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Sunday, May 18, 2008
First, Reconcile Your Heart

...so tell us about the last time your church community practiced reconciliation and restoration with a local convict.

How receptive was he or she to the experience?

How did the church community react or respond to the divergences in values, perspective and expectation between itself and its new member?

What was the long-term plan in terms of providing on-going spiritual and social skills development and support? As well as job-skills, not to mention finding an employer who was willing to hire this person?

It's a great concept, the church being the organ of reconciliation, but the bottom line is that the local congregation is made of people. Those same people are members of the same society which has bought into the flimsy "tough-on-crime/soft-on-crime" approach to justice and in the process contributed to the development of a massive prison complex. Those same people who put bumper stickers on their cars that say "meet me in church on Sunday"—they sure as heck don't mean You/Me, the convicted child molester; You/Me, the mentally ill former addict; You/Me, the unkempt; You/Me, the bitter; You/Me, born a wonderfully unique person whose circumstances led You/Me to make choices that seemed as natural and as reasonable as selecting white or whole wheat bread.

If the church truly wishes to be an organ of justice and reconciliation, it should begin at the beginning, before there is a need to reconcile. A congregation which limits its concept of justice and reconciliation to a rescue operation without a serious focus on examining its role in the society which creates criminals is not practicing justice. It's showcasing or grandstanding. It’s playing with Godliness, dabbling in good works. It’s naïve. It’s self-serving.

It's padding the “good-works” side of the ledger with feel-good projects while ignoring the rickety foundation of its own unwillingness to create change where it counts: In our own, personal attitudes; what we teach our children; and the social values we are willing to tolerate in the name of politics.

 
posted by Don't I Know You? at 7:03 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


5 Comments:


  • At 5/18/2008 08:17:00 AM, Anonymous Rebecca

    A lot of good points. A convicted child molester is part of our church fellowship, and to be honest I have mixed feelings, in part because of the way this man's introduction was handled. On first coming to the church we were recommended to a certain small group of which Joe (not his real name) was a member, despite the fact that we had 2 young daughters. We weren't clued in on Joe's sex offender status until after we had been attending for a few months and my children had developed a relationship of trust with Joe. That really made me angry. Joe has a right to be welcomed into the community with love, but I also have a right to know if a sex offender is around my kids. It was a hard situation, but I think it could have been avoided if I had been told at the beginning. And yet it's not like I want convicted sex offenders to go around with a name tag on Sunday morning either! This has been a struggle for me.

     
  • At 5/18/2008 08:43:00 AM, Blogger wilsford

    Rebecca,

    Totally fair point of view. I have experienced the same struggle in the church. We knew one man who struggled with boy-porn and another whose behavior with his daughter was quite inappropriate. Yet, neither man had acted either (a) outside his personal computer or (b) outside his own family. Neither was a convicted sex offender, and neither acted within normal guidelines of what we define as a pedophile.

    Confusing things even further, there is much evidence that their kinds of temptation/crime is vastly different (read "highly unlikely to act out on other people")from the category of Sex Offender, which is akin to lumping the lady who has two beers on Saturday night to the alcoholic who ends up drinking herself to death.

    Of course, this isn't just about child molesters, but as a hot-button it certainly does serve to challenge one's thoughts about the reality of reconciliation.

    I propose that for every hour the church spends trying to "reconcile" a person with a criminal history that it also spends one hour seriously reconciling its own faith/action walk—and then—another hour in conscious pursuit of changing its collective, congregational culture.

     
  • At 5/18/2008 02:31:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Kwon

    Potent post.I love the comments about the whole societal approach to crime. It reminds of Ever After when she quotes Utopia to the effect of, "You first make criminals and then punish them." It would be great if prison ministry could move beyond bible studies (which are great and have helped many prisoners discover the love of God and a reason to live/begin again) to all sorts of creative opportunities, job training and deep personal transformation.

    I am all in favor of treating all addiction/sin as a sickness and the person worthy of love. What we need are good boundaries that allow all member's of God's body to feel welcome and safe. What would be an obstacle to a congregation from being open about this with a sex offender?

    What if the sex offender could even partner with the congregation and a professional psychologist in establishing what would be clear signs that they were being tempted or in danger of crossing a line?

     
  • At 5/20/2008 06:01:00 PM, Blogger Euodia

    ((If the church truly wishes to be an organ of justice and reconciliation, it should begin at the beginning, before there is a need to reconcile. ))

    Are justice and reconcilation mutually exclusive? Are there times when the linkage is like hammering nails into a board? One can remove the nails, but the holes remain.

    Does "reconciliation" eliminate or alleviate the consequences for one's choices or conduct, say in the case of the sex offender mentioned here?

    Another question: - "What consequences - and who decides?"

     
  • At 5/20/2008 08:25:00 PM, Blogger wilsford

    Good questions. I don't think that justice and reconciliation are mutually exclusive. I think that we humans should take care to recognize that when we dispense justice, we are dispensing it on our terms, not God's, and that perhaps that we should not dispense justice without allowing space for reconciliation.

    Also, reconciliation is a two-way process and not one reserved for the person in need of forgiveness.

    No, I don't think that reconciliation removes consequences.

    Consequences is a completely different aspect. Heck, half the time the consequences of an act far, far outweigh the act itself.

    These are important distinctions to recognize. Thank you for bringing them up.

     

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