UNDERSTANDING NEW CHRISTIANS IN PRISON
RELIGIONS AND RELIGIOUS ARGUMENTS
One thing that all Christians in prison will experience is a serious discussion about differences between religions. Belonging to a group or cause bigger than yourself is important to many people in the world. In prison, it is even more important. People want to belong or be accepted for security or comfort reasons. The religious groups in prisons are mostly comprised of Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah Witnesses, Native American spiritualists, Muslim and some miscellaneous ones. A population of 1500 men in a prison will cause the different religions to be in contact with each other often. Each religious group believes that they are right in their belief and everyone else is wrong. This fact coupled with the immature and prideful attitude of most prisoners causes many “word fights” or religious arguments.
Just like people witness on the street, many try to witness in prison as well. Outside there are many people to witness to, but in a confined building like a prison, all the religions end up witnessing to the same small group of people. A prisoner will make up his mind and find a group or religion to follow. Before long there is no one new to witness to, so many try witnessing to those who have already made their decision.
Some religious types actually will intimidate a person until he changes his religious beliefs. If that happens, the prisoner’s former religious group will take it personally and launch a verbal attack against the “bullying” religious group. This can end up in hurt feelings, lack of peace and ruined testimonies. These word fights do not happen on a large scale, but small incidents which are very upsetting. There are some religious groups in prison who are known for being violent. For passive prisoners, this is very intimidating. If a passive prisoner is approached by such a group, he will try to leave the scene. When the violent type of religious people see this, they will pursue him even harder.
A common tactic for some religious groups to use is to look smarter than the other person involved in the conversation. First, they start off agreeing with an inmate on some basic truths and then they will use these areas to direct the conversation to an area that contradicts what one believes. Some will talk in circles and a new religious inmate will not have the ability to answer the questions properly. He will not be able to explain a belief that he knows to be true. This is done not to teach the new religious inmate anything. It is hypocritically done for show, since others will gather and listen to both sides. The impact it has on the bystanders is significant and many will join the “smarter” group because of what they have seen and heard. In prison, it is important for a Christian to understand why he believes what he believes so that no one can twist the conversation and cause others to doubt their faith.
There is no perfect plan to working through a religious disagreement or argument. It is wise to just admit that one is a new Christian and stick to the essentials. The greatest evidence you can share with others is the personal changes that Jesus has accomplished in yourself. No one can argue with that. After that, politely excuse yourself from the conversation and leave. In the long run, one’s example will speak louder than any words can. We must always remember who we are in Christ. During trials and tribulations, a person can easily get caught up in the problem and forget the goal. Friends and family can help keep inmates focused on the goal, if they sense that he is getting caught up in problems or religious arguments. Remind one another of the message of God’s grace and
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