Sunday Mornings are nice. The family and I get out to restaurants before the church folks, so we can get a table without an hour wait. The unchurched have longer weekends, and on Super Bowl Sunday, that’s even better (I was tempted to say “super.”)
It’s one of the few times in the week when the four of us actually get to sit down to a meal together. In the past, I’ve used Sundays as a time to talk about religious topics, though of course, religion and God experiences are woven into our weeks by the people we encounter. The thing I have in mind to discuss today is an article on CNN called, A killing, a life sentence and my change of heart, by Jeanne Bishop. In 1991, the author’s pregnant sister and husband were murdered by a 16-year-old with a “history of violence.” The kid bragged about the killing, even attended the funeral, and the murder victim’s family was glad when the he was put away without parole.
We should be, too. One less violent criminal on the streets and in our neighborhoods.
But then Bishop had a change of heart—and this is not a new story—she repented and recanted her stance on juvenile life sentences. She thinks that her sister’s murderer deserves a second chance, and you have to wonder if juveniles who have been incarcerated, who have lived among our nations most violent criminals for the majority of their lives, even have the ability to be rehabilitated. Ever.
It’s this Christian ideal that “God makes people for a purpose” that is the impetus behind Bishop’s change in ideology. She, and others like her, believe in loving the killer, but not what he did. God wants his followers to forgive everyone, even the most violent, most innately evil people. In theory, it’s a wonderful idea. But I want to know this: if you have ever been in a loving relationship, what does it mean to love? Does it mean treating someone with kindness, speaking gently, taking care of each other? Can you truly love someone you don’t know, or are you just loving an idea, a concept, an image?
Why do I bring this up? Because statistics show that within 3 years of release, 67% of ex-offenders are back in jail. Do we really want kids who kill, who’ve never learned how to be good, who’ve been brought up in the violent prison atmosphere, to be released to live amoung us and our families? What good can come of it?
So Bishop—and others—believe that juvenile life sentences should be abolished because no one “is beyond the forgiveness and redemption and purpose of God.”
And it’s this logic that concerns me, because if a god redeems and forgives and gives man purpose, then why was this young man, as a teenager, forsaken by god to begin with?
It seems to me that this god makes people do stupid things sometimes. The idea that you have to forgive because HE wants you to: that defies common sense. How can you forgive because a stranger you’ve never met “wants” you to? People show who they are through their actions and their words and to assume they can be someone else is naive.
This is what I want to ask my kids: When and why should we forgive? What are the costs and benefits of forgiveness? Are some people irredeemably bad?