May 28, 2008

Mercy For Monsters?

Warning: This entry addresses issues you may find very offensive.

I learned today that a man who molested his niece while visiting her family here pled guilty and received a sentence of 40 years in prison and will have to serve the first fifteen years with no possibility of parole. This sentence seems grossly inadequate for a man who repeatedly sodomized and raped his teenage niece. He then used the classic child molester defense and said she forced herself on him. According to him if she had not been so sexually aggressive none of this would have happened.

As bad as this guy sounds there are others who are much worse. In the county just north of hear a young boy was kidnapped and then molested by a man and his father while the mother/wife looked on and derived her own sexual pleasure. All this when the young boy has a plastic bag over his head. His body was found dumped not far from the scene of the crime. None of these monsters has gone to trial.

About five years ago a man who lived directly across the street from me pled guilty to 13 counts of child molestation and received an 80 year sentence on each charge. When caught he owned up to what he had done and made a full confession. This man was my neighbor. Hiding in plain sight. And there are always more. More horror stories. More very real monsters.

In cases like this I find it particularly hard to stick to my Christian beliefs. Having been on the receiving end of a great deal of abuse as a child I know my reaction is skewed, that it awakens demons in me best left alone. Part of me cries out with an eye for an eye, to make the punishment fit the crime. In fact many times I have said that if I discover that anyone has done anything like this to a member of my family I will settle the score myself and the courts be damned. I take no offense in knowing that while in prison child molesters often discover how it feels to be raped and sodomized. They stay on the lowest level of the inmate/prison hierarchy and find no peace, no solace.

Where is our God? Does the stench of this inhumanity not rise up to offend him? Is there really any shared humanity with these monsters? Are they really the likeness and image of our creator?

Or am I not asking the right questions? Perhaps I am not looking closely enough in the mirror. What does this rage, this cry for no mercy say about me? Is the stench of my sins any less offensive?

I have been many times been loved when I was all but unlovable. My actions shamed me and left me undeserving of mercy. But even during those times when the demons in me went unchecked I still found the hand of love extended to me. Even then I was not measured by my inhumanity but by my humanity, my potential for good.

It is easy for me to hate these men, yet we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. To judge not lest we be judged. Some say to hate the sin but love the sinner. Who does this hatred hurt? Not the monsters, they have no idea I even exist. It is an acid that eats away at the goodness in me, making room for even more hatred, less room for genuine compassion. Lord help me.


King of Peace said...

I am reading a book that seeks to answer some of your questions froma theological perspective. The book is Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. The author is Miroslav Volf, a noted professor of systematic theology at Yale Divinity School. He is a native Croation writing from his own firsthand experience and trying to hold in tension both love and justice.

Now his project is different in that he is looking at how identity and otherness lead to epic violence on a global scale. But as he writes:

"How does one remain both loyal to the demand of the opporessed for justice and to the gift of forgiveness that the Crucified offered to the perpetrators? I felt caught between two betrayals—the betrayal of the suffering, exploited, and excluded, and the betrayal of the very core of my faith. In a sense even more distrubingly, I felt that my very faith was at odds with itself, divided between the God who delivers the needy and the God who abandons the Crucified, between the demand to bring about justice for the victims and the call to embrace the perpetrator."

So it sounds like you and the theology professor are asking the same questions, and looking for the same level of honesty in response, something that honors both the need for justice for the wrong done and the need to hold out the possibility of forgiveness. Does he succeed? I'm still reading...



Anonymous said...

As someone whose brother is incarcerated for 30 years for child abuse, I do not find him to be a monster. I find him to be a man who has an illness which receives no treatment, no re-education, no counseling, no re-direction while in prison. No wonder these pedophiles re-offend! Seeing children as objects of desire is an illness -- pure and simple. These men need a cure, which is NOT being given. I know my brother has many many wonderful qualities, and I miss his involvement in my family's life every day. My perspective is a different one than yours. I can easily see, being newly converted to Orthodoxy, that God certainly can and will forgive him -- we can do no less!

s-p said...

I worked in residential treatment for 5 years and dealt with kids who were abused. I've known more than my share of adults who were molested as kids. The damage is horrific. The fact of the matter is child molesters do not respond to "treatment" (child abusers may learn anger management or parenting skills), but I too would have no problem with locking these guys up permanently with other inmates and let them fend for themselves like the children they molested, and letting God figure out what to do with them. Some people aren't "sick" they are evil. Can they repent or learn or be healed? Sure maybe, but not at the expense of more victims. Hard stuff and no clean answers.