THE ROLE OF FAITH BASED ORGANIZATIONS IN
EX-CONVICTS’ REHABILITATION PROCESS.
Presented By Pastor Vincent Omegba
Of The Redeemed Christian Church Of God & Hope Hall Inc, Aurora Colorado.
Religion was once called the Opium of the masses by the German Philosopher Karl Marx. Drawing from this dictum, other Philosophers who saw how religion was being used to control, oppress and manipulate the people further pushed the idea that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions” to a level that portrayed its adherents as incapable of redemption at least by their faith or religion. They are perceived as having minds altered by the power of the drug called faith.
This is only half truth, in the sense that religion or any value or belief system is capable of good and bad uses. A very high percentage of the world population believe in some higher power as expressed through the world major and minor religions.
As a Christian and a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have observed that true adherents do things that portray them as having altered minds. For instance, it takes an “altered mind” to forgive your enemies and do good to those who despitefully use you. It takes an “altered mind” to visit prisoners especially in developing or under-developed countries with very deplorable living conditions.
It certainly takes an “altered mind” to provide housing, clothing and food for people who have raped, maimed, robbed, abused and destroyed the lives of other members of the society.
While the normal or natural mind would prescribe punitive response to crime and criminals, an “altered” or spiritual mind will prescribe redemptive response without minimizing the pain, horror and negative consequences of the criminal act.
The Christian approach to criminal justice is a combination of punishment and reformation. This is based on the belief that God can change the vilest criminal to become a responsible member of the society. Giving opportunity for serving prisoners, ex-convicts and especially those jailed wrongfully to be rehabilitated is not only a mandate for true Christians ( Matthew 25:31-46; Isaiah 61:1), it is also beneficial to the society that stands to reap the good that could come from these reformed members.
The Bible sees punishment as expression of love. It says it is the son the father loves that he chastises.
With the premise established above, I most humbly submit as follows;
- Churches should be first responders to disasters whether natural or man-made. We often quickly send help to victims of earthquakes, Tsunamis, flood, epidemic and hazards, but our response to ex-convicts’ rehabilitation and re-entry into the society is abysmal. The rate of recidivism is very high because a well thought out plan is not made to help them overcome the culture shock they experience once out of the prison. The prison system has its culture and the longer people are incarcerated, the more cut off they are from the society’s culture, norms and values. They need to be taught how to get back into the society by people who are not going to stigmatize, ostracize and condemn them. “Safe haven” should be provided for them by their faith groups away from the environment that fester their anti-social behavior. A loving church or religious group/ family is best equipped to provide the needed support. Housing, education, jobs and means to reconnect with family members should be provided. Providing housing in the same crime infested neighborhood that may have encouraged their criminal behavior has proved to be counterproductive. The current half way house system that house ex-convicts together is not good enough as they still harbor the institutional way of thinking. A housing system like the “Next step housing at Hope Hall” of Hope Hall Inc based in Aurora Colorado is highly recommended. This model which is Christian faith based established by The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Dayspring center, Aurora CO places ex-convicts in homes populated by regular people without criminal background who are loving and patient enough to provide support to the ex-convicts and help them reintegrate into society. Here apart from housing, substance abuse counseling is offered, education and job training is offered, spiritual counseling is also offered as well as community service.
The success of this model is based on our values which are Christian, freedom of our residents to attend any church of their choice, collaboration but not assimilation and interdependence.
- Faith groups and churches should assist members in finding ways to actively participate in social transformation process through community service. The more members find needs in the society and fill them, the more they will find value in themselves and cultivate healthy ways of being useful to society even as they in the process make life worthwhile for others.
- The growing dissatisfaction, divisions, conflicts and frustrations in the church could be eliminated if leadership empower their members so “their hands can find things to do” for the less privileged.
- Churches should be intentional about community service like rehabilitation and reformation of prisoners by establishing support services like housing, jobs and other social welfare programs instead of looking to the government alone to provide these services. Instead of building huge monuments and cathedrals, churches should build lives. We are called by the Bible to be repairers of breaches and restorers of desolate places and lives.
- Churches should jettison denominational differences and find ways to collaborate by sharing information, resources, ideas and funds to address the injustice in our criminal justice system especially prison congestions, long pre-trial detention, dehumanization and other ills in the system. In Nigeria PFN (Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria) and CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) should work with other non affiliated groups and NGOs to forge an alliance to lobby the government for reforms in the prison and criminal justice systems. The call is for collaboration or integration and not ecumenism or assimilation which doctrinal differences will not allow. The main line denominations like the Catholic, Methodist and Anglican churches should open their doors to their Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers so that they could glean from their experience in this field since they have been involved much longer.
- Christian churches should find ways to interface with other religions like Islam in alleviating these problems and assist each other by sharing ideas, logistics and funds so that greater good could be done for more people.
- Existing organizations like CURE should be considered “good soil” to sow. Church leaders should encourage their members to support such groups financially and in other ways so that more people will be aware of these unacceptable practices and injustice in our criminal justice and prisons system.
Let me conclude by saying that there are a lot of people who have committed crimes and done things that should have landed them in jail but were either not caught or managed to escape imprisonment. They should see themselves in these prisoners and ex-convicts and rise up to support them.
Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of this conference.
Pastor, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Dayspring Center
President, Hope Hall Inc
16748 E.Iliff Ave, Aurora CO 80013.