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January 21, 2009

Daily roundup

Posting may be sporadic tomorrow, as I'll be attending Blogs4Life downtown. (I believe you can watch the webcast at that link.)

January 16, 2009

The Enforcer

Gary Haugen and the International Justice Mission continue to make waves, landing 12 pages in the New Yorker with an in-depth profile, "The Enforcer," by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Samantha Power. Here's a snapshot (Gary had just returned from Rwanda after witnessing the aftermath of the genocide):

In church, his mind drifted into calculations of how long it would take a machete-wielding gang to wipe out the congregation. Although the Salvation Army, World Vision, and other Christian organizations fed the hungry and sheltered the homeless, no Christian organization that he knew of had heeded the Bible's appeals for justice ("Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out"). He resolved that Christians serving God had to do more than pray for the victims of cruelty; they had to use the law to help rescue them. "This is not a God who offers sympathy, best wishes," he later wrote. "This is a God who wants evildoers brought to account and vulnerable people protected--here and now!"

January 14, 2009

More on forgiveness

Raising Flagg I also have a brand new copy of Catherine’s book. I’ve not yet had time to give it more than a brief skim, but Catherine is a talented writer (of course, regular readers of this site already know that) who brings the stories of people shattered by evil acts of murder and mutilation to life. 

The book, as you know, is about the Rwandan genocide and the healing of a nation. While most of us will never perpetrate acts of genocide, sin cuts through every human heart. Catherine's message is profound: It is only through forgiveness through Jesus Christ, that any kind of reconciliation can occur. 

She says that by extending forgiveness to the wrongdoer, the injured person can help toward the healing of the offender’s sin-sick heart. As one of the victims of malfeasance put it, “Forgiveness is a gift one gives to change the heart of the offender.” 

Catherine presents readers with a larger picture of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is,” she writes, “a social action with social ramifications.” 

This concept might be easier to understand on a smaller scale. In the movie Raising Flagg, Flagg Purdy (Alan Arkin) and his longtime friend Gus Falk (Austin Pendleton) get into a fight over checkers, sheep, and a water well that soon comes to a head in litigation. The whole community becomes embroiled in the affair and chooses sides. Purdy wins the lawsuit—but becomes the community pariah. 

When Purdy realizes that the whole community is against him, he experiences a crisis which leaves him depressed and convinced he’s dying. 

Fortunately, Purdy's stalwart wife, Ada (Barbara Dana), helps in reconciling the two warring friends. Even though Purdy took Gus’s property through a legal technicality, Gus makes the first move toward reconciliation. Eventually, Purdy does ask Gus to forgive him, and the two resume their friendship.

In her book, Catherine relates stories of people who have started the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. These are real people who have had heinous crimes committed against them or loved ones. Some of the people have had their whole family murdered, and most of them knew the perpetrators. Is forgiveness easy? No, but as shown by both the works I've mentioned, it is necessary for reconciliation--and it is through this act that what Satan meant for evil, God will use for good. 

I urge you to buy a copy of Catherine's book and read about how the Rwandans are going about the task of healing the nation fractured by evil, one person at a time.

(Image © Cinema Libre Studio)

Virtue at Its Testing Point

Main-book1 So, I'm excited to announce that I've received my very own advanced copy of my book! It was an awesome feeling to actually hold it and thumb through the pages of almost two years of work. As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda will be released by Zondervan on February 1st, just a few short weeks away. The book tells the stories of seven survivors of the 1994 genocide and their journeys to forgive the unthinkable.

Last night I was emailing with one of the Rwandans whose story I recount in my book. His name is Phanuel. He is a man of such courage. As a Hutu teenager, he took several bullets in his body rather than point out his Tutsi classmates to the rebels who invaded his high school in a 1997 post-genocide attack. When they demanded the students divide into their ethnic groups, the students in that classroom would only say, "We are all Rwandans." Any one of those students could have potentially saved themselves, by outing others. But none of them did. Several of them died because of that courage.

When I think about Phanuel, I can't help but think of what C.S. Lewis once said: "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point."

If you haven't pre-ordered your copy, I'd love for you to do so. You can get one through Amazon. If you do, I'd love for you to share your thoughts on it by posting a customer review there. Or you can wait a few weeks and get one at your local Barnes & Noble or Borders or Books-A-Million or Target. If you're on Facebook, you can also become a fan of the book and I'll send you updates from time to time. Just look for As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda by Catherine Claire Larson among the pages.

(Image © Zondervan)

January 09, 2009

Tim Tebow: Putting Football in Perspective

Tebow_philippines Both my parents graduated from the University of Florida (not to mention two uncles, two aunts, one brother, one sister-in-law, and over a half dozen cousins). When my mom's 23 chromosomes met up with my dad's and formed me, I got 100% Gator DNA. I've been a fan ever since. I love college football, but especially Gator football.

We've had our share of ruffians, but over the years it has helped to also see so many outstanding Christians among the Gator line-up. Danny Wuerffel was a particular inspiration to me when I was in high school and he was playing for the Gators and being so outspoken about his faith. His subsequent move to work with Desire Street ministries thrilled me.

Then when Tim Tebow came along, I couldn't have been happier. After accepting his Heisman Trophy last year, he traveled to the Philippines, where he had been born, to minister to orphans. I've heard a lot about him speaking in prisons. Last night on the pre-game show there were several minutes devoted to his witness. They interviewed some of the prisoners to whom he has ministered.

Imagine little old me... with my love of this ministry and sharing Christ with prisoners...and my love for the Gators. I was on cloud nine. The only thing that could have made it better was the Gators winning a National Championship! And then, they did.

Hats off to Tim Tebow for his outstanding and bold witness. I pray more of us would follow his example! (Read more here.)

I can't find the video clip from the pre-game show on line, but I recorded it and here are some quotes:

Continue reading "Tim Tebow: Putting Football in Perspective" »

January 06, 2009

Who will guard the guardians?

Scott_correctional Far too many inmates across the country have experiences that mimic those of Toni Bunton, whose story is told (with occasionally explicit detail) by the Detroit Free Press.

Toni, an inmate at a Michigan women's prison, suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of male prison guards. Only recently has she joined a group of other female inmates to file suit against her oppressors. A survey released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that 38,000 other inmates identify with Toni's pain.

These tragic tales demonstrate a truth we prefer to ignore -- the human nature responsible for inmates' crimes is the same nature that festers in the guards. Those who patrol the halls and monitor courtyards of our prisons are not immune from the seductions of sin. Neither are we. 

The solution to this quandary is not to propagate a noble lie, which Socrates proposed when asked who should guard the guardians of society -- relying on guards' altruism offers little hope for change. Rather, we should ensure that inmates have adequate access to legal redress of grievances by changing the terms of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. We should install strict oversight and accountability mechanisms for prison staff, such as those proposed by the Prison Rape Elimination Commission. This commission has been working for several years to craft standards for prevention, detection, response, and monitoring of sexual abuse in prisons and jails and will release its final draft this spring.

Of course, redemption and transformation of individual lives is the ultimate solution to prison sexual assault. Breaking the power of evil in the human heart can only occur through the One who came at Christmas to destroy the Devil's work.

(Image © Patricia Beck for the Detroit Free Press)

December 18, 2008

Spreading the message of forgiveness

Mainbook1 Congratulations to Catherine on a great Publisher's Weekly review for her forthcoming book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda:

This isn’t an easy book to read or digest, yet its message is mandatory: “Forgiveness can push out the borders of what we believe is possible. Reconciliation can offer us a glimpse of the transfigured world to come.”

Click here and scroll down for more (via the As We Forgive blog).

(Image © Zondervan)

December 17, 2008

Seminary graduates, peacemakers, inmates

Fourteen prisoners in South Carolina received associate of arts degrees from Columbia International University last week. Like the graduates of a similar program in Louisiana, started by Burl Cain, the warden at Angola, these men are being commissioned as peacemakers within the prison system of South Carolina. 

Their theological training will be put to work in a very practical way, as they live out their faith and advocate for nonviolence in the often tense and violence-plagued atmosphere of prison life.  By allowing the program, the state hopes to benefit by seeing lower levels of violent behavior, a hope that has already been realized in Louisiana, where 147 inmates have completed the program run by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The broad, systemic change has already begun in the lives of the fourteen men who graduated.

As the men passed [to receive their diplomas], Rebecca Rockholt of Hartsville caught her son Joseph’s eye, gave a little wave and dabbed her eyes as the tears began to fall.

“There have been a lot of prayers,” said Rockholt, accompanied by her husband, Oliver, daughter, Tammy, and niece, Heather. “It’s such a blessing.”

Joseph entered prison in 2000 a disgruntled man, but his family never gave up on him, he said.

“My mother told me this will either make you a better person or a bitter person,” he said, as he smiled and handed her his diploma. He graduated at the top of his class, with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

December 15, 2008

Justice without mercy...

Ijm "And earthly power doth then show likest God's/When mercy seasons justice." -- William Shakespeare

The other night, I had the privilege of attending my very first International Justice Mission (IJM) benefit dinner, where I heard the wrenching story of Maite, a beautiful Guatemalan teenager.

When IJM first discovered Maite, the scars on her her arms bore witness to the frequent beatings she received as a slave to a woman--supposedly a "family friend"--and the woman's teenage son. After Maite's rescue, they discovered that her physical torture had also included repeated rape by the son.

IJM's team of lawyers secured Maite's freedom and sent her to live in a Christian aftercare house, where she is learning to live and to thrive. In a photograph (similar to the photograph of some other girls above), Maite's eyes were blurred out to protect her privacy, but there is nothing private about her radiant smile.

But what about the woman and her son? Thanks to IJM, one has been arrested and a warrant is out for the other.

Mission almost accomplished. Justice served. IJM has successfully fought for freedom once again.

But the young man's black and white mug shot makes me look again. There is no smile here, just emptiness. Likely because of his actions, a young woman has years of emotional healing ahead of her. Dare I ask: what has it done to him?

Continue reading "Justice without mercy..." »

December 12, 2008

Re: Presidential Citizens Medal

Chuckcolsoncitizenmedal Just updating to add this photo that was taken at Wednesday's ceremony.

(Image © White House/Chris Greenberg)

December 10, 2008

Presidential Citizens Medal for Chuck Colson

Chuck_colson Our fearless leader was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by George W. Bush today, "for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals." More information about the award is here. (Dr. Robby George, a friend of this ministry, also received a medal.)

A statement from PFM includes the following quotes from Chuck:

“Whatever good I may have done is because God saw fit to reach into the depths of Watergate and convert a broken sinner,” said Colson. “Everything that has been accomplished these past 35 years has been by God’s grace and sovereign design.”

In responding to the award, Colson directed the praise and accolades back toward the ministry of Prison Fellowship, the ministry he founded in 1976.

“I do not treat this medal as mine,” he said. “It is, like in the military, a unit citation. The staff of Prison Fellowship, the thousands of volunteers and the hundreds of thousands of donors have made this possible. So while I am overwhelmed in gratitude to God, I am grateful to all those associated in this movement called Prison Fellowship.”

Congratulations, Chuck!

December 05, 2008

More thoughts on sex offender laws

I'm glad to hear the various thoughts that sex offender laws, particularly those in North Carolina, have provoked. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind as we continue to ponder this issue:

First, the fact that some sex offender laws are too extreme does not mean we should eliminate all of them. Rather than throw out the entire system, we should seek a discerning response -- one that truly considers an offender's risk level and compares the return on public safety with the damage done to offenders' lives. 

Second, we can't blame people for wanting to be safe. While their methods may be absurd, their goals are certainly not. Those who lobby for and support tough sex offender laws really believe they are serving the public interest.  Many sex offender laws are responses to tragic stories. We must extend compassion to the hurting, scared families of little boys like Adam Walsh and little girls like Megan Kanka.

At the same time, we can explain to these people that their ideas are not the best way to keep us safe. Below are some articles that present great information to inform our dialogue about current policies:

Continue reading "More thoughts on sex offender laws" »

December 03, 2008

New laws can keep ex-offenders from church

Yes, we need to protect the children. But this is ludicrous.

New laws governing all registered sex offenders released in North Carolina took effect yesterday. The restrictions are so tough that they can prohibit these people from attending church. According to a story in the Charlotte Observer, at least one sheriff is notifying those in his district that they can no longer go to church because they would be within 300 feet of the Sunday School children.

Because only the smallest percentage of sex offenders pose a risk for reoffending, harsh restrictions that cover every type of sex offender are ridiculous. They do not enhance public safety. And they are especially outrageous when they keep these people from the communities of care that build a spiritual and moral foundation for their lives. When we give a sheriff authority to force a free, currently law-abiding citizen away from his place of worship, we have made a mockery of both justice and wisdom.    

November 25, 2008

The image of God behind bars

Chess_piece Inmates in New Jersey State Prison and students from Princeton University clashed in battle this month -- on chess boards.  A New York Times article describes the "cultural exchange program" that gives men in New Jersey's maximum security facility the chance to compete against some of the brightest brains in the country. In a recent competition, a dozen inmates prevailed.

Their wins shouldn't be shocking. But before I visited a prison, I would not have anticipated those victories. Until I interacted with inmates, I carried the subconscious assumption that they were somehow less than human. That creative intelligence does not exist behind bars. That inmates lose awareness of time and space, making life in the same place with the same routine in the same group of people, for decades, a bearable, seemingly brief experience. Prisoners, in my mind, were like fish in an aquarium.

Talking, listening, and laughing with inmates opened my eyes to their full humanity. I finally understood that being in prison does not extinguish the image of God in a person. God infused our natures with the capacity and craving to explore, to learn, to understand, to develop, to move, to subdue. When a person enters prison, these attributes endure. Only now they are confined to a prison cell and a prison yard.  Prisoners live through their sentences -- not hibernate.

I'm definitely not saying that we should tear down our prisons. Justice and safety demand punishment for crime. But I am arguing that we should do all we can to help inmates celebrate their humanity -- and direct their God-given attributes towards righteousness. We should visit, engage, and teach. Solid academic research even indicates these things dramatically improve public safety by equipping offenders to avoid criminal behavior.

A chess victory may seem trivial. But it points to the divine spark that no shackle can extinguish.   

November 11, 2008

The Apology Project

One prisoner (incarcerated for murder and armed robbery) has just started a website to apologize to his victims and to encourage other offenders to do the same. He says:

Years ago, when I was waiting to go to trial, an investigator came to visit and asked me about my mother's death. I thought she died of cancer, but he told me that someone may have murdered her. That's when I started to connect to what I had done, and I wanted to apologize.

I guess it's never too late to say "I'm sorry."

November 07, 2008

An Addendum to Proposition 9

California voters made headlines this week for remembering their chickens while at the ballot box.  Far more significant than a bird's breathing room, though, was the concern for crime victims expressed in Proposition 9. The initiative's state purposes are to do the following:

  1. "Provide victims with the rights to justice and due process."
  2. "Invoke the rights of families of homicide victims to be spared the ordeal of prolonged and unnecessary suffering, and to stop the waste of millions of taxpayer dollars, by eliminating parole hearings in which there is no likelihood a murderer will be paroled, and to provide that a convicted murderer can receive a parole hearing no more frequently than every three years, and can be denied a follow-up parole hearing for as long as 15 years."

Our corrections system should certainly notify victims of court and parole board proceedings, protect their safety, and listen to their fears and desires. Far too often, officials' attention focuses on offenders while victims, confused and hurting, are pushed into the background. We must remember victims.

At the same time, though, Proposition 9's solutions to victim trauma hold false hope for true healing. Restricting offenders' access to parole hearings will not eliminate victims' pain of remembrance. Keeping offenders behind bars longer will not ultimately deliver victims from suffering. Only forgiveness can bring real peace.

Proposition 9 is correct to assert victims' rights. But, if victims do not wrestle with their thoughts and emotions and pursue reconciliation with their abuser, they will remain locked in their own prison of anger and despair.   


November 06, 2008

How much does justice cost?

Hadijatou_mani Although there can never be a fair price for freedom, it's nice to see one of the world's slaves receiving some form of justice.

But here's the real question--how much would it cost to do the same for 27 million more?

(Image © BBC News)

November 05, 2008

Can Works ’Work’ without Faith?

To take government funds or not to? Isn't that the question for faith-based groups these days?

Bush's faith-based office extends dollars to all sorts of faith-based groups--from disaster relief organizations to youth mentoring programs to prisoner reentry initiatives. President-elect Obama would do the same thing, only with the stipulation that groups that take funds cannot restrict hiring to those who believe as they do. In other words, a Christian organization might be forced to hire a Muslim, a Buddhist, or an atheist.

Some don't see a problem with this, like this blogger:

Do Christians have the monopoly on good deeds? [Is it] that only Christians can save the day? That only Christians have what it takes to sacrifice and devote their lives to helping others? Are they really implying that the God’s way is the only way to get the job done?

Maybe that's the real question. While this guy says he is not opposed to Christian groups doing good work (in fact, he thinks they should), he doesn't think faith and charity have to go hand in hand:

I think what’s really needed are more groups that will do good work without the promise of eternal reward. Do good because the world needs it, the people need it. Help because you can, not because it’s expected of you. Good deeds don’t require God’s stamp of approval.

Continue reading "Can Works ’Work’ without Faith?" »

October 22, 2008

The beginning of wisdom

Maher2 Take Michael Moore, add a generous helping of Richard Dawkins, and stir in a little totalitarianism ("religion must die!"), and you have Bill Maher's Religulous. There's not much more to the experience than that -- aside from the general annoyingness of being lectured extensively on science by a guy who doesn't believe in germs.

In yesterday's BreakPoint commentary, though, Chuck Colson focused on an aspect of a film that really hit home for him -- an aspect I don't think has been touched on much in reviews of the film.

. . . Maher—himself a former Catholic who admits that he used to try to “bargain” with God—interviews a group of men at a trucker’s chapel. Like many other scenes in the film, this one is carefully set up to make us marvel at the brilliance of Bill Maher and the inferiority of everyone around him. (It’s hard for a viewer to avoid the conclusion that the only higher power in Maher’s universe is his own ego.)

But Maher at least pretends to flatter the truckers and their chaplain. He reminds them that guys in prisons and foxholes hang on to religion because they have nothing else. And then he says, “But you guys aren’t dumb.” In other words, Maher’s point is that the truckers should know better than to believe in God—unlike all those dumb prisoners and soldiers out there who don’t know any better.

Having been in prison myself, let me speak for those prisoners. Recognizing your need for God isn’t a question of “smart or stupid.” It’s a matter of recognizing who you are; your own insufficiency, the sin in your own heart—and prisoners get that. And then you have to recognize your desperate need for a Savior.

But whether you’re a prisoner or a doctor or a lawyer or a comedian, you don’t have to have a gigantic I.Q. to see that it’s necessary because you cannot rescue yourself from your own mortality or sinfulness—that is, you are not God. In fact, realizing your own spiritual need is probably the wisest thing anyone can do.

(Image © Lionsgate)

October 02, 2008

PFI to Co-host Training for Prison Ministry Leaders in the Middle East

It never ceases to amaze me, the impact that Prison Fellowship and Prison Fellowship International are having around the world and here at home. I just saw this press release from PFI. It's absolutely incredible to think of the reach of this ministry and the ramifications of faithful men and women living out their callings across our globe.

Here's the report:

“Christian leaders from throughout the Middle East are responding to critical needs in their societies, where prison populations are soaring particularly among juveniles," said Ron Nikkel, President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International. "In this conference we see that the solution to these and other problems will come from within these societies—where leaders with a vision for what is possible step forward to serve."

Prison Fellowship International will co-host a training event for over 50 prison ministry leaders from throughout the Middle East—including Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Mauritania and Bahrain—from 26 September to 2 October in Beirut, Lebanon. 

Continue reading "PFI to Co-host Training for Prison Ministry Leaders in the Middle East" »

September 12, 2008

Criminal injustice

On Monday, in a piece on Christians and the inequities in the criminal justice system, USA Today charged that "[Chuck] Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship . . . washes his hands of the deeper social problems underneath our burgeoning prison population."

Today, in a letter to the editor, Mark Earley sets the record straight:

Since Prison Fellowship was founded 32 years ago by Chuck Colson, we have sought not only the personal transformation of prisoners, but also the transformation of families, neighborhoods and the prison system.

Read more here. Thanks to PFM's Pat Nolan and to Thunderstruck.

From Jail to Yale

Tdy_faw_jailtoyale_080912300w There was a great story this morning on the Today Show about a former prisoner named Andres Idarraga and his journey from jail to Yale Law School. While in prison for drug-dealing, Andres made a discovery about himself. He could discipline himself to learn:

His escape became the prison library, where he discovered other inmates who devoured the daily papers and discussed current events, keeping their minds engaged with a world that they hoped some day to rejoin. Idarraga also began reading books — voraciously.  As he read, he began to dream, not about pimped-up cars and drug money, but about going to college, about doing something that he and his parents could be proud of.

After getting his GED, he helped other convicts get their equivalency diplomas. Nearly halfway through his sentence, Idarraga was paroled. He had applied to Brown University, but the Ivy League school turned him down. So he enrolled in a state college for one year, scored top marks and asked Brown if the school had changed its mind about him.

It had. That was four years ago. And now, with his bachelor's degree in hand, the 30-year-old Idarraga is off to Yale Law School.

Continue reading "From Jail to Yale" »

September 05, 2008

Daily roundup

Blogger roundup

Some excellent new reading material from your Point bloggers:

August 21, 2008

Stephanie Tubbs Jones

Stephanie_tubbs_jones Last night, Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D) passed away after suffering a brain hemorrhage. She was a key sponsor of the Second Chance Act, which Justice Fellowship and Prison Fellowship lobbied for year after year. That bill was finally signed into law this year. Her support was greatly appreciated. Our prayers are with her family at this time of loss.

(Image © Pablo Martinez Monsivais for the AP)

August 18, 2008

Daily roundup

August 15, 2008

Daily roundup

August 13, 2008

The Monuments that Matter

Wilberforce Chuck talked this week about the anniversary of his conversion to Christ -- and how the decision one man made to share the Gospel with Chuck has led to a "ministry that now spreads all around the world to 114 countries, tens of thousands of men and women coming out of prison being redeemed by the blood of Christ, and then finding their place in community; and the whole Church being sensitized to the needs of the least of these in our midst."

It's an exponential chain of events: from Tom Phillips to Chuck Colson to Prison Fellowship to the work of the many, many women and men now redeeming the culture for Christ around the world.

In a back article from BreakPoint WorldView magazine, he talks more about those "living monuments" that give witness to the legacy of Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint. On a trip to England, Chuck was disappointed not to find a significant monument in honor of the abolitionist who inspired him, William Wilberforce.

Continue reading "The Monuments that Matter" »

August 07, 2008

Daily roundup

Diane Rehm on As We Forgive

As the As We Forgive movement continues to grow, more and more major news sources are taking notice. This morning, NPR's Diane Rehm interviewed Laura Waters Hinson about reconciliation in Rwanda.

Laura was joined by author Philip Gourevitch, who is considered an authority on the Rwandan genocide for his award-winning book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families. Gourevitch offers his perspective on the recent allegations that France was complicit in the killings.

You can listen to the full broadcast here.

July 31, 2008

Belfast to Bosnia

Who will bend this ancient hatred, will the killing to an end
Who will swallow long injustice, take the devil for a country man?

In the Post's Outlook section, Dejan Anastasijevic, discussing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, wrote,

Countries emerging from conflict need swift justice, not decades of tedious trials aimed at establishing comprehensive historical truth. That task should be left to historians. Instead of casting a wide net and spending years examining every single fish, future tribunals should focus on the worst cases with the strongest evidence -- and process them quickly, before politics steps in. And if this raises some eyebrows among legal experts, so be it. Human justice is imperfect, but no justice is much worse.

I'll defer to his judgment about both the International Criminal Tribunal and what happened or didn't happen in the former Yugoslavia. But I'm increasingly convinced that you can either have Truth and Reconciliation or you can have justice but you can't have both. What's more, if you try to have both, you'll almost certainly wind up with neither.

Continue reading "Belfast to Bosnia" »

July 28, 2008

Daily roundup

Week of Justice

Dvd_mockup If you happen to be in the greater Washington D.C. area, I will be speaking tonight at the theater located beneath Ebenezer's Coffee House (201 F Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002) after a screening of the documentary As We Forgive. The film is being shown as part of the National Community Church's third annual Week of Justice. This week's topics range from Sweat Shop Labor to Urban Poverty to AIDS to Sex-Trafficking, and how Christians can respond.

Friday night, I also had the privilege of fielding questions after a screening of As We Forgive at The Falls Church. I always learn interesting things from people in the audience who are thinking of their own ways to apply the lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation. One woman approached me afterward and we talked at length about how the lessons Rwandans are learning on how to live again with each other may be much needed in the years to come between North and South Korea. I was blessed by her insights.

I was thinking about posing a question tonight to the audience after they've watched the film. It's a question I've thought about a lot over the past year in writing this book and ties in to NCC's topics. The question is: What is the end goal of justice?

How would you answer it?

By the way, if you never saw the trailer for the film, here it is:

I'd love to see you tonight! If you don't live nearby, check the As We Forgive film website for screenings in your local area or to see how you can set one up.

The ’Johns’ School

In the San Francisco area, the Erotic Service Providers Union is trying to increase their power by getting prostitution decriminalized. A spokeswoman says they want to end "violence and discrimination" against sex workers, but the reality for prostitutes where the trade is legalized isn't pretty. Many prostitutes are underage or trafficked slaves.


A 2007 study by San Francisco psychologist and prostitution expert Melissa Farley found that in places where commercial sex is legal—such as Nevada, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands—illegal prostitution, as well as the number of rapes and assaults against prostitutes, has increased. Farley also found that more than 80 percent of the women working as prostitutes in Nevada's legal brothels "urgently want to escape." Both Germany and the Netherlands—countries infamous for their red-light districts—are reconsidering their decisions to legalize the practice. (Emphasis added.)

Miyoko Ohtake has written an excellent article in Newsweek about the sex trade and a program directed at sex-buyers. Called the First Offender Prostitution Program, it teaches "johns" about the devastation wrought by buying sex, and it has proven to be very successful. Included in Ohtake's exposé is an eye-opening video by Norma Hotaling, co-founder of the "johns' school."   

Unfortunately, if the would-be legalizers get their way, programs like this will be shut down.

July 25, 2008

Politicians on Faith and Forgiveness in Rwanda

Senators Daschle and Frist, Mike Huckabee, John Podesta, John Kasich, Susan McCue, David Lane and Cindy McCain attended the Saint John the Baptist Cathedral in Rwanda on Sunday during their trip to Rwanda with the ONE Campaign.

The following is a short video clip I found at the ONE campaign's website from Mike Huckabee. He weighs in on faith and the fight against global poverty.

Continue reading "Politicians on Faith and Forgiveness in Rwanda" »

July 24, 2008

Cindy McCain in Rwanda

Cindy_mccain I'm a little behind on news (just getting back from my honeymoon), but I read today about Cindy McCain's recent trip to Rwanda. Michael Gerson had an excellent op-ed on it in yesterday's Post. He writes that this week's trip was not McCain's first:

Cindy McCain's first visit to this country, in 1994, was during the high season of roadblocks and machetes and shallow graves.

Following a call for help from Doctors Without Borders, McCain had assembled a medical team with the intention of setting up a mobile hospital in Rwanda. Arriving by private plane in mid-April, a couple of weeks into the massacres, she realized that the chaos made deploying her team impossible. At the airport, she paid for the use of a truck and set out for Goma in then-Zaire, where hundreds of thousands of refugees were also headed.

While McCain never saw someone kill another while there, she saw kids carrying AK-47s at roadblocks and guzzling bottles of Guinness. She also told Gerson that she could smell "the smell of death." Read the full op-ed here.

Gerson concludes his thoughts on a potential first lady's visit to Rwanda this way:

Like most of Cindy McCain's life, these stories are generally hidden behind a wall of well-tailored reticence. She values the privacy of her family and resents the intrusiveness of the media. None of her relief work has been done for political consumption or Washington prominence. On the contrary, it has been an alternative life to the culture of the capital -- the rejection of the normal progress of a senator's wife. "It is not about me -- it never has been. I felt it was important -- that I had to do it. I never took government money. It was my own, and I am not ashamed of it."

But all this would have political consequences in a McCain administration. Even if a first lady is not intrusively political, the whole White House responds to her priorities. Cindy McCain has had decades of personal contact with the suffering of the developing world. And in some future crisis or genocide, it might matter greatly to have a first lady who knows the smell of death.

Continue reading "Cindy McCain in Rwanda" »

July 08, 2008

Restorative justice, canine style

Pit_bulls I'll be honest: Pit bulls scare me to death. If I were president, I'd push legislation to ban them -- that's how badly they scare me.

Nonetheless, I was intrigued by this article about efforts to rehabilitate the pit bulls that were tortured by Michael Vick and his dogfighting organization.

. . . The court gave Vick's dogs a second chance. U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson ordered each dog to be evaluated individually, not judged by the stereotype of the breed. And he ordered Vick to pony up close to $1 million to pay for the lifelong care of those that could be saved.

Of the 49 pit bulls animal behavior experts evaluated in the fall, only one was deemed too vicious to warrant saving and was euthanized. (Another was euthanized because it was sick and in pain.)

More than a year after being confiscated from Vick's property, Leo, a tan, muscular pit bull, dons a colorful clown collar and visits cancer patients as a certified therapy dog in California. Hector, who bears deep scars on his chest and legs, recently was adopted and is about to start training for national flying disc competitions in Minnesota. Teddles takes orders from a 2-year-old. Gracie is a couch potato in Richmond who lives with cats and sleeps with four other dogs.

Continue reading "Restorative justice, canine style" »

July 07, 2008

Daily roundup

July 01, 2008

Daily roundup

This Should Be a Real Deterent to Crime

Nutriloaf It's a well-known fact that we eat first with our eyes, and this picture of prison grub proves its truth--most people probably wouldn't get within five feet of trying a bite of it. But this less-than-scrumptious-looking loaf is served to inmates who can't be trusted with utensils. 

If the picture is anything to go by, perhaps it would be prudent for corrections departments to offer inmates courses in food styling. Add a little this or that, cut the loaf this way or that and who knows, the Nutri-loaf could become haute cuisine. (They might even get to this point.) A major bonus could be that after release from prison, the food stylists might just be able to secure a much needed career.

(Image © Slate)

June 30, 2008

Mark Earley and Pat Nolan: Prison reform transcends boundaries

Earley_nyt Today the New York Times profiles PFM president Mark Earley and vice president (and Justice Fellowship head) Pat Nolan, focusing on how advocates of prison reform are crossing lines in a way that few had thought possible.

Motivated both by religious faith and a secular analysis of public policy, Mr. Earley and the fellowship’s vice president, Pat Nolan, a former California legislator, have regularly testified before Congress, written op-ed essays and given speeches on behalf of efforts to roll back mandatory-minimum sentencing, equalize penalties for crack and powder cocaine, and offer nonviolent offenders treatment rather than incarceration, among other initiatives.

On the surface a redoubt of the religious right, firmly rooted in evangelical Christianity and conservative politics, the Prison Fellowship Ministries’ liberal position on such issues underscores the increasing irrelevance of such rigid categories.

The group’s role in criminal justice bears similarity to the stance taken by evangelical leaders like Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in Southern California, on global warming, AIDS prevention and Third World poverty.

“What’s distinct is that we’re in an ‘Aha!’ moment now,” Mr. Earley, 53, said in a phone conversation. “The crime issue used to be such a driving wedge between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and now it’s not. In the presidential campaign this year, when have you heard crime as a wedge issue? It’s a common-ground issue, and no one would have envisioned that in the ’70s and ’80s.”

Read more.

(Image © The New York Times)

June 26, 2008

The bride-to-be and her brand new book

As_we_forgive What Catherine didn't mention is that, at the same time she's dealing with Wedding Panic (in a most commendable and non-Bridezilla-like way), she's also dealing, equally competently, with Book Panic. Her book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda, is in the final stages of preparation, to be published by Zondervan in February 2009. Click here to learn more about the book -- and as a bonus, to get a preview of Catherine's soon-to-be last name. (And click here to read Catherine's BreakPoint WorldView article about some of her experiences in Rwanda.)

In related news, Catherine's friend Laura Waters Hinson, maker of the companion film As We Forgive Those, won the Gold Prize at the Student Academy Awards for it. Congratulations to her! Learn more here (scroll down) and here.

June 16, 2008

Daily roundup

June 11, 2008

Mark Earley’s congressional testimony on hiring ex-offenders

PF President Mark Earley testified yesterday before the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia on facilitating employment for ex-offenders. A press release is here; Mark's full testimony is here.

June 05, 2008

’But you’re a conservative!’

Chuck Colson takes the opportunity to shatter a few stereotypes today:

Some years ago, in a Firing Line interview with Bill Buckley, I argued for criminal justice reform. The moderator, Mort Kondracke—who then considered himself a liberal—was astonished. He stammered, “You want prison reform? But you’re a conservative!”

I almost laughed out loud. Kondracke was parroting the ideological stereotypes about liberals and conservatives. And, today, the same confusion dominates the election debates.

Ideology—that is, the manmade formulations and doctrines of both the right and the left in modern American politics—is the enemy of true conservatism, as it is the enemy of the Gospel, which rests on revealed, propositional truth. Russell Kirk, the great Catholic thinker whose writings have so influenced me over the years, said that ideology is “the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers.” Most tend to be utopian and end up serving not the welfare of the people, but the interests of power-seekers.

Conservatism, on the other hand, is not a set of doctrines, but “a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.”

Read more.

June 03, 2008

The prisoners who show us the way

Haitian_girl From Chuck Colson in today's BreakPoint commentary:

. . . We have heard countless stories of hunger and famine around the world. It is too easy to think, “What a shame!” and then flip the station or channel.

That is why, when I heard about some prisoners in upstate New York and how they responded to [the Haitian] crisis, it really caused me to do a double-take.

When a prisoner in Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility read an article titled “Hungry Haitians Eat Dirt to Survive” in the New Readers Press, he did not shrug his shoulders and say, “It’s not my problem.” Instead, he rallied his fellow inmates, who contributed $157 to a charity, Hope for Haiti, to help feed the starving. Since prisoners earn between 12 and 25 cents an hour (if they are lucky enough to have a job), this is an enormous sum.

Read more. If you'd like to follow the wonderful example set by these prisoners, you can visit Hope for Haiti's website here.

(Image © Hope for Haiti)

June 02, 2008

Daily roundup

Now, this is interesting

In American prisons, inmates teach each other how to improve their crime-committing capacities. But in one Canadian prison, an inmate is lecturing fellow inmates in American history to sell-out (so to speak) crowds. Even the guards and custodians show up for his classes.

What a pity this kind of thing is not encouraged more. (Chuck, as I recall, was assigned to the prison laundry after Watergate--a gross waste of his talents.) After all, it's not as though we had a shortage of highly educated, white collar criminals....

May 13, 2008

Why I Love My Job

I've been away from the blog for a few days traveling. But a chance last week to interview an ex-prisoner and two volunteers reminded me once again why I feel I have one of the best jobs around.

Every once in a while I get to look into the eyes of someone who has been profoundly changed by the Holy Spirit's inner workings. The woman I interviewed, whom I'll write about for an upcoming issue of Jubilee Extra, our ministry newsletter, had a tumultuous and painful childhood that ultimately led her to a life as a drug dealer.

While she was in jail, her cell door opened one day and she and a few other women were permitted out to a meeting room in the jail to talk with a local Prison Fellowship volunteer who had come in to visit the prisoners. My interviewee elected to go to the meeting but had little idea what or whom she'd encounter. The volunteer asked her simply how he could pray for her.

When the young woman got back to her cell, a flood of memories washed over her. Over the next few hours, she was convicted of things from childhood through adulthood, and she knelt on the floor of her cell crying and asking for forgiveness.

Now, three years since her release, and about five years since her conversion, I got the extraordinary opportunity of seeing someone whose life has been absolutely revolutionized by the love of Christ. Not only that, but I got to meet some volunteers who will certainly be difficult to catch a glimpse of in the new heavens and the new earth because of the throngs of people they've led to Christ, who no doubt will be near them there as they praise and thank the Lord together, for what He has done.

Continue reading "Why I Love My Job" »

May 07, 2008

Daily roundup