Robert Ingersoll is an atheist hero because he traveled the country attacking God, Christianity, and the Bible in the nineteenth century. Ingersoll is quoted as saying, “The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here, the way to be happy is to make other people happy.” That statement is remarkably similar to the writings of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:10-13 and the words of Christ in John 16:22-24. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching.
Every attempt by atheists to provide an alternative to the teachings of Christ has ended up in frustration and pain. When an atheist built a town in Missouri with the name “Liberal,” it collapsed in a short time, with the founder saying he never again wanted to live in a town with no churches. Governments based on atheism in the past and today have not been successful in providing peace and prosperity for their citizens.
It is easy to attack Christianity while enjoying the blessings of Christ’s teachings. Offering a useful and positive alternative to what Jesus taught is another matter. As the United States drifts away from its Christian roots and embraces humanism, secularism, and atheism, we see an increase in suicides, shootings, racism, and abuse. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching.
When someone is incarcerated, the prison usually asks their religious beliefs for the record. Very few prisoners say “atheist,” “agnostic,” or “none.” In our prison work, we ask prisoners taking our correspondence courses to explain how they got to the point of being jailed. Merle Haggard wrote a song in which he said: “In spite of all my Sunday learning, to the wrong I kept on turning. No one could steer me right, but mother tried.” Haggard’s mother was a member of the Church of Christ, and his prison stint took place because he rejected the teachings he learned as a child. We hear that line over and over from many of our students in prison.
My father was an atheist, but he was a very moral man. I asked him one time why he was faithful to my mother. His response was, “I guess it is because of the way I was raised.” His father was a minister, and his mother was a strong Christian woman. Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them (Matthew 7:16). Atheism has no positive fruit in the long run. Happiness comes from following Christ’s teaching. Robert Ingersoll found a receptive audience only when he repeated the teachings of the Bible.
For many years, we have been involved in a teen program called Scared Straight. The idea was that we could take a teenager who was obviously headed for a life of crime and let them see what it would be like to be incarcerated. Several ex-cons and prisoners have been involved in this very successful program. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put it on temporary hold.
The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas has just released data on COVID-19 in Texas prisons. COVID-19 took the lives of 231 prison inmates and staff during 2020. Nine who had been approved for parole died before they could be released. Positive tests for COVID-19 among prisoners was 490% higher than among the Texas general public. Prisoners taking our correspondence courses tell us about over-crowding and conditions such as lack of masks, hand washing, and sanitation, making them more susceptible to the virus.
It is important to note that these numbers are for state prisons and do not include federal prisons or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. Those of us who go into prisons to present programs, teach classes, or meet with inmates look forward to the time when we can resume. To keep young people out of prisons, we need to reinstate programs like Scared Straight. Jesus commanded people who help those who are in prison. (See Matthew 25:36)
Today we are doing something different, but we feel this is an area of apologetics that needs attention. In this day and time, Christians getting involved in prison work is an excellent evidence of the existence of God. Atheists are not going to spend time and money helping prisoners restore their lives.
We have over 4,000 students in our “Does God Exist?” correspondence course, and a vast percentage of them are in prison. They tell of losing their faith in God and immersing themselves in activities that landed them in prison. They take our courses in the hope that their faith can be rekindled, and they can rebuild what is left of their lives.
One of the programs that has assisted us is the Kings Crossings Prison Ministries in Corpus Christi, Texas, directed by Buck Griffith. They have a program called “NewLife Behavior Ministries” and a study called Christians Against Substance Abuse (CASA). Substance abuse is a major issue in America today, and many of our students have had substance abuse problems.
Buck Griffith has written a manual titled Loosed and Forgiven which describes how to start and grow a jail ministry. The manual has 151 pages, and it is the best resource we have seen on the mechanics of prison work. Helping prisoners restore their lives, and faith is a great way to demonstrate the love of Christ.
If you are interested in prison work, I recommend that you purchase Buck’s book. The cost is $14.95 plus shipping. For more information, contact NewLife Behavior Ministries, PO Box 270720, Corpus Christi, Texas 78427-0720. Their phone number is 361-855-3372, and their email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find more information on their website www.nlbm.org.
We hear it all the time, statements like “I can’t take much more.” “I can’t handle this!” “This is too much!” and “I can’t stand it!!” We all have expressions of frustration and exasperation, and in the middle of this current pandemic like all previous major problems, we hear some wild ones. “I’m going to blow my top,” “I’m going to pull my hair,” “I’m going to the lake and make a hole in it.” There is a theological issue involved here. If God exists, why does He allow things to happen that push us beyond what we can stand? Or does He provide a way out? I maintain that 1 Corinthians 10:13 is true.
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” -1 Corinthians 10:13.
Before going further, please do not interpret this discussion to trivialize anyone’s crisis. I just watched my daughter nurse her husband, the father of her three children, through six months of terminal cancer. She is now not only left with no husband and three boys to raise and also with no financial resources and her own health issues. My students in our correspondence courses who are in prison frequently say, “You can not imagine what it is like to be locked up in this hell hole.”
This Corinthian passage was written to Christians and offers unique help. One of the miseries that atheism produces is that it provides no hope of any kind when problems like this pandemic happen. When I was young and fit, I maintained that God was a crutch that I didn’t need. Very quickly, things happened to me that made me not so young or so fit. It wasn’t that I looked for a crutch because I continued to be a vocal atheist. But I was miserable in not always dominating others and getting my way. I was not able to overpower circumstances in life because I simply wasn’t fit.
First Corinthians 10:13 and similar passages don’t tell us that God will shield us from bad things. They don’t tell us that Christians will not face tragedy and frustration and even death. The passage says that God will “provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” That way out is rarely a miraculous zapping of whatever is afflicting us. It is usually God using Christians, His workers on Earth, to help us through it.
Read Matthew 25:31-40, and what do you see Jesus saying to His workers at the end of time? They were those who provided a way out for those in misery. The very nature of Christianity is to relieve the afflicted, and Jesus did that and taught His followers to do it. That is why Christians do the prison ministries, the correspondence course programs, our seniors outreaches, our food banks, our water well diggings, our hospitals, our schools, and many other things.
There are those times when the way out is death. I have lost a wife, a son-in-law, a brother, and dozens of dear friends who were in such pain that death was a blessing. I can only say that with confidence about those who died as Christians. The way out for me is coming, and it will be a blessing, not a curse.
In today’s world, prison ministries get very little attention. DOES GOD EXIST? has had prison work as a part of its program from the beginning. In 1968 we did our first program in a prison although I had previously worked in prisons in the South Bend area with a sister in Christ named Helen Richards. I worked in prisons and with teenagers because no one else wanted to do it. Even my background as an atheist didn’t seem to bother either one of those populations.
I have stayed involved with both youth and prison ministries for over 50 years now. The need for Christians to get involved with prison ministries continues to grow. Arrests for drug possession have increased to such an extent that the United States has the world’s largest population of people in prison. Why do most congregations have no active prison ministries and no interest in spending time and money to start one?
The answer to that question is quite complex. Many congregations lack interest because converting a prisoner doesn’t bring any numerical increase in attendance, finance, or solutions to problems. Frequently people who are in prison are not the easiest people to deal with. They are depressed, frustrated, suspicious, and in need. Many have experienced violence in one way or the other. In spite of that, the Bible is full of examples of how prisoners should be treated. You can’t read the New Testament without finding a reference to prison work. (See Hebrews 13:3, Philemon 10, Philippians 1: 12-14, Acts 16:22-40; 24:23, Matthew 25:39, 44-45).
You don’t find atheists, humanists, naturalists, or evolutionists doing much work in prisons. What I do find is that many of the 3800 students taking our apologetic course are prisoners. They are also people who had lost their faith in God and the Bible and were living a “survival of the fittest” belief system that didn’t work. Disillusioned with secular humanism, atheism, and naturalism there are many prisoners desperately wanting evidence to rekindle their faith in God. We have donated our DVD series to over 100 prisons throughout the country and have found huge acceptance to them among prisoners. We frequently do single session workshops in prisons and find that the prisoners are hungry to learn and anxious to build a working faith.
The big problem with many prisons is that gangs run the prison system. Prisoners are moved from prison to prison to break up the gangs, but in some prisons the gangs have control. Education is a primary tool for addressing this problem. It is vital that prisoners know where to find help, and our materials are available without cost. Kings Crossing Prison Ministries in Corpus Christi, Texas, has materials available to help anyone who wishes to make a difference in the lives of men and women who desperately want to return to living a life of faith.
We have come across a story that shows the strength of some Christians, and how their ability to apply powerful forgiveness can bless others and bring about healing.
Carla Willmon was a junior at Harding University in 1995. Two men kidnapped and murdered Carla and were incarcerated for that terrible crime. In 2015 Carla’s parents, Roy and Jeanie Willmon wrote to each of the men. The Willmons expressed their forgiveness and their desire to study the gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s forgiveness with them.
That kind of forgiveness is beyond the ability of most people to understand. Our natural reaction is to want revenge, to retaliate, and to build a dossier of hate. The problem is that the death of your child and the loss you have sustained is only made worse by building up all of those negative feelings.
After several months of correspondence and study, both men were baptized into Christ Jesus, and both are actively teaching others. These men have reached several other inmates with the gospel. The Willmons continue to send books and teaching materials to them.