The Double Standard of Forgiveness

The other day, I was listening to a lively conversation between two Christian individuals I shall not name about people with problems in their pasts, such as porn stars or robbers, working around children. One gentleman insisted that none of these people should be allowed to work anywhere near children, regardless of how long ago they engaged in unsavory activities and regardless of the changes they may have made in their lives.

The other person in the conversation then said something very interesting, and particularly with sex offenders, very often ignored:

Forgiveness is great when YOU need it from ME. When YOU want forgiveness for your sins, forgiveness is a great thing and it's important...but when I need YOUR forgiveness, suddenly it doesn't matter, and you don't want to give it to me. It's easy to accept forgiveness, and it's very difficult to actually forgive.

I knew they were Christians by the next part of the conversation. I'm not Christian myself, but I do believe that there are some very important lessons about how to treat others in the Bible, and the ensuing tale is one of those. If you've never heard it, here's the short version:

A woman was caught in the middle of committing adultery (having sex with someone else other than her husband). The scribes and Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus and asked if they could stone her for this sin. Jesus famously replied, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Because all of these people were sinners themselves, they realized their own faults, and they walked away until no one but the woman and Jesus were left. Jesus asked the woman, "Where are the people who condemn you?" She replied, "There are none." Jesus then said, "I don't condemn you either; go and sin no more."

Sex offenders, to put them in this Christian context, have become the lepers and adulterers of our time. We are very quick to identify them as disgusting, horrible people and maintain that image of disgust and horror for the rest of their lives, as retaliation for the wrongs they have committed (or are thought to have committed, given the number of innocents consumed into the sex offender label by taking plea bargains instead of "mandatory minimum sentences" that have grown Draconian and outrageous.) We see sex offenders (and indeed, ex-cons and criminals in general) as a clear and easily identifiable bogeyman, and a manifestation of all the wrong that human beings commit, as well as a mirror image of all the things about our own selves that are not good and that we do not want to see, because it reminds us that we are not pure either.

In fact, I would venture far enough to say that the most vehement attackers on sex offenders are those who themselves have sinned, or have felt the desire to sin, the worst of all of us. Psychologically, this is often the case: sex offenders show us that humanity is not infallible. We are capable of evil and hatred and damage and inflicting pain and misery and suffering and other horrible negative things upon our fellow man. Criminals just happen to have been caught doing something evil, and sex offenders, due to America's unhealthy obsession with sex and sexuality, are held up on a pedestal as the ultimate example of "what's wrong with humanity."

It scares the hell out of us that we might be in any way similar to them. That's why we tend to wish to persecute them for the remainder of their lives, and why politicians frequently take this manifestation of our own personal weakness and use it to their advantage in the form of "cracking down on sex offenders" on a continual basis.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Are you honestly innocent? Have you never stolen something from someone, no matter how small? Have you never deceived or lied to someone? Never treated someone else poorly, never yelled at another person or betrayed their trust? Have you never done something so stupid that it engraved itself into your memory for the rest of your life, as a permanent reminder that you ARE capable of making mistakes and that you already HAVE made a big one in your life?

Sex offenders, regardless of their crime, are human beings just like you. You are capable of the same actions they are, and you have made serious errors in your life--some of those may not have legal consequences, or you may not have been caught or held responsible, but you are still a flawed person, just like any criminal. The next time you express hatred or disdain for sex offenders, think about mistakes and forgiveness, and ask yourself if you hate sex offenders because of what they have done...or because they remind you subconsciously of what YOU have done wrong in your own life. Show forgiveness. Understand that humans are malleable and rarely does time allow them to remain the same person they were when they offended (or took the plea deal!) Remember your own faulty nature, your own personal record of errors, the skeletons in your personal closet.

Think about how your own life would be different if the government forced you to disclose everything in your life that you aren't proud of to everyone else around you. Think about how your actions in any situation could be easily misunderstood by someone who hears about it and doesn't understand all the details. Think about how "my computer at work had kiddie porn on it and I got arrested, even though other people got on my machine when I wasn't there" can look a million times worse when the government converts that explanation to "THIRD DEGREE SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF A MINOR" with no further detail.

Forgiveness is pretty hard to give. Many people reading this will be so quick to condemn a sex offender without giving a damn about one single detail of the crimes. But then again, if you refuse to forgive and believe in the ability of people to learn, grow, and change, and others do the same, where will the forgiveness be when you screw up and it's your head on the proverbial chopping block? When someone gets in a bitter dispute with you over something you did and attempts to exact vigilante justice on you by pressuring their 12-year-old daughter to say you sexually molested her, who will forgive you?

In the same vein that Niemoeller's famous poem on the entry page goes, forgiveness follows: many people need your forgiveness and you condemn them, such that by the time you become the one needing that same forgiveness, no one is left that would do anything but condemn you in return.

One final note: if you call yourself a Christian and you refuse to forgive sex offenders, you're not Christian and you're not living by God's word, and you ARE a sinner and a hypocrite. I've found so many people that call themselves Christian who only try to live by what Jesus taught when it's Sunday, and I'm quite tired of the hypocrisy. I used to call myself a Christian until I saw this kind of behavior so consistently that it couldn't be a coincidence, and decided that if Christianity is so bad that even its own followers refuse to live by it, I'll not be spiritually associated with such two-faced people. I'd rather die a non-Christian that follows the spirit of what Jesus taught than a Christian living in blatant sin and not caring until it's time to go to church and repent!

Questions? Comments? E-mail the Offender and let him know what you think!