Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Go to Jail or Go to Church, Your Choice

When Tyler Alred was 16 years old, he got behind the wheel of his truck after drinking alcohol. In the seat next to him was his friend John Luke Dum. They crashed and Dum was killed. Alred was charged with manslaughter and pled guilty.

Oklahoma District Court Judge Mike Norman could have sent Alred to jail, but instead, taking into account his clean criminal and school records, sentenced him to wear a drug and alcohol bracelet, participate in counseling groups and attend a church of his choosing—weekly. He must graduate from high school.

To avoid jail time, Norman gave Alred a maximum 10-year deferred sentence.

This is not the first time that Norman has sentenced someone to attend church. You can read more about this story at the ABC News blog.

Have you ever heard of such a thing? I have but it has been a long time. About 25 years ago when I served another church in another state a judge specifically sentenced a man to attend my church. I knew the judge. I knew the man and cared about his plight. The judge called me before sentencing, told me his idea and asked if I was willing to be involved in the man’s life along with some drug and alcohol rehab programs. I was and the man was sentenced to a creative program that included attending my church with the hope that his life could be rescued and not lost in the prison system.

This of course raises several questions about a judge’s legal right to order such sentencing and the ABC News blog already has many comments on both sides.

However, my reflection is about the value of attending church. Obviously if a judge sentences a troubled person to attend church rather than go to jail that judge holds an opinion that something worthwhile will happen.

In contrast recent polling has indicated that in the USA the number one fastest growing group of people regarding religion is “none”; that is, people who have no preference regarding religion or faith. In other words, millions have concluded that attending church is a waste of time.

Which is it? Does going to church contribute to life transformation or to boredom and a waste of time? The answer is YES. The answer is mostly dependent upon the person and it is also dependent upon the church.

Walking in a door, sitting in a pew or chair, enduring religious music, rituals and talk, does little if anything to change or help anyone. But if a person has a hunger for God, gathers with people of faith who passionately worship God and do life with God, then that person may with God’s help experience a life revolution and transformation that cannot take place any other way. That is my experience and I’ve witnessed it happen with hundreds of others through the years.

I pray that Alred finds forgiveness, redemption, restoration and life purpose in Christ. I pray that Dum’s family receives the grace and comfort that only God can give in light of their terrible loss.