One of my role models growing up was convicted of manslaughter. I say “convicted” in the sense of tried, and convicted, in the judicial system. While in jail he experienced God’s forgiveness and became “on fire” for God, as Evangelicals like to say. He was so convinced that everyone he knew needed to experience God’s love that he would literally grab men by the ears and beat their heads against the wall screaming “ask God to forgive you!”
Of course, they would. John was a strong man, and sort of frightening when he got his fires up. He was that way even later in life when he understood love and mercy. I can only imagine what he was like when he was still young and DIDN’T fully grasp the concept of God’s love.
Over time he changed. He started to understand our own free enterprise and our personal rights to remain in sin if so desired. You can’t FORCE repentance out of anyone. So over time John grew to understand a better way, and once he was out of the system he started traveling the country from jail to jail, talking about what forgiveness is and isn’t and how important forgiving yourself and accepting God’s forgiveness is in growing past the temptations of sin and becoming a productive member of society. Regardless of what one may or may not believe about God, seeing this man whose face was still hardened from years of hatred and greed tear up while talking about the beauty of forgiveness is a powerful thing.
Everyone respected him, even the ones who disagreed with him.
I bring this all up because my current church has ties with a halfway house for people moving out of the jail system. So from time to time we’ll have people come join our church who accepted Christ while behind bars. And there are people who get very uncomfortable around them. They wonder what they were in jail for. The only time I really care to know what they were convicted of is if it’s pedophilia. I think there’s a certian amount of pragmatism that needs to be involved- I’ve heard of churches being grafted by groups of users who claimed to want to kick the drug habit but actually used the church as a shell for their drug activities- but that isn’t every single person and you shouldn’t expect the worst out of someone who says they wish to change. Be prepared in case the worst should happen, but don’t expect it.
Churches often confuse compassion and naiveness. Compassion doesn’t mean you give a homeless man fifty dollars to get a hotel room, not if he smells like Vodka. Compassion is taking him to get a sandwich and letting him talk to you. Compassion isn’t giving a drug addict a blank check and hoping they use it for something good, it’s putting them in contact with people who can intervene and get them cleaned up. Compassion isn’t bailing out someone who constantly abuses their finances, it’s giving them a place to land when they destroy themselves and then teaching them better patterns. And there ARE times when people MUST suffer the earthly consequences of their sins. If a man beats his children, he SHOULD lose all rights to them. Should we still show him compassion if he claims repentance? ABSOLUTELY- but compassion isn’t giving his children back, it’s teaching him to cope with the consequences of his failings.
And when it comes to the people in the halfway house, we have to understand that our attitude towards them helps feed into how successful their reentry into society will be. If we expect that they should fall, we heap fuel on to a fire that is already burning (as most of them are afraid of falling already, and some of them have established that pattern firmly). Yet if we call out the good in them, affirm their best intentions, and help to give them tools to break the negative patterns in their lives- we can be an integral part of their recovery.
They may have been convicted, yes. But we should trust in God’s forgiveness and power to redeem.
(This one goes out to Amber, who mentioned the fact that I’ve never posted on this particular subject)