Prison Diary: Prison Pamphlets

I was raised on church pamphlets and tracts. Do you know about these?

In the congregations of my youth in the church foyer there would be a rack filled with small little booklets and tracts on all sorts of biblical topics. Most of the pamphlets had an evangelistic thrust, tackling questions associated with heaven, hell, and what we called "the steps to salvation."

Church pamphlets were a memory of my youth. I had not run into a church pamphlet in years.

And then I went out to the prison.

Churches send in all sorts of literature to prisons, much of it in the form of church pamphlets. 

At our unit, the chaplains put these pamphlets in racks in the hallway leading into the chapel. Each week as I wait for the men to arrive I get to peruse this literature.

Most of this literature is very fundamentalist. The better stuff is evangelical. By far the most popular pamphlet is Our Daily Bread. The inmates snap these up like candy, often sending them to their families. The daily meditation format of Our Daily Bread helps forge a spiritual connection between the inmate and loved one as they read through the daily meditations together.

Some of the literature send to prison is also very self-indulgent. The general rule seems to be, if no one will read your unique theological contribution to the world, print it up as a pamphlet and send it to a prison. They're a captive audience.

It all makes me wonder, why aren't liberal and progressive churches sending better literature to our prisons? This question is associated with an issue I've raised before on the blog, about why so few progressive/liberal Christians are involved in prison ministry.

As I stand in the chapel hallway looking at the pamphlet racks, I ask these questions every week.

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