Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Marking a first for Caffeinated Thoughts I wanted to introduce you to our first guest blogger, Narciso Zamora.  Pastor Zamora will be joining us this week for his “Walking Man Blog Tour”.

Pastor Zamora has been a church-planting missionary for over 25 years in Peru, Ecuador, and Chile.  He is currently establishing an institute in Peru to train Latin Americans to be missionaries within their own continent.

Pastor Zamora has walked the message of Christ into the mountains, jungles, fields and forests of his native Peru and throughout Ecuador and Chile. Dreading the life of hard labor offset by nights of drunken stupor that his father modeled, Zamora ran away from home after high school. He lived a vagrant’s life, surviving through delinquency, until through the generous support of a Christian family, Zamora came to know Christ. He left the jungle to study at a seminary in Lima.

He has recently written a book called Walking Man which recounts Zamora’s winding and treacherous path, literally and figuratively, toward finding his calling in missions. Characteristic of Zamora’s more than 30 years of mission experiences is his determination to go anywhere he felt called to preach and teach – walking day and night into the jungle or trekking from valley to alpine zone and back down the other side of the mountain, just to reach an isolated village.

With half a dozen well-established congregations in place in Peru, Zamora affiliated the churches with an international denomination and later moved to Ecuador and Chile planting churches. In Chile a new trial faced the Zamora family when his wife’s kidneys started to fail. Dealing with the emotional turmoil of a chronically ill spouse wore more heavily on him than any adversity he had encountered in his ministry. Zamora became depressed and in this chapter of his life, he learned new lessons and gained new insights into what it means to carry the cross of Christ.

Anyway, I look forward to Pastor Zamora’s guest blog this week and I hope you stop by to check it out and be sure to visit the Walking Man website.

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Bars Chuck Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship and Mark Earley, it’s current president outline, in a four part Break Point commentary series, a crisis that we are seeing in our criminal justice system and what the Church can do about it.

Colson paints a picture of the crisis that we now face:

Most systems are operating above safe capacity, despite the prison-building boom of the past two decades. Of the 2.3 million in prison, an estimated 700,000 will be released from prison this year unprepared for life on the outside. Two-thirds of them will be rearrested within the next three years.

In part one, “Admissions of Failure” Colson says that it is time to learn about a Christian response to our nation’s prison crisis.  Part two, “One in Ninety-Nine” with one in 99 American adults being in prison and with prison overcrowding, Earley asks, “What should we do with non-violent offenders?”

In part three, “Melting Hearts” Colson says that “crime cannot be boiled down to statistics.  At the receiving end of a crime is a flesh-and-blood victim.  Christians should be advocates for restorative justice.  Justice doesn’t stop with the police, court system and prisons, it is also a matter of the heart, as justice also means repairing the harm caused by a crime.  Ultimately what is needed to see change happen in the criminal justice system is transformation.  In part four, “The Heart of the Matter” Mark Earley discusses the work that government can not do.

Followers of Christ can not afford not to address this problem and respond to it in a meaningful way.  We should be the ones who bring hope to those who are imprisoned and their families.

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The InnerChange Freedom Initiative program at the Newton Correctional Facility has been the center of a legal battle waged by the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.  The Des Moines Register reports that the Culver Administration (aka “state officials”) has now decided to end the most effective prison program in the state.

State officials will end a Bible-based treatment program at the Newton prison that has been the focus of a five-year federal court battle over the role of religion in government services.

The Iowa Department of Corrections has notified Prison Fellowship Ministries in Virginia that the program, called the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, will be terminated in mid-March, prison spokesman Fred Scaletta said.

Prison Fellowship, which sponsored the Christian-oriented values program for inmates, had a three-year state contract that ended in June. Prison officials granted the organization a one-year extension; donations covered the expenses.

A provision of the agreement allows prison officials to cancel the program if enrollment falls below 60 inmates. That will happen after a March 14 graduation ceremony for 27 prisoners, Scaletta said.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., has waged a court fight since 2003 against the Newton program. The advocacy group contends the program represents an unconstitutional merger of church and state.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled in December that the program advanced religion at government expense and that taxpayer money could not be used to finance the program.

The court case has received national attention as test of President Bush’s push for faith-based initiatives.

Similar treatment programs are sponsored by Prison Fellowship at prisons in Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Texas. The eight-year-old Newton program has operated solely on donations since last July 1, after Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, signed legislation eliminating a state tax money appropriation.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned much of the original ruling.  They were originally ordered to shut down, and to pay back the $1.5 million in state appropriations money that had been given.  In reversing the prior ruling, the Eighth Circuit also rejected the “pervasively sectarian” standard used by Judge Pratt and affirmed that faith-based organizations are not barred from partnering with government simply because they are faith-based.

The Intellectual Conservative weighed in on that decision:

Importantly, the Eighth Circuit panel slapped down Judge Pratt and defended religious liberty and free association. Eight Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Duane Benton’s opinion for the panel (which included Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor) held that Judge Pratt abused his discretion by accepting the testimony of a law professor/Ph.D./author about the beliefs of Evangelical Christians. Quoting from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Mitchell v. Helms (2002), Judge Benton wrote that “[a]n inquiry into an organization’s religious views to determine if it is pervasively sectarian ‘is not only unnecessary but also offensive.  It is well established, in numerous other contexts, that courts should refrain from trolling through a person’s or institution’s religious beliefs.’”

In his district court opinion, Judge Pratt also took the draconian step of ordering IFI to pay back to the State of Iowa the $1.5 million it received. That money was reimbursement to IFI for operating its prison rehabilitation program for prisoners who willingly chose to participate.  IFI’s contracting with the State of Iowa was valid under existing law. There was (and is) strong reason to believe in the constitutionality of funding approximately 40% of the program in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on private-school vouchers under Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002).  Judge Pratt even acknowledged there was no evidence of bad faith on the part of IFI or the State of Iowa.  Existing case law strongly suggests that equity demands that bad faith be shown before ordering a contracting party to return money it received for services rendered.

Significantly, the Eighth Circuit panel made mincemeat of Judge Pratt’s ruling on this point.  The panel observed that Judge Pratt gave no weight to the fact that IFI’s public funding was legal under then-existing law. They found flimsy Judge Pratt’s rationale that IFI should’ve know its program could eventually be considered unconstitutional because of a district court opinion in Texas about a different prison program and a California Dept. of Corrections Attorney opinion.  But federal district court opinions are not binding precedent, and the attorney opinion had absolutely no force of law.  Flimsy indeed. 

Moreover, the Eighth Circuit panel also noted the utter lack of any evidence of bad faith on the part of IFI or the State of Iowa.  In fact, the panel cited evidence of the contracting parties’ good faith in securing services for prisoners.  They pointed out that Judge Pratt did not even consider evidence by Iowa prison officials suggesting the IFI program “was beneficial and the State received much more value than it paid for.”  Additionally, the panel cited Americans United for the Separation of Church and State’s decision not to seek interim injunctive relief to stop the program while the litigation was pending.  They maintained that this increased the reasonableness of IFI’s reliance on its payments from the State of Iowa.  The panel likewise insisted a contractor’s mere ability to pay back money it received for services is not a sufficient reason to require repayment where contracts are subsequently ruled invalid.  To hold otherwise “deters financially sound organizations from contracting with the government.”

Evidently Governor Culver feels that even though this has been resolved by the courts and IFI now operates (not that they were really breaking the law to begin with) within the parameters set by the Eighth Circuit Court that the State of Iowa should not have this program at Newton.  His officials told IFI that they could not enroll any new inmates, thus making the drop in enrollment inevitable so they could act on the enrollment clause in the contract.  Governor Culver and his administration is not acting in good faith.

This is insane.  IFI was operating on donated money.  It is the most successful prison treatment program in the state.  Studies have shown (see University of Pennsylvania study and one by the State of Texas) that it has dramatically reduced recidivism.  In a recent audit compiled on drug treatment program in Iowa Prisons shows that IFI has one of the best.  In some of the Department of Corrections run programs recidivism actually increased.  You can also read a related article in Corrections Today.

Evidently the Culver administration would rather build more prisons than reduce recidivism.  This program was effective.  It was voluntary.  It is open to any inmate regardless of faith, and no one was coerced to join.  This successful program will end even though it has dramatically impacted the lives of Iowa citizens (I know a few graduates of the program), and other Iowa prisons had asked for IFI to operate there as well.

If you live in Iowa – contact Governor Culver and remind him that he needs to make decisions that are in the best interest of Iowa’s citizens.  If this decision making paradigm of his continues he is well on the way of becoming Iowa’s first one-term governor in a long time (hasn’t happened in my lifetime anyway).

Pasts Posts on IFI:

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Imagine what it is like for a juvenile in lock-up and then imagine how you can help! Featuring “Real to Me” by Nicole Nordaman and a devotion looking at Matthew 25.


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I was  on Update Today with Maxine Sieleman (pictured above) on Praise 940 AM.  We discussed mentoring, National Mentoring Month and my ministry with Serve Our Youth Network.  You can listen to the interview online here or download the program here.



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In tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. I want to share with you an excerpt of his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (4/16/63).

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dart of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six- year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

HT: John Piper

Also video from his “I Have a Dream” Speech (8/28/63)

Thank you God for the example of Martin Luther King Jr., though he certainly was not a perfect man, his courage has been a source of inspiration for many.  May we as followers of Christ seek to follow his example to stand against injustice in our day.

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I’m sorry that I’ve been doing so much political blogging lately (not really, but I’ve been pretty imbalanced – should slow down after Super Tuesday though).  Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason answers this question, watch the video and share your thoughts.

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