Recent, appalling local news involving sexual abuse of youth (in a school setting) and abuse of religious and moral authority, as well as published “charitable” responses to these crimes, prompts the following distressed thoughts on “applying” Christianity. Shockingly to me, some students (presumably non-abused) have expressed support for the now terminated teacher, arguing Christian forgiveness of the “nobody’s perfect” variety. In a similar case, a prosecutor and judge have dealt mildly with an offender, partly in response to the offended family’s forgiving disposition.
Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? Should the miracle of forgiveness displace the natural response of retributive justice? Shouldn’t Christian charity rather respect a moderate natural response and take its place alongside it? “What you have done is shameful and outrageous, and you must be punished according to the full extent of the law. At the same time, I recognize that Christ has atoned for your sins as well as mine, and I pray for you.” Or something to that effect.
Another kind of case: the harsh regime that not long ago excluded unwed mothers from respectable society has now been softened considerably, as was no doubt necessary. But now (even in very conservative religious circles) we are so “understanding” and “forgiving,” concerned to continue to fellowship the offender, that all natural shame is removed, and a pregnant teenager might expect to continue socializing with the good girls as if nothing were the matter.
Very kind and compassionate, no doubt — but is it really, in the long run, a service to the community to remove the stigma from selfish and irresponsible acts.
The deeper problem: how do the obligations of Christian charity stand in relation to the claims of natural justice and shame? Or, what happens when we try to make the exception (forgiveness) the rule (justice)? Are not both perverted?