I apologize for not being very consistent with my blog posts the past several weeks.
The past several weeks the Elizabethtown Church of Christ in Elizabethtown, Ky has decided to take on an issue that has plagued the church here for the past several years. The Elizabethtown Church of Christ has participated in the prison ministry in Hardin County, KY as early as the 1970's and during those times baptisms were carried out when inmates requested them at the building where the congregation meets. However in 2002 the policy changed and since then inmates have not been allowed baptism when they request it. The church in Elizabethtown conducts on average around 5000 correspondence courses a year in the prisons in our area and teaches monthly classes in the local prison ministry. We have several ladies who spend all day on Monday's working to grade these courses and sometimes then come back later in the week to finish. Yet, when we have taught these inmates the gospel and given them the very thing that can truly rehabilitate their lives and they have requested to put Christ on in baptism we have been blocked from doing just that.
The church here in Elizabethtown has politely and quietly over the years talked to those who are in charge of this policy hoping to get it changed. However, nothing has changed. The past several months the church in Elizabethtown has been trying to figure out what to do, after all the eternal destination of these prisoners are at stake. The church decided to take the issue before the Hardin County Fiscal Court (sort of like the city council for Hardin County) on March 27th, 2012. Although the Fiscal Court could not change the position of the Jail on this issue we realized they have influence and that this would bring the issue to the forefront of our community. We have been blessed with several positive articles that have been placed in the paper. See links below.
We live in a state (Kentucky) that has many detention centers in it that allows prisoners to be baptized. Our question has been why not Hardin County? Why not allow prisoners to put Christ on in baptism and allow them to use religion as rehabilitation?
The things prohibited in the Kentucky Department of Corrections Policies and Procedures Manual for Religious Programs includes animal sacrifices, nudity, self-mutilation, sexual acts, etc. We can't imagine why baptism is being looked at in a similar light.
There have also been additional questions that have come to light as public attention has been brought to this subject:
Why is baptism necessary, when it wasn't to the thief on the cross? We don't know for sure the thief was never baptized before he was put on the cross, but we do know for sure that he was subject to the old law as Jesus had not yet died on the cross to kill the old law.
Will a God who is a God of grace not understand that they wanted to be baptized? The Bible never says that God would, all we know is that every conversion story in the book of Acts involved Baptism and that 1 Peter 3:21 tells us that "baptism doth also now save us". All we can go by is what is in God's holy word.
Why do prisoners deserve to have the right to be baptized? After all they committed the crime, they should suffer the consequences! Although we don't condone the actions that put prisoners into prison we feel that the Bible makes it clear that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). The Bible shows us that Christianity is about second chances. Think about the conversion of Saul in Acts 9 as Saul went from being a persecutor of Christians who stood by as Christians were stoned and even helped put them in prison to becoming a Christian through baptism. Even if we look at this from a worldly view, doesn't it make sense to try to give prisoners the teaching and ability to carry out the teaching in order that they can be rehabilitated and changed instead of going out again after they are released and committing another crime and costing the tax payers more money? Prisoners being allowed baptism benefits all parties.
By allowing baptism are we not just allowing prisoners an excuse to get out of their cell? Although we cannot judge the intentions of the prisoners as only God can. We don't allow just any inmate to be baptized. As this is a serious commitment we do our best to ensure that inmates have studied through our correspondence course or some other means and understand the seriousness of baptism! In addition there are many prisons throughout the state who allow the baptisms to occur in their facilities where the prisoners never even have to leave.
Shouldn't they have found religion before they committed the crime? Many times the first time that prisoners have been exposed to the gospel or have stopped and taken the time to think about religion is after they have become incarcerated.
We have been so thankful for the opportunities that we have had to teach, we just want to be able to carry out the instruction in scripture on how to be saved. We have been encouraging those in Hardin County, KY to let their elected officials know how they feel about this issue. We hope that you will keep us in your prayers as we try our best to allow God's teachings about salvation to be carried out to these inmates!
Mark 16:16 "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."
1 Peter 3:21 "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ"
Romans 6:4 "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."