"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!" This was the conclusion to a speech given by Patrick Henry, one of our most famous Americans, before the Virginia House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775. When he finished, the entire audience rose to their feet with the cry "To arms; to arms!"
Few sentiments evoke such an emotional response as the concept of freedom. Some people, even some in the Church, know what it means to have their freedom taken away. These are members who are in prison, some for crimes they have committed and others as a result of an injustice. Either way they know what it is like to hear a metal door clang shut each night and to know they cannot leave from their assigned cell.
For the past 30 years I have visited hundreds of individuals in prison. The vast majority I met were guilty of a crime. There was no injustice involved in their conviction, but a poor choice in life or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is my opinion that most people in U.S. prisons were justly convicted, but I also believe that prison does little to rehabilitate these people.
My prison visits began in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1973 and continued through my most recent visit during the Feast of Tabernacles in Davao City, Philippines. In between I visited in prisons from Rhode Island to Massachusetts to Connecticut to Texas to Estonia.
My most recent visit was with a very courageous member in the Philippines, Jed Sy. On Oct. 7, 2008 she was given a life sentence without any evidence of wrongdoing. She is the victim of an aggressive government that desires the eradication of all drugs from the area. This is a wonderful goal, but to remove a young woman's freedom without convincing evidence is a very strong reaction.
My wife, Sharron, and I met for over three hours with Jed in the Davao City jail a few days after her conviction. She is convinced that being in jail has been a positive experience for her. It caused her to evaluate her conversion. This is good, but she is locked away seven days a week, 24 hours a day and forced to live in a communal setting with a dozen other women in the same room.
While pastoring in Texas I developed a Bible study in an effort to give the men and women hope for the future. The study was all about punishment and rehabilitation God's way. In the state of Texas two out of three men who are released from prison will return. Prison often destroys something in the human psyche that is difficult to restore.
In biblical times, once a crime was committed, the individual was swiftly punished. He was also forced to make restitution. Rehabilitation was a matter of restoration—making amends for your crime—rather than having your freedom taken from you.
As Christians, we cherish the freedom to live a godly life, to overcome sin and to obey the laws of God. Early in His ministry Christ said: "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18). Prisons are not always made out of bars. Satan has taken the world captive through sin (2 Timothy 2:26). Whether you are in a prison with bars or held captive by Satan, the loss of freedom does profound damage.
When you remove freedom, you damage a person's inner being, and it is very difficult for him to ever recover. I treasure the moments I have spent visiting those locked away in this world's prisons. I also treasure the opportunity to assist those being called by God out of Satan's prison. Even though Patrick Henry was referring to freedom from the tyranny of another nation, I believe that true freedom—proclaiming liberty and setting at liberty those who are oppressed—is worth giving your life for. UN
Mr. Franks is Ministerial Services operation manager.