churches and people of faith can have in reaching out to all affected by crime, and I thought this was a more important topic.
The slogan of National Prison Week is “Be with me” and their text is Luke 23:32 , a reminder that Christ too was tried, found guilty and executed between two criminals. Imprisonment and freedom is a theme that runs like a life giving river through the bible. A passage that literally sends shivers down my spine is Luke 4 ; 16-21, where Christ reads in the synagogue that he has come “proclaim liberty to the captive” and then announces that his listeners have witness scripture fulfilled. These passages offer a real challenge to all of us to be liberated by our faith and to liberate others, indeed it is hard to know how anyone could be a Christian and not think that Christ’s message had relevance to those in prison – whatever form that prison takes.
Back in June this year I nearly blogged about faith and prisons after reading this article by Naomi Phillips at The Guardian Comment is Free. Phillips argues that prisons should be secular zones and faith has no role in them. I can understand where Phillips reservations, but I don’t agree with her. It is true that prisoners are particularly vulnerable perhaps to proselytizing, but I strongly believe in the power of the cross to transform lives in all situations no matter how desperate. The Christian message is relevant to anyone who has been condemned, who may feel written off , because it offers a new start, the slate is wiped clean and sins are forgiven. It is also non discriminatory , or should be, redemption is available to all, it is not dependent on intelligence, class, wealth, race, education, background, social status, or your previous track record. In fact, all the things we commonly use to define worth and value, and which we use to define our own worth and value become irrelevant in the light of the cross.
There is some debate over the statistics and claims made for the redemptive power of faith in the lives of former offenders. Some organisations, such as Kainos, which last year made a bid to set up the first purely faith based prison in Cornwall , boast that their interventions slash reoffending rates to 13% against the average of 60%.These claims have however been disputed by The National Secular Society.
I have to admit that my knowledge in this area is shaky – and I am willing to hear from anyone who knows more. I believe that the possibility of redemption – not just social but spiritual- is badly needed in prisons. We are told that in Christ we are a new creation. What could be more relevant to the prisoner than that promise, bought by one who was degraded and executed in order to offer dignity and life to all no matter who they are or what they have done?