Yesterday, Charles posted an interesting perspective on what it's like to have a crack dealer squatting next door (yes, take a second and read it). What I appreciate most about Charles' comments is the way he puts a face on 'public enemy #1'.
You see, it's all too easy to rail against someone we don't know at all (eg. "just hang 'em high"), but it's a different matter altogether when it's personal, when it's someone we know and might even actually like. So pause for a moment, and picture someone in YOUR neighborhood, someone just down your street - picture THEM being a drug dealer, just for a moment. Let's call this guy 'Leroy'.
Got a mental picture? Good. Now take a few seconds and read this article here.
This gist of this second link is basically this: a judge who deals with repeat alcohol and drug offenders has been experimenting with alternative sentencing - criminals can avoid jail or rehab by attending worship services. The judge is a 'devout Christian' (boo! hiss!) and the ACLU has their panties in a wad (is anyone surprised?) because this raises 'serious constituional problems'.
Ok, so how do these things connect? My question is simply this: what does truly compassionate justice look like? Who truly cares more about Leroy? The judge giving him an option of going to church? Or the lawyers who see THAT as the real menace to society?
You see, in a church, Leroy just might actually hear that his actions really are morally WRONG, not just because the 'Haves' say so, but because GOD says so - and the consequences are way more serious than life without parole. Even more importantly, Leroy might also hear that God is passionately concerned about sinners, about the 'Have Nots' - and he offers real HOPE for change.
Now there is no guarantee that Leroy is going to hear those things (heck, there's a lot of churches these days that aren't willing to say them even if he IS listening). There's certainly no one forcing him to believe those things. But there is someone (in this case the judge) who actually cares enough about Leroy that he wants to see him change.
And change can only happen when these two things are present: there must be a sense of need, and there must also be a sense of hope.
And that gets back to my question - at the end of the day, what does 'compassionate justice' really look like? It seems to me that if we really care about someone, we'll be willing to tell them something is wrong, but also to offer them hope.
After all, what are the alternatives? Just lock him up again? Or do we just say its no big deal and let him off? The one leans towards "justice" (punishment), the other leans towards "compassion" (mercy) - but neither really does anything to help Leroy change. And that's because they can't; at the end of the day, only God can make an action "wrong", and only Christ can make a broken life "right".
If someone says we can't say that, how neutral are they?