Linda Leathers is EthicsDaily.com’s pick as Baptist of the Year for 2013.
She is the CEO of The Next Door (TND), a Nashville-based prison ministry that seeks to meet the abundant needs of women released from prison, one of which is helping them stay away from the environments that contributed to their incarceration.
Other programs address parenting and relationship issues, substance abuse, mental health treatment and job training.
Over the past decade, TND has helped more than 1,500 women, most released from the Tennessee Prison for Women.
Founded by the “wild praying women” of Nashville’s First Baptist Church, TND now has ecumenical support across Tennessee.
Fifty percent of TND’s supporting churches are Catholic, Churches of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and nondenominational congregations.
TND is a good example of how the faith community contributes social capital to a society. That is, what churches and faith-based organizations do that builds up the common good, which makes society better.
What TND does in Tennessee is to lower the recidivism rate for women.
According to one estimate, the state’s recidivism rate for women is more than 60 percent, meaning that 60 percent of women who are released from prison return to prison within three years.
Such a measurement suggests that the prison system isn’t successfully rehabilitating women and that women lack the support system needed to avoid re-incarceration.
Women who stick with TND’s program for 90 days have a recidivism rate of 20 percent, a simply remarkable achievement.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have recognized Leathers’ substantive leadership. Leathers received in 2007 the Director’s Award from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. She was recognized in 2011 by the White House’s “Champions of Change” initiative.
Leathers and TND are featured in our forthcoming documentary – Through the Door.
For almost a decade, we have made a surprise announcement at the end of the year about our Baptist of the Year.
Glen Stassen was our 2012 Baptist of the Year for his lifetime of work on peacemaking and his focus on the “thick” ethic of Jesus.
Wayne Flynt, known as the “conscience of Alabama,” was named in 2011 for speaking without flinching when Alabama adopted the nation’s meanest anti-immigration law, and for working tirelessly on tax reform.
Babs Baugh was named Baptist of the Year for 2010. She was recognized for her philanthropic leadership. Social justice, moral reformation and advancing the common good happen because moral individuals with generous means make them happen.
We named Emmanuel McCall in 2009 for his leadership on race relations. It was a recognition of his lifetime of commitment to redressing America’s “original sin.”
David Coffey was selected in 2008 for his leadership on interfaith dialogue between Baptists and Muslims. At great risk, he stepped out quickly when it mattered.
Al Gore was named in 2007 for his leadership on the environment. Of course, he had already won a Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar. But he had not been recognized by goodwill Baptists for being a prophet without acceptance in his own country.
Lebanese Baptists were recognized in 2006 for their physical courage and spiritual grace witnessed in a withering war that displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians when Israel attacked southern Lebanon.
Paul Montacute was named in 2005 for being a global Good Samaritan who worked tirelessly and effectively through indigenous Baptist bodies to help those hammered by horrific natural disasters – tsunami, earthquake, hurricanes.
Linda Leathers represents the best of the goodwill Baptist tradition. She is rooted in the Bible with a commitment to social justice and mercy ministries. She has a positive ecumenical spirit. And most of all, best of all, she makes good things happen.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.