Fundamentalism – of the right sort

Posted: 19 November 2015 in Prisons, Understanding Others
Tags: ,

religious nut

After Paris? Sick of fundamentalism?  How about fundamentalism of the right sort.  Heard the one about the male High Church priest leading Bible Studies with the female Pentecostal pastor?  Yes – in one prison I know it happens.  And it is unremarkable.  There is ready blurring of denominational boundaries in prison that is good.  Chaplains focus on the things that really matter – on God and his revelation in Jesus.  It is not that the other things are forgotten, it is just that they are seen, rightly, as additions, that can be helpful or distractions.    (And when I work abroad as a mission partner I saw the same.)

If the needs of the prison bring chaplains of different sorts together, the time and pressure on prisoners pushes them apart.  Prisoners have a lot of time to think about all sorts of things, including religious issues.  And being on their own for so much time, and often having only a little faith background before they came in, if any, they are ripe for dreaming up some “unusual” approaches.  Often it is just lack of basic knowledge, not knowing the fundamentals.

After the Christmas (generic-protestant) service a prisoner comes up to me and asked “But isn’t the Virgin Mary a Roman Catholic?”  This question was for real.  On another occasion the (generic- protestant) service was soon to start. A prisoner came up to me and asked “Can I come to this church?” I replied “Sure – why not?”  “Because I am a Pentecostal.” Eh?

Another time a prisoner came up to me and asked:
– “Reverend” (I’m not one but never mind) “I have been given healing hands.  Is it OK to sell my services?”
– “You have been given a gift by God.  Pass on the gift.” I reply
– “What if people want to give me donations” he responds. I laugh and said
– “It’s all too easy to make that donation into a request.  We kid ourselves very easily”  But I also added
– “Also – the Gift of healing is a rare thing.  Indeed many claim to have it when they don’t.  Your gift is a sign to a fallen world, and exists to help people come to faith in this part of town.” He thanked me and left.

We need fundamentalism – of the right sort- to keep prisoners of faith focussed. Focussed on the basic message of Christian repentance, forgiveness and love. Focussed on prayer, Bible reading and Christian community.  Not on flying off into weird stuff, isolation, and madness. That route leads back to Paris



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