At EthicsDaily.com this past Tuesday, Robert Parham posted an interview he conducted with former President Jimmy Carter. The issue–what are Christians doing to fulfill Christ’s command to care for the prisoners who are in our midst? Carter’s conclusion was, not much.
“I don’t think there is any doubt but that Luke 4:18-19 describes Jesus’ moral agenda,” said Carter. “That part of Luke best encapsulates in a very brief way the entire thrust of Jesus’ ministry.”
“Unfortunately, led by some Christian leaders, our country has gone from a basic philosophy of rehabilitation of a prisoner to a punishment only – and the more severe and extended the punishment,” the better it is, he said.
According to Parham, Carter wants the New Baptist Covenant (NBC) to seriously take up this issue. EthicsDaily.com proposed the production of a documentary at the NBC planning meeting for their 2014 conference. The documentary would focus on “what goodwill Baptists were doing on the prison ministry and prison reform fronts.”
Former President Carter is right to point out that Christians have much work to do in terms of reaching prisoners. I wonder if he is aware of the efforts Southern Baptists are making at the Angola prison in Louisiana and at the Darrington Unit at Rosharon, Texas.
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has been offering a SACS accredited Bachelor of Science degree in Biblical Studies to prisoners at Angola since 1994. Hundreds of prisoners have graduated from the program since then, and have formed numerous churches there. The culture has been transformed from one of the most brutal prisons in the nation to one largely at peace with itself. Warden Burl Cain gives the credit for that change to the prison seminary.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary started its SACS accredited B.S. program in Biblical Studies at the Darrington Unit in the fall of 2011. Over 600 prisoners across the state of Texas applied for admission to the class of 2015, and 40 were accepted. Hundreds more applied for admission to the class of 2016, and another 40 were accepted. The program will continue to accept applicants from the prison system each year, expanding the program and widening its influence.
At Darrington, all of the prisoners are serving long term sentences. To be considered for admission, a prisoner must have at least 10 years before being eligible for parole. The goal is not to graduate prisoners who will be released from prison, but to graduate prisoners who will go back to other units across Texas and serve their fellow prisoners as pastors and chaplains. They will be seminary trained, and will have the “street cred” that no “free world” chaplain or pastor would ever have with the prisoners in the system.
Classes for the 2012-2013 year at Darrington start in a few weeks. I am teaching Western Civ I to the incoming class of 2016, and Principles and Structure of American Politics to the class of 2015. There are a total of 78 students in our program this year, and next year, we will accept another 40 into the class of 2017.
Governor Rick Perry visited our “campus” at Darrington in early July. He was deeply impressed and pledged to do all he could to support the school. Mr. Carter, in the off chance you might be reading this, we would love to have you come and visit Darrington and see what God is doing in the lives of those men. It is truly a sight to see!