Judging Evangelicals: Comparative Religion from the Bench

June 22, 2006 at 9:42 am 2 comments

Via Prison Fellowship 

June 21, 2006

Note: This commentary was delivered by Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.

Last week, Chuck and I told you about the judge's ruling in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative case in Iowa. We told you about the decision and about its potential impact on all faith-based groups seeking to minister to "the least, the last, and the lost."

But there's something even more disturbing about the judge's ruling: his caricature of the faith of millions of Americans who call themselves "evangelicals." In his opinion, the judge took it upon himself to analyze and critique, not only evangelical actions, but evangelical beliefs.

The result is a woefully distorted picture of American evangelicals that paints them as fringe, divisive, and discriminatory. While he acknowledges that evangelicals can be members of long-established Christian denominations, he insists that evangelicals are, on the whole, suspicious of religious institutions. My goodness.

According to this judge, it isn't only alleged evangelical attitudes toward institutions that set them apart. The judge wrote that evangelical beliefs are distinct from the beliefs held by Christian denominations, such as Lutherans, United Methodists, and Presbyterians.

What are these beliefs? The judge pointed to Prison Fellowship's statement of faith. He wrote that while it "contains belief common to many types of Christian groups, it is also significantly different in many respects." Specifically, he cited its mention of Christ's substitutionary atonement and His bodily resurrection as doctrines that are not shared by "many Christians."

While it's true that some liberal Christians might object to our statement of faith, that doesn't change the fact that the statement is a classic expression of Christian orthodoxy. It is clearly in line with historical creeds that are the basis of nearly every Christian denomination and not just the Protestant ones: Indeed, Cardinal Avery Dulles, a leading Catholic theologian in America, has vetted our statement.

Speaking of Cardinal Dulles, the judge also concluded that Prison Fellowship, like other evangelicals, is suspicious of and even contemptuous of Roman Catholics. This is a stunning statement since Chuck Colson is one of the founders of "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," which works and meets regularly to bridge the theological gaps between Catholics and evangelicals.

Prison Fellowship's alleged "contempt" for Catholics will also, no doubt, come as news to some of our board members and Catholic staffers, including the people who helped put this commentary together. They don't seem to find Prison Fellowship a "fringe" or "discriminatory" organization.

What's so unfortunate is that all this comes at a dark time in the prison system of America. With 2.3 million behind bars, a tragically disproportionate number of minorities, and an out-of-control recidivism rate, judges should be opening the doors to prisons, not shutting them.

We hope you will stand by us because, as I've shown, what's at stake here is bigger than a Prison Fellowship initiativeit's about whether there will be a level playing field for faith-based groups to provide services to adults who have volunteered to receive them. And that is all about freedom.



Entry filed under: Culture, Literature, Media, Missions, Personals, Politics, Religion, Society, World.

God the help of those who seek Him Aheem…my family…a clarification:-)

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Poi  |  June 23, 2006 at 1:00 am

    A few weeks ago or so i caught some show relating to this on some channel. It was about the choice of there been a fellowship in the prisons or for it to been done away with.

    It was all about prison-church. The arguement from the proposer was that the prison-church is optional, it’s upto the prisoners whether they want to be a part of it or not, and that it’s just there as one of the other ‘many’ activities/services/options offered to prisoners for recreation.

    I totally would support there been a prison-church i mean if its not forcefully imposed on the prisoners then what’s so wrong with having it as one of the options is what i’ve been wondering. Of course the opponent had no solid reasons.

    It’s sad to see them want to do away with what could be the foundation to reform for many if not all prisoners.

    I just shared this, i’m not sure if it relates to what your post’s on.

    Thanks for sharing this, God bless!

  • 2. Kenyan Analyst  |  June 23, 2006 at 11:37 am

    It does, – thanks for sharing. Finding God is finding oneself. Our souls are restless untill we find our rest in Him. I want to hope the prison opportunities will remain for more to meet their Maker.


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