When Does Grace End?

Social media is abuzz in the recent trial that convicted former Stanford student Brock Turner of the rape of a young woman.  What has everyone talking is the fact that the judge gave Turner a six month sentence and he might get out sooner for good behavior.

To pour more gasoline on the fire, Turner’s father wrote a letter urging for leniency for what he considered “20 minutes of action.”

Facebook is aflame.  Memes are going around with the young Turner’s photo calling him a rapist, others put him side by side with a poor white man who received a harsher sentence.  The pitchforks are out even among Christians.  Brock Turner is the most hated man on the internet.  There is no love for this person.

Part of the anger is that he ticks off all of boxes of privilege: he’s white, he’s an athlete and he seems well to do.  He is the perfect enemy.

All of this leads me to one question: where does grace end?

Yes, yes among liberal Christians we talk about grace all the time, about the fact that God loves us no matter what.

But we don’t really believe that.  I don’t care if you are a tough-on-crime conservative or a bleeding heart liberal, there are some sins we feel are beyond redemption.

A few months ago, there was talk in my church about a convicted sex offender that would be moving into the area.  People were up in arms and wondered why this person couldn’t live with a relative or something, just not near them where their children and grandchildren play.

These weren’t the kind of folks who were tough on crime, most were liberals.  But the fact is, crimes involving sex can make the meekest person into a fire-breathing zealot waiting to lock them up and throw away the key.

Brock Turner will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.  His “20 minutes of action” will stick with him.  If you think as most do, that he got off easy, know that he won’t escape what he did ever.  It will follow him when he seeks a place to live, when he applies for a job and so forth.

But this all means that he will be in the public sphere. I don’t know if he ever went to church, but what if he decides to visit a church- supposed he decided to visit YOUR church.  What would you do? What would you say?  Would say yes, as long as there are safeguards? Would you say no, fearful for your daughter?

Where does grace end?

Another question following this: Where does God’s judgement begin?

Does God judge the guilty, those who commit crimes like this?  What is that punishment like?

It’s easy for mainline/progressive Christians to talk about how we should love everybody and that grace is for everyone, but I don’t think we really are good when it comes to living this out.  It’s easy to love someone that is part of your in group.  It is hard to love someone who is someone you wouldn’t like anyway.

Sexual crimes can put our theology of grace to the test.  Where does mercy fit in?  What about justice?  What is justice?  Is justice only for the victim or also for the perpetrator?

Brock Turner is not a sympathetic person.  His excuses, as well as the excuses of those around him are sickening.  But I am wary of how this has become the outrage of the moment on social media, because there are some important issues to deal with here that demand more attention than a few minutes on Facebook.

In our theology Turner is also a child of God.  And that should bother us.  Because, how many of us want to see him forgiven?  His victim has to live with the trauma he cause for the rest of her life.  Why should he be seen as one loved by God?

Maybe this is why the cross is called a scandal.

But we also believe in a God that believes in justice, one that gets angry when justice is denied.  God gets angry.

Can God be graceful and also one that establishes justice?  And what does that mean of God’s people?

I don’t have any easy answers.  In fact, all I have is questions.

Where does grace end?  Where does judgement begin?

I leave you with a snippet from a post from Zach Hunt in response to the martyrdom of 21 Christians by Islamic State:

It’s easy to talk about loving our enemies when their greatest crime is stealing your parking space or voting for the wrong candidate. It’s a lot harder to love enemies who would gleefully broadcast your execution to the world if they only had the chance.

It’s easy to embrace the radical grace of the gospel when you’re sitting in a warm sanctuary filled with well-dressed people who clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and care for the sick. It’s a lot harder to swallow the fact that that same grace extends to cold-hearted criminals who thrive on executing the innocent…

Now, if you’re reading this and you’re angry with me for talking about extending grace and forgiveness to those monsters in the black hoods, believe me I get it. It’s not just rhetoric when I say I recoil at even the possibility that God could forgive, redeem them, and make them my neighbors in heaven.

That sort of grace seems so unjust to me.

And appalling.

So, I struggle.

I struggle with my own sense of justice.

I struggle with the idea that as a Christian, I must leave space for forgiveness even as I rightfully demand accountability for my enemies’ actions.

I struggle to accept the fact that believing in the radical transforming grace of God compels me to believe that grace abounded on that beach in Libya in ways I don’t comprehend or want to accept.

I struggle with the boundless depths of God’s love and forgiveness.

I struggle with the gospel.

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