Christian Prison Ministry Runs Afoul of Politically Correct Types in Britain
Everyone agrees that there is a problem about prison. For some - the “. . . and throw away the key” school - there should be more prisoners, locked up for longer, to keep the rest of us safe. Others think there should be fewer people in prison, since prison only degrades its inmates.Britain, of course, doesn’t have any First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of religion, and indeed the Anglican Church is still the established religion of the realm.
But both sides accept that the aspect of prison that works badly is reoffending. Recidivism is very high. Prison may protect the public, but at present it does not succeed in getting criminals to go straight.
In the United States in the 1990s, Chuck Colson, who had been in prison for his part in the Watergate scandal in the Nixon White House, invented a programme called InnerChange. The idea was “the transformation of lives through the love of God”. In several states, including Texas, then under the governorship of George W Bush, prisoners went on a course that introduced them to role models from the Bible, learning from parables such as that of the Prodigal Son or the Lost Sheep. The programmes also provided what is so often lacking - follow-up after release.
Reoffending fell dramatically. In Texas, it is claimed that recidivism dropped from 55 per cent to eight per cent for those who took part in InnerChange.
More recently, InnerChange came to Britain. In early 2005, it began a pilot project in Dartmoor Prison, supported by the then governor, Claudia Sturt. The programme was modest (only 10 prisoners were permanently on it) and voluntary. It, too, offered aftercare, and it did so to all participants, including those who refused to embrace Christianity.
Sturt was promoted to Belmarsh last year, however, and from then on, life became harder for InnerChange at Dartmoor. It was decided that the programme should be accredited under what is called PSO 4350 (Effective Prison Interventions), even though this is normally used for “commissioned” schemes in which public money is involved, and InnerChange raised its own funds and did not seek this accreditation.
Someone called the Area Psychologist of the Prison Service was told to have a look at InnerChange, and she did not like much of what she saw. She reported that the leader of the programme believed “the root of offending is in individual sin”, and she opined that this “lacks basis in specific scientific research”.
Warming to her theme, the Area Psychologist wrote: “The place of anti-social behaviour in the concept of good and evil, god [she kept God lower case] and the devil may not encourage self-responsibility in a manner which enables the individual to make sophisticated choices when faced with complex situations in their lives.” She worried that the programme might proselytise and that the people who ran it believed that their version of Christianity was “right”.
She also noted that the programme promoted the unique virtue of heterosexual marriage. This meant, she concluded, that it was “discriminatory” against homosexuality: “This issue will prevent the Validation Panel approving the programme.”
The Chaplain-General to the Prison Service, the Ven William Noblett, has refused to comment publicly, but he was scarcely more friendly to InnerChange and agreed that it should be refused accreditation. He has ordered all prison chaplains to sign a declaration that: “We will not as chaplains knowingly say or do anything which insults or in any way denigrates the faith of any other person . . . We will not knowingly display any literature which offends another faith tradition.”
The supporters of InnerChange say they have no desire to cause offence to other faiths, but they point out that, for example, many Muslims regard the idea that Jesus Christ is the Son of God as intrinsically offensive. Does that mean that no Christian may say it? Can one of Archdeacon Noblett’s chaplains only do his (or her) job if he promises never to say the Creed or display a Bible?
Archdeacon Noblett’s Faith Council report on InnerChange said the programme did not “sit well with multi-faith chaplaincy”. It also worried that there were “issues about whether what works in the religious and social context of the United States would necessarily work in the prison context here”.
The public doctrine of “multi-faith” seems now to have been pushed way beyond its origin - the admirable desire to respect different faiths. It has become a concept in which the word “multi” trumps the word “faith”. Trying in any way to convert others is considered wrong.
Since Christianity and Islam are both, by their nature, religions of conversion, this would seem to disable them, though those who have contact with the Prison Service tell me that in practice none of these restrictions is applied to Islam, and all are imposed on Christianity.
As for the doctrine of “diversity”, it appears, in a manner that George Orwell could have satirised beautifully, to mean the opposite. “Diversity” means that you may say nothing, even by implication (InnerChange has nothing in its programme on the subject), against homosexuality.
And ideas that come from a nasty foreign place such as the United States must be rejected here. Yet imagine the fuss if Archdeacon Noblett’s team had questioned Muslim programmes because of “issues” about whether the “religious and social context” of seventh-century Arabia would work in British prisons today.
One reason that this matters so much is that, without the religious element, there is so little success in helping prisoners lead new lives. The Christian insight, contained in the title InnerChange, is that people at rock bottom can escape their condition only if their hearts alter.
Even for those who do not accept this idea in theological terms, it is a fact that many who find faith do, in the process, recover dignity, and start to lead lives that benefit themselves, their family and their neighbours. The need for such recovery is as desperate as it has ever been.
But the worldview of secular leftist anti-Christian types is the same there as on this side of the Atlantic.