In this year of raucous politics in the United States, there is one thing that all sides seem to agree on – the need for prison reform. Although this is cause for celebration, there is still much to be done to address the problem of mass incarceration in the United States and a high rate of recidivism.
As this work goes ahead in the realm of public policy, we can be grateful that another kind of prison reform is already well under way: the sincere reform of individuals who open their hearts to God. In 19th-century New England, as prison reform was being introduced, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science and author of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” expressed an interest in bringing a clearer understanding of man's relationship to God to prison inmates. Today, Christian Scientists continue this work in prisons and county jails throughout the United States.
During one prison service in which I participated, one of the inmates encouraged all to read Science and Health. “It will change your life. It has mine,” he said. Recently he was paroled after 17 years.
Christian Science explains spiritual laws of health and pure living that Christ Jesus practiced in redeeming and healing humanity, and it is having an effect on men and women who are recognizing its realness and vitality. I hear them tell how they are feeling changes within themselves. One prison chaplain noted our group was growing because men were inviting one another.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote: “Bear in mind always that Christianity is not alone a gift, but that it is a growth Christward; it is not a creed or dogma .… Christianity is the summons of divine Love for man to be Christlike – to emulate the words and the works of our great Master” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 148). This summons of divine Love breaks through the belief in original sin, which would keep man bound to materialism and evil – chains that offer little hope of forgiveness or purpose.
Jesus told us again and again that God is our Father and that He is loving. He said, “Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Jesus showed that we can overcome limitations of heredity, circumstance, and the past. God, unlimited good, made man spiritual like Himself, and everything he made was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Not just a little bit good but very good.
This understanding is the way to a fresh start, the new beginning men and women long for. It is a holy experience to see the light go on in the consciousness of individuals as they realize they have been accepting a lie not only about themselves, but also about God. The lie is the belief that God created man materially with the ability to sin. But Jesus’ teachings demonstrate that this cannot be the true account of creation. Man is one with God, good, and, therefore, infinite possibilities lie before all of us.
The holy work taking place within prisons is proof that Truth can be written on every heart, and that goodness is natural to the man of God’s creating. One man wrote: “When I came here, I was an animal. Now I am just filled with God’s love. It’s like it was an identity theft. I was never that man, but God’s man.” This man’s life is being made new. There has been reconciliation with his wife after 16 years of no communication; he’s taking college courses; he is helping others.
So what about the sin and the crime that was done? Jesus tells us to “repent” (see Matthew 4:17). This isn’t a call to some easy-breezy attempt to be renewed that would say, “I’m sorry,” and then go back to life as usual. Jesus’ repentance means to be willing to reform, to take another look. The Christ is telling us: “Dwelling on the problem won’t get you anywhere. Let’s take a look into Truth, spiritual reality. I am showing you your oneness with a loving Father; you are perfect just as your Father is perfect. You don’t have to wait. Here on earth you can find yourself redeemed.”
It is right here, within the dawning understanding of God and His creation, that men and women today within our prison system are finding forgiveness and release from sin.
This article was adapted from an editorial in the June 20, 2016, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.