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Opinion | The role of the church in criminal justice reform in Alabama

The least of these. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says these profound words, “…Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers you did it for me.” Here, Christ calls us to think and act bigger than ourselves,  bigger than just those around us, but to be stewards of the least of these in our communities. Protecting life is a universal moral imperative. At every stage of human development, we, as good Christians and good people should value life and who God has put on this earth. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our fight to save the unborn and stand up for the defenseless. However, in recent years Christians across America, and specifically Alabama have also turned their focus to another group of people who are often left defenseless and forgotten about, prisoners. Through a network of different organizations and ministries, men and women of faith are bringing light to those incarcerated and giving them another chance.

So often we hear that those in the pro-life community value life only when it’s in the womb and when it is politically expedient to do so. In most communities around our state, the local church is leading the effort to reach those incarcerated.  Through incredible organizations like Prison Fellowship, God Behind Bars and most known in the state of Alabama, Church of the Highlands Correctional Ministry, those in prison are getting to experience life and community again. They are being connected to friends and family who when they are released are going to be there for them to lean on and depend on for support as they reenter society.

Make no mistake, being pro-life means protecting all life. From the womb to the tomb. The innocent, and the guilty. Those who can speak up, and those who can’t. We must live lives that set an example for the world. With our time, our resources, and our funds. Support people. All people.

These organizations and ministries put particular focus on community. Organizations like Prison Fellowship take a hands-on personal approach. Heart change is where it all begins. Restoring or forming their relationship with Christ is the catalyst for life change. But heart change is not all they are looking for. They work to restore your familial relationships and community relationships. They put on incredible family and community events like Angel Tree and Second-Chance Month.  Heart change is what we know God wants, but if you have no support system around you it’s easy to slip back to old habits. When you have a community around you to encourage and walk with you that makes all the difference. God Behind Bars partners with the local church to foster community within prisons across the country. They give churches the opportunities to set up satellite campuses within correctional facilities that allow prisoners to engage in a weekly church service as if they were actually there, giving them a sense of belonging. More local to Alabama, Church of the Highlands prison ministry works similarly to this. With 18 locations across the state of Alabama, they bring a community to these prisoners, helping them to see there is more God has for their life.

Christians are acting as the hands and feet of Jesus. We may not get everything right and no doubt make our fair share of mistakes, but these Christians are serving as the hands and feet of Jesus. They are looking past a person’s actions and towards their heart and the purpose God has placed on their life. I think we can all cheer for that.

Scott Dawson is the founder and CEO of the Scott Dawson Evangelistic Association and is an evangelist for the 21st century.

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