First Do No Harm

  The U. S. Senate announced this week that it will delay considering some parts of the President's faith-based initiatives. That's because of a controversy over federal funding, and because of objections from both liberal and conservative groups. But in all the debate and controversy, let's be careful that we don't throw the baby out with the bath water. When President Bush was Governor of Texas, he asked me what his state could do to help our work in the prisons. I said, "Do no harm" -- the first tenet of the Hippocratic Oath. The most important thing, I said, is to keep the bureaucrats from preventing us from doing our job. Well, that's exactly what he did. And he went a step further: He gave us permission to open the first Christian prison -- one that we still run in Texas today. Clearing the way for ministries to do their work is one of the President's major goals, and that's important regardless of the funding question. When Mother Teresa came to New York a few years ago, she wanted to open a homeless shelter. But, the state insisted that she build an elevator. Mother Teresa chose not to use scarce funds that way, and therefore walked away from the deal -- a great loss to New York. The President is promising to end the red tape -- and I say, "Right on." He also wants to give tax credits to all taxpayers, not just those who itemize deductions. Good! We ought to be supporting this. But the President's proposal has done something else. It has focused attention on the power of faith to bring healing to our communities. And we ought to take advantage of the controversy and do what we as the Church do best. I saw how important this kind of witness can be just a few days ago when I was in Kansas. I was there to dedicate our new InnerChange facility, in Winfield -- our third Christian prison in this country. I spoke that morning at the Governor's Prayer Breakfast in the capitol, Topeka. There were 1,500 people present. It was a great event, but it was just what you would expect: a civic event, a celebration with prayers and speeches. But late that afternoon, as the Governor, Sen. Sam Brownback, and the legislative leadership accompanied me to the prison, we saw something far more powerful than a hundred prayer breakfasts. At the dedication service at the prison, Michael Smith gave his testimony. A four-time loser who, in one stint had spent two years in maximum security isolation, Michael told how Prison Fellowship had ministered to him and how his life had been changed through Jesus Christ. He told of his experience in the InnerChange Prison. In fact, they were so important to him that he delayed his parole in order to finish the entire course. It was a moving testimony. When I glanced over at the Governor and other state officials -- the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader -- their eyes were moist. That's the power of faith. That's what happens when Christians serve "the least of these." No one can deny the reality of a changed life. So, let's take advantage of all the attention being focused on faith-based solutions -- and yes, all the controversy over federal funding. And let's do what we ought to be doing anyway, with or without government encouragement. Let's do the Gospel and let the world see it, just as the top officials of Kansas saw it that day in a dreary Kansas prison. What they saw is real power: the power of the risen Christ.


Chuck Colson


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