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The Origin and Development of Prison Fellowship International: Pluralism, Ecumenism and American Leadership in the Evangelical World 1974–2006

  • KENDRICK OLIVER (a1)
Abstract

Established in 1979 by Watergate felon Charles Colson, Prison Fellowship International (PFI) is now one of the largest para-church organizations in world evangelicalism. This article explains PFI's origins with reference to the existence of a transnational evangelical network, the compatibility of PFI's mission with the emergent theme of evangelical social concern, and a general crisis of penology across a number of Western countries. It explores the creative tension between Colson's empire-building instincts and the desire of PFI affiliates to influence the direction of the organization, revealing the transactional manner in which American evangelicals exercised global leadership in the late twentieth century.

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1 Colson Charles, Born Again (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1976), 62 .

2 Richard Goodwin, “The Mask of State,” New York Times Book Review, 30 June 1974, 5.

3 Mary McGrory, “Was Colson ‘Born Again?’,” Boston Globe, 28 Jan. 1976, 23.

4 Sharlet Jeff, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 228–36.

5 Oliver Kendrick, “Attica, Watergate, and the Origin of Evangelical Prison Ministry, 1969–1975,” in Schäfer Axel R., ed., American Evangelicals and the 1960s (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), 121–38.

6 Oliver Kendrick, “‘Hi, Fellas. Come on In’: Norman Carlson, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Rise of Prison Fellowship,” Journal of Church and State, 55 (2013), 740–57.

7 Prison Fellowship International website at www.pfi.org, accessed 4 April 2014.

8 Charles Colson to Gordon Loux, 14 June 1977, Folder 1, Box 11, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

9 Charles Colson, draft speech to Southern Baptist Convention, no date (c. spring 1979), Folder 47, Box 2, Fred B. Rhodes Papers, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, TN.

10 King David, “The New Internationalists: World Vision and the Revival of American Evangelical Humanitarianism, 1950–2010,” Religions, 3 (2012), 922–49.

11 For a critical account of the Fellowship Foundation see Sharlet, The Family; also Lindsay D. Michael, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 3537 ; Kruse Kevin M., One Nation under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 3581 .

12 Colson, Born Again, 143–240.

13 Colson Charles, Life Sentence (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1979), 40–41, 5860 .

14 Abraham Vereide to Eustace Wade, 9 Nov. 1949, Folder 1, Box 203, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Stanley Brown to Wallace Haines, 21 Dec. 1953, Folder 8, Box 202, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Bruce Reed to Abraham Vereide, 14 June 1957, Folder 6, Box 203, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. On Moral Rearmament see Brown Callum G., Religion and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain (Harlow: Pearson, 2006), 197202 .

15 On Anglican confidence in the 1950s see Davie Grace, Religion in Britain since 1945 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), 3032 ; Hastings Adrian, A History of English Christianity 1920–2000 (London: SCM Press, 2001), 443–53; Brown Callum G., The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800–2000 (London: Routledge, 2009), 170–75.

16 On the religious crisis of the mid-1960s see Brown, Death of Christian Britain, 175–92, and McLeod Hugh, The Religious Crisis of the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

17 ICL Conference Programme: “A Relevant Faith amidst Rapid Change,” 30 June–3 July 1966, Folder 5, Box 204, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

18 Wallace Haines to Douglas Coe, undated, with attachment: “Tentative Schedule in Britain, 1969–70,” 26 Aug. 1969, Folder 6, Box 204, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; James F. Bell to “The Core,” 26 May 1971, Folder 10, Box 205, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton IL; “Christian Responsibility in Public Affairs: Report of 1970–1971,” no date, Folder 15, Box 205, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton IL.

19 “List of Acceptances to I.C. L. Dinner, House of Lords, 18th October 1967,” Folder 5, Box 203, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

20 Wallace Haines to Abraham Vereide, 15 April 1967, Folder 5, Box 203, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

21 On Alison's background and career see John Barnes, “Obituary: Michael Alison: Hard-Working Conservative Minister,” The Independent, 31 May 2004; and Andrew Roth, “Obituary: Michael Alison: Clear-Thinking Christian Tory of the Old School,” The Guardian, 1 June 2004.

22 Senior Secretary to Bishop of Coventry, 19 May 1967, ff. 49, Volume 115 (1967), Michael Ramsay Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London. On the Council on Evangelism see Welsby Paul A., A History of the Church of England 1945–1980 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 4950 .

23 Wallace Haines to Abraham Vereide, 15 April 1967, Folder 5, Box 203, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Wallace Haines to Douglas E. Coe, undated, with attachment: “Tentative Schedule in Britain, 1969–70”; “Christian Responsibility in Public Affairs: Report of 1970–1971.”

24 David Enghauser, “Statement about the Work in Europe,” July 1972, Folder 1, Box 206, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

25 Douglas Coe to Michael Alison, 21 March 1974, Folder 5, Box 206, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

26 Michael Alison to Charles Colson, 12 May 1974, Folder 1, Box 1, Charles Colson Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Charles Colson to Michael Alison, 4 June 1974, Folder 1, Box 1, Charles Colson Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Colson, Born Again, 235–45.

27 Michael Alison to Charles Colson, no date (c. Aug. 1974), Folder 7, Box 10, Charles Colson Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Charles Colson to “Brothers,” 12 Sept. 1974, Folder 7, Box 10, Charles Colson Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

28 Haines, “Briefing on the Work in England,” no date (c.1979), Folder 4, Box 207, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

29 Michael Alison to Michael Ramsay, 23 May 1974, ff. 342, Volume 274 (1974), Michael Ramsay Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London; Sylvia Mary Alison to Douglas Coe, 15 April 1977, Folder 11, Box 206, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

30 See especially Alison Sylvia Mary, God Is Building a House (Alresford: John Hunt Publishing, 2002), 1719 .

31 Ibid., 19.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid., 19–20.

34 Ibid., 20–25.

35 In her memoir, Sylvia Mary Alison stated that 170 people were present. Colson claimed that there were 230 attendees. Charles Colson to Gretchen Clabaugh, 8 Dec. 1978, Folder 1, Box 14, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

36 Charles Colson to Gordon Loux, 22 Aug. 1978, Folder 1, Box 11, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Charles Colson to Gordon Loux, 11 Sept. 1978, Folder 1, Box 11, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Charles Colson to Gretchen Clabaugh, 8 Dec. 1978, Folder 1, Box 14, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

37 Alison, God Is Building a House, 24–5.

38 Sylvia Mary Alison, “The Origin and Purpose of Prison Christian Fellowship,” no date (c.1980), Sylvia Mary Alison Papers (in Alison family's possession). I am grateful to the Alison family for permission to cite these materials.

39 See, for example, Billy Graham to Michael Alison, 5 March 1976, Sylvia Mary Alison Papers (in Alison family's possession); Billy Graham to Sylvia Mary Alison, 7 March 1977, Sylvia Mary Alison Papers (in Alison family's possession); Billy Graham to Michael Alison, 13 July 1984, Sylvia Mary Alison Papers (in Alison family's possession).

40 Charles Colson to Gordon Loux, 1 Aug. 1977, Folder 1, Box 11, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Charles Colson to Gordon Loux, 22 Aug. 1978, Folder 1, Box 11, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Trustees of Prison Christian Fellowship,” 17 Nov. 1981, Board Minutes, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales). I am grateful to Prison Fellowship England and Wales for permission to cite these materials.

41 Martin William, A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story (New York: William Morrow, 1991), 323–25, 424–35, 472–73; Wacker Grant, America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 211–14.

42 James F. Bell to “The Core,” 26 May 1971.

43 Michael Alison to Charles Colson, 12 May 1974, Folder 1, Box 1, Charles Colson Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

44 Charles Colson to Michael Alison, 4 June 1974, Folder 1, Box 1, Charles Colson Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Charles Colson, draft speech to Southern Baptist Convention, no date (c. spring 1979), Folder 47, Box 2, Fred B. Rhodes Papers, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, TN.

45 Chapman Alister, Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 91–99, 137–48; Stanley Brian, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2013), 151–79.

46 John Stott to Douglas Coe, 24 May 1977, Folder 11, Box 206, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; “A Community of Christian Concern,” 9 Aug. 1977, Folder 11, Box 206, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

47 John Stott to Douglas Coe, 24 May 1977, Folder 11, Box 206, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; John Stott to Douglas Coe, 20 Feb. 1978, Folder 2, Box 207, Fellowship Foundation Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

48 Nick Miller to Charles Colson (plus attachment), 20 May 1979, Folder 21, Box 149, Charles Colson Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. The lectures were published in Stott John and Miller Nick, eds., Crime and the Responsible Community: A Christian Contribution to the Debate about Criminal Justice (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980).

49 Colson Charles, Justice That Restores (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000); Charles Colson, “Capital Punishment: A Personal Statement,” 11 November 2002, at www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/oldspeak/capital_punishment_a_personal_statement, accessed 18 July 2016.

50 Charles Colson, “Towards an Understanding of Imprisonment and Rehabilitation,” in Stott and Miller, 152–78; Colson Charles W. and Benson Daniel H., “Restitution as an Alternative to Imprisonment,” Detroit College of Law Review, 2 (Summer 1980), 523–98.

51 Tom Cooper, “Summary of the 1979 London Lectures,” Oct. 1979, ref. 3/16/1/1 (London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity), John Stott Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London.

52 Charles Colson, “Serving My Sentence,” Third Way, July 1979, 10–12.

53 Donald Coggan to Edward England, 20 Nov. 1979, Folder 6, Box 145, Charles Colson Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. On Coggan see Hastings, A History of English Christianity, 555–56.

54 Garland David, The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), esp. 5374 .

55 Committee of Inquiry into the United Kingdom Prison Services, Report, Cmnd. 7673 (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1979).

56 Ryan Mick, Penal Policy and Political Culture in England and Wales: Four Essays on Policy and Process (Winchester: Waterside Press, 2003), 1342 . On boards of visitors see Zellick Graham, “Lay Involvement in Prison Administration: The British Board of Visitors,” University of Toronto Law Journal, 27 (1977), 105–18.

57 Ryan, 45–74; on the United States see Gottschalk Marie, The Prison and the Gallows: The Politics of Mass Incarceration in America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 181 .

58 Prisons and Prisoners in England Today: A Report of the Board for Social Responsibility (London: CIO Publishing, 1978).

59 Ibid., 53.

60 Bishop's Council for Social Responsibility, Diocese of Coventry, “Prisons and Prisoners: A Working Party Report,” no date given (c.1978), HO 263/48, UK National Archives, Kew. See also “Reawakening of Concern about Prisons Is Urged,” Church Times, 2 March 1979, 4–5.

61 Leslie Lloyd Rees, “Prison Service Inquiry,” 10 July 1979, HO 263/48, UK National Archives, Kew.

62 Charles Colson to Ralph Veerman, 17 Oct. 1978, Folder 3, Box 11, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; Charles Colson to Gretchen Clabaugh, 8 Dec. 1978, Folder 1, Box 11, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

63 Gordon Loux, “The General Report: The Mystery of Prison Fellowship,” Prison Fellowship Annual Report 1978, Folder 37, Box 45, Christian Life Commission Resource Files, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, TN.

64 Charles Colson to Gordon Loux, 14 Aug. 1979, “Memos CWC to GDL 1979” folder, Box 23, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

65 Charles Colson to Gretchen Clabaugh, 8 Dec. 1978, Folder 1, Box 11, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

66 On US court judgements see Oliver, “‘Hi, Fellas. Come on in,’” 744–45; Gordon Sarah Barringer, The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010), 96132 . On the British regulatory context see Beckford James A. and Gilliat Sophie, Religion in Prison: Equal Rites in a Multi-faith Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 89 .

67 Sylvia Mary Alison, “Some Thoughts about Setting Up P. F. in Different Countries, Notably Canada and Australia,” Oct. 1979, Sylvia Mary Alison Papers (in Alison family's possession).

68 Alan Hewitt, “The International Scene,” Prison Fellowship Northern Ireland Newsletter, Autumn 1987, Folder 11, Box 157, Charles Colson Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Trustees of Prison Christian Fellowship,” 17 Nov. 1981, Board Minutes, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London; “Prison Fellowship International Financial Report: Years Ended December 31, 1983 and 1982,” Folder 5, Box 61, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

69 “Minutes of a Meeting of the Trustees of Prison Christian Fellowship,” 19 May 1982, Board Minutes, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London.

70 “Minutes of the Meeting of the Trustees of Prison Christian Fellowship,” 17 Nov. 1981, Board Minutes, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London.

71 “Prison Fellowship International Financial Report: Years Ended December 31, 1983 and 1982,” Folder 5, Box 61, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

72 “Notes of Special Trustees Meeting,” 29 Nov. 1982, Board Minutes, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London; “Minutes of a Trustees Meeting,” 10 Jan. 1983, Board Minutes, Prison Fellowship England and Wales (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London.

73 Sylvia Mary Alison to Charles Colson, 22 Nov. 1996, “PF & PFI Archives” folder, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London; Charles Colson to Sylvia Mary Alison, 3 Dec. 1996, “PF & PFI Archives” folder, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London.

74 Hunt Stephen, “The Alpha Programme: Some Tentative Observations of State of the Art Evangelism in the UK,” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 18 (2003), 7793 .

75 Charlie Burton, “Alpha Males,” GQ, June 2014, at www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2014-05/28/alpha-christian-prisons-organisation-interview/viewall, accessed 24 June 2014.

76 “Meeting of the Trustees,” 3 Feb. 1997, Board Minutes, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London; Paul Cowley to Peter Walker, 13 Aug. 1997, “PF & PFI Archives” folder, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London.

77 Deann Alford, “Evangelism: Prison Alpha Debuts in Texas,” Christianity Today, 4 Oct. 1999, at www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1999/october4/9tb028.html?start=2, accessed 24 June 2014; Michael Green, “Reflections on a Three Day Mission in Dartmoor Prison,” no date given (c.1999), untitled folder, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London.

78 For the history of APAC and IFI see Jonathan Burnside with Loucks Nancy, Adler Joanna R. and Rose Gerry, My Brother's Keeper: Faith-Based Units in Prisons (Cullompton: Willan Publishing, 2005).

79 Angus Creighton and Ken Rennie, “A.P.A. C. (Brazil) Prison Regime: Feasibility in the SPS,” April 1995, “ST” folder, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London.

80 Burnside, 7.

81 Ibid., 240–42.

82 Ibid., 250.

83 Alison, God Is Building a House, 80.

84 Oliver, “‘Hi, Fellas. Come on In,’” 753–56.

85 “Note to the Archbishop,” 15 Sept. 1982, Folder 228, Main: 1982, Robert Runcie Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London.

86 Charles Colson, “Serving My Sentence,” Third Way, July 1979, 12.

87 See, for example, P. L. Ashford to Peter Timms, 14 Sept. 1982, Folder 228, Main: 1982, Robert Runcie Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London.

88 For the addition of another Catholic to the PCF Board of Trustees see “Minutes of the Meeting of the Trustees,” 17 Nov. 1981, Board Minutes, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London; for evidence of the attitude of the new chaplain-general, Percy Ashford, see P. L. Ashford to Gordon Loux, 21 July 1982, “Gordon Loux European trip 7/82” folder, Box 63, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL; for the Alisons’ contacts with Lambeth Palace see Michael Alison to Robert Runcie, 23 July 1982, Folder 228, Main: 1982, Robert Runcie Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London; Robert Runcie to Michael Alison, 27 July 1982, Sylvia Mary Alison Papers (in Alison family's possession) and Sylvia Mary Alison to Robert Runcie, 2 Dec. 1982, Folder 228, Main: 1982, Robert Runcie Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London; for the PCS statement see P. L. Ashford, R. Atherton and W. Davies, no date given (c. Dec. 1982), Folder 228, Main: 1982, Robert Runcie Papers, Lambeth Palace Library, London.

89 Alison, God Is Building a House, 67.

90 PFI news release, “Symposium Considers Plight of World's Prisoners,” July 1983, “Belfast” folder, Box 147, Prison Fellowship Papers, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.

91 Charles Colson, address to the Prison Fellowship International conference, Draveil, France, 23 March 1990, conference transcript, Sylvia Mary Alison Papers (in Alison family's possession).

92 “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” First Things, May 1994, 15–22. For an account of Colson's involvement see Aitken Jonathan, Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed (London: Continuum, 2005), 378–88; Linker Damon, The Theocons: Secular America under Siege (New York: Doubleday, 2006), 81110 .

93 Amy Kaslow, “Nation of Islam Extends Its Reach behind Prison Walls,” Christian Science Monitor, 20 May 1996, at www.csmonitor.com/1996/0520/052096.feat.cover.1.html, accessed 18 July 2016.

94 Sullivan Winnifred Fallers, Prison Religion: Faith-Based Reform and the Constitution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 6493 .

95 Colson Charles and Pearcey Nancy, How Now Shall We Live? (London: Marshall Pickering, 2000).

96 Americans United for Separation of Church and State, et al. v. Prison Fellowship Ministries, et al., 432 F. Supp. 2d 832 (2006).

97 Georgina Wates to Peter Walker, 26 Nov. 2002, “ST” folder, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London; Georgina Wates to Trustees, 25 April 2003, attached with “Minutes of Meeting of the Trustees,” 14 April 2003, Board Minutes, Prison Fellowship England and Wales Archives (in possession of Prison Fellowship England and Wales), London.

98 On the PCS see Beckford and Gilliat, Religion in Prison, 25–34; William Noblett, “A Multi-faith Prison Chaplaincy: A Paradigm Shift?” Crucible, July–Sept. 1999, 154–67.

99 Jonathan Petre, “Prison Service Axes Christian Course,” Daily Telegraph, 8 July 2006, at www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1523355/Prison-service-axes-Christian-course.html, accessed 30 June 2014.

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