Alabama’s Governor Bob Riley has asked the churches of his state, in a May 20 address, to shoulder the burden of caring for the newly released inmates of the state. He says the state of Alabama lacks the funds and flexibility to do the job. Leaders from churches and other non-profit groups were asked to assist in housing, employment assistance, clothing, health care and cash. He made an interesting appeal when he said churches rose to the occasion when Hurricane Katrina
hit the region and if they had the will they could rise to this occasion as well. Speaking to a group of some 500 leaders Riley said, "If we can motivate the faith-based communities in the state the way we do during an emergency then we can make a difference." The state releases 11,000 prisoners each year.
This is an issue I know something about first-hand. I was involved, back in the late 1980s, in helping begin a ministry in the Wheaton area for ex-offenders. What shocked me, at least initially, was the reaction of so many Christians, and the area media, to our trying to do this in the "evangelically influenced" city of Wheaton. Fear reigned supreme in many cases and property values were more important than mission for so many Christians. We calmly answered every question but the issue would not go away for many years.
In Alabama the state suggested at least eighty ways private charity can help. Even the most vocal critics of church and state cooperation suggest the Alabama model is sound. What I wonder is simple: "Will enough Christians and leaders care or will they be too concerned for their lifestyle and comforts to get involved?"
The state is almost pleading with us, in such a case, to do what we can do better than any government. I wonder if we have the will to respond. My fear is that some will but the number will be too low and Christians will find it more convenient to blame the state and then believe the real answer is more prisons. It is precisely here that true revivals have changed this pattern throughout history. Let us pray it happens in Alabama.