On Justice and Mercy


So, I've been thinking about events of recent days - as who hasn't been - about what the most effective response is. Since, once again, I am delighted to find my Facebook feed positively free of anyone remotely supporting Nazis or White Supremecists (Yay! Go you! I have friends! I definitely have friends!), but which only, in some ways, compounds the difficulty of sorting out how best to *act.*

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone
 Shall I do nothing, as no one around me appears in immediate danger of falling into the Nazis' trap? That seems like cowardice. Shall I preach to the choir, rather than the streets? That just seems redundant. Shall I wring my hands and say my usual mantra of: "Well, I'm not a politician, there's nothing I *can* do." But we saw how that worked out for Europe not quite a century ago. Or perhaps I join in with general "tsk-ing," which may *feel* good in the moment, but which only leads to rising hate - and we all know what Yoda says. Shall I merely mock the president? The Late Show with Stephen Colbert makes me laugh, and I'm grateful for that - but it leads me to complacency and a different sort of pride.

What, then, can I *do*?

Well, I'd like to take a moment to talk about the pedophilia priest scandal when it broke in Boston. And I also want to talk about the terrible, horrible ex-roommate who terrorized our little lives. And I want to talk about these GD Nazis.

Which is to say: I want to talk about Justice. And I want to talk about Mercy.

When the priest scandal broke in Boston, I had just started teaching sacraments to disaffected if not outright hostile teenagers. Naturally, on day one, they weren't interested in talking about baptism. "When do we get to talk about the effing priests?" I made them wait, and then I endeavored to give them open season on the subject.

9-11 was still fresh in all our minds, and many had siblings dying in Iraq. So when the scandal broke, we were all in a state of heightened tension anyway. To call that time a witch hunt is not much of an exaggeration (and besides, Salem runs deep within our blood). To say that we were all FINE with a witch hunt may be only mildly surprising. To admit that in those early days, I was fine with the witch hunt may surprise you more.

But here's the thing:

How did the priest scandal happen? What went wrong that the Church and her ministers, who *should* be held to as high a standard as they preach, that they should have allowed young boys and men to be systematically preyed upon?

It happened because Mercy was applied in the wrong place. It happened because Justice was not applied at all.

For years, when a priest - who is only human - had been discovered to be guilty of such a disgusting, immoral, and destructive wrong, he was not punished. He was given innumerably more chances, with perhaps only a little therapy, and he was transferred quietly with his good name still intact.

The Church thought it was doing right, applying mercy to those who dispense Mercy - but this was mercy gone amuck. This was not mercy, although it was in name: this was corruption, cowardice, and sin.

True mercy would have been to think of the children who had been abused, and to have removed the priest immediately from the society of young ones. To show mercy to the victim first. That would have been true mercy.

But justice towards the priest is a mercy, too. How was the sick priest's soul served, to be given no actual support, held unaccountable for his wrongs, and then thrown back into the situation that brought out his sickness to begin with? Had he - as happened much too late - been brought to justice immediately, both the people and the priest might have been spared.

Mercy and justice are the same coin.

So, too, with the rotten roommate (now gone - yippee!) who forced me to enact the law. She refused to be reasoned with. She refused to be reasonable. She actually tore up the legal documents and threw them on the floor, calling them fake. (Sound like someone in power that we know?)

My merciful teacher heart wanted to find a way to sit her down and explain what the consequences of her disregarding the law would be. The long-term ramifications. But as my friend pointed out (she who is better at justice side than I): That woman would not listen to me. Just like any student, the most *merciful* thing I could do for that roommate would be to let her fail. Just like how I've let students fail my class, rather than doing their homework for them, or rewarding them for shirking their responsibility, there is a mercy in justice. There is a mercy in letting consequences play out.

So, this is what we're decrying with Trump's outrageous speeches. We recognize inherently that this is not a case of many sides. Wrong is wrong; and the threat of wrong is wrong. And it is no mercy to anyone (of "any side") to allow destructive tendencies to persist. We're allowed to get angry at evil. For Heaven's sake! It's the only thing that we should truly hate!

BUT -

And there is a but here -

As Buffy knows, there is the teensy problem that all these Nazis, all these White Supremacists are *still human.* They may behave monstrously, but they are not monsters. They have a soul, and that soul - whether we like it or not - is still beloved by God. And still has worth.

So.

What are we to do?

If we hate them, we are in danger of merely inciting hate, which will fuel their prejudices, and we don't need WWIII.

If we show *false* love to them, though, we provide a path of widespread destruction for generations to come, as the Church made the mistake of paving the way for perverts. Let's learn from our mistakes.

What, then, are we to do?

We must demand justice, which is mercy. We must, in love, condemn these points of view - BUT ALSO PROVIDE A WAY OUT. We need to first remove the danger, and then go after the root of the problem in the offenders' souls.

Justice to reach mercy. Mercy, which is justice.

Comments

Popular Posts