Down By God’s Law

Vincent at Religion Related Injuries has linked to an article in the Orlando Weekly about the Lawtey Correctional Institute, the “faith based” prison endorsed by Jeb Bush. Although this particular prison does not appear to be linked to the IBLP, the outfit that is soon going to be providing faith-based prison resources across the USA (see my previous entry on this), it gives a flavour of the kind of thing to expect:

the state [of Florida] has drastically cut funding for prisons across the board. Gone are the GED classes, computer classes, vocational classes, even television antennas. The faith-based groups, and their army of volunteers, bring these things back…At the community meeting we attend later that night, three Muslim inmates are siphoned off into an adjacent room, while the Christians sing along to a full band and enjoy the preaching of an ordained minister. No imam is coming for them tonight, and [chaplain William] Wright, a Baptist, is in charge of leading their spiritual journey.

Before the prison went faith-based, [inmate Michael E.] Wynn says, things were more laid-back. “It got worse for us the way the procedures went. We can’t watch Jerry Springer, we can’t watch nothing but news and sports (under the faith-based rules).”

But the biggest complaint from the men on Lawtey’s yard concerns each dorm’s council of inmates, which recommends disciplinary actions to dorm chaplains…In other prisons, the state prohibits inmates from having any authority over each other, lest resentment turn into violence…that’s the case at Lawtey too…But each dorm’s inmate council and each pod’s leaders, called “encouragers,” can recommend to the dorm chaplain that misbehaving inmates be punished via essay-writing or extra cleaning details.

The article also notes that prisoners are picked very carefully – because there are as yet no studies showing that faith-based prisons work, Jeb Bush is desperate to make sure that this project does.

Three churches are named by the Orlando Weekly as responsible for providing the faith at Lawtey: Beaches Chapel, Miracle Mission of Hope and the Church of Jacksonville. I checked out each, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

The Miracle Mission of Hope is an outreach of The Grace Place. The Pastor of The Grace Place, Rick Addison, is a Moody graduate and the church seems to be moderately conservative Evangelical. From their statement of beliefs:

The sole basis of our belief is the Bible. The scripture in its entirety is composed of the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, which originated with God, and was given through the instrumentality of many different chosen authors.

The Church of Jacksonville is more fundamentalist:

We believe in the full historicity of the biblical record of primeval history, including the literal existence of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all people, the literal fall and resultant divine curse on the creation, the worldwide cataclysmic deluge, and the origin of the nations and languages at the tower of Babel (Genesis 1-11).

This church is run by Michael T. Smith, whose “mentor and spiritual father” is Creflo A. Dollar. The aptly-named Dollar is a Prosperity Gospel preacher in the tradition of Kenneth Hagin, although he also does “motivational” style-sermons. The message of “God will make you rich” naturally supports conservative visions, but the Church of Jacksonville’s website is not explicitly political.

However, Beaches Chapel, which the Orlando Weekly sees as the most significant player at Lawtey, is the most disturbing. The church’s statement of belief is explicitly authoritarian:

Church Government – We believe in church government to ensure order, and we believe in loyalty to those acting in rightful authority as they lead us in the Lord. (I Peter 5:1-5, Romans 15, Ephesians 4:11-13)

It is also the most political. The links page contains six links, the first of which, and most prominent, is a link to a right-wing Christian talk-show host called John Pendleton. The links page of the church’s school website has links to various Bush sites, including Columba Bush’s (Jeb’s wife) homepage…

2 Responses

  1. […] 2 (22 March): More today. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)40 question memeSchool choice in CanadaWe support […]

  2. […] It seems that Florida is not the only place where conservative Christian groups will have a captive audience of prisoners: apparently Christian television will soon be piped to prisons in Russia. Speaking to ASSIST, Rev. […]

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