by David Martin
One of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's Big Ideas is to pair prison inmates with mentors who can help them make the transition from the cell block to society. Brownback spoke Monday in Wichita at a conference sponsored by Prison Fellowship, a group that promotes ministry in prisons and support for ex-offenders.
A social conservative, Brownback has surprised no one by promoting faith-based efforts as governor. But Monday's conference showed that such efforts need to strike a delicate balance.
Michael Dean, a former inmate who works at a Christian social-service group in Sabetha, spoke at the conference. He seemed to confirm secularists' fears that Brownback's initiative would amount to state support for Christian proselytizers. Said Dean, according to a report in The Wichita Eagle:
"I don't want to be recovered, I want to be delivered, from alcoholism and this drug addiction that we talk about that's sin. I believe that Jesus Christ is the answer to all of our problems."Dean's comments sent Brownback into "Whoa there, fella!" mode.
"Obviously as a state we don't put forward a faith position," Brownback said. "What we're asking is for people of heart in all faiths and people of goodwill to come forward and help out with this.Time will tell if Brownback's efforts harness the powers of people who feel an imperative to love their neighbors (even the ones who commit felonies) or merely create a Department of Christian Fundamentalism.