“URGENT NOTICE“ Those were the words printed in bright red letters at the top of the sheet of paper that was slipped under my dormitory room door. In the paragraph that followed the words “registered sex offender“, printed in bold red letters, stuck out from the rest of the text. This was an attention grabber to be sure. The brief note that was distributed to every dorm room and every office was to inform us that one of our own (we’ll call him Andre) had been found to be a registered sex offender, and had summarily been fired from his position, escorted from campus, and instructed never to return. At first glance one might commend the school for taking swift action to ensure the welfare and security of the staff and students of the seminary. To be sure the school does bear some responsibility for the well-being for the staff, the students, and their families; some of whom are in residence here at the seminary as well. A more than cursory consideration of the situation however reveals some troubling concerns for the seminary, the students, and the example being set by those who are training up the church’s next generation of leaders.
Prompted by a conversation with another seminarian, and because I had personally had several conversations with Andre that involved more than just “hello” and “goodbye”; I decided to do just a little research. This is what I was able to uncover in about thirty minutes on the computer. Whenever a person is convicted of certain sexually based crimes they are automatically placed on a registry of known sex offenders. Depending on the severity and frequency of the act, the registration requirement can last for anywhere from ten years to a lifetime. In this case the offense occurred over ten years ago, Andre has complied with the registry requirements, there have been no other incidents, this is only a ten year registration requirement which began over nine years ago and should be over in just nine months. Additionally the Metropolitan Police Department Sex Offender Information Bulletin‘s entry for Andre states, in bold letters, “he is not wanted by the police at this time.” The ostensible purpose of the registry is to protect the public from sexual predators, particularly violent ones like the one who killed a friend of mine in Florida shortly after serving over twenty years in prison for a brutal attack on a young girl in California. That man (he was executed by the state of Florida) was indeed a sexual predator. Tracking his whereabouts unfortunately was not enough to save my friend’s life. What might have saved her life (and his life as well), is rehabilitation, and reconciliation. The same may have saved Andre his job.
This last thought is the unfortunate paradox of this incident. In the one place, and among the primary people among whom Andre should have been given the opportunity at a second chance to be a productive, respectable member of society he was instead judged, rejected, and stigmatized. If in no other place, the reign of God preached by Jesus should extend its healing, life affirming power on and over the campus of the seminary. This is the place and we are the people who claim to be different from the world. The seminary is the place where we learn to stand in faith and walk on the rough waters of forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the place where future leaders should learn to refute the fear that is so prevalent in this world and by which wars are declared, foreigners declared “illegal”, and prisoners are held in a state of perpetual social and economic captivity. This is the place where future leaders should learn to live lives that seek first the reign of God, and that are truly intentional in living the beloved community. It is unfortunate that in this case we were simply satisfied to conform to the standards of vindictive and unforgiving culture. Nevertheless, I still have hope. For even in this God is still, in all things, working for our good. Like Paul I am not ashamed of the gospel for it does have power to transform those of us who are willing to live by it.
The gospel that Jesus preached, of this blessed reign of God, this year of Jubilee, this “beloved community” has the power to transform us even in the face of this unfortunate event. The good news of the release of the captives can make this a “teachable moment” for those of us who want to let the light of justice, freedom, and righteousness shine brightly as high and lifted on the lamp stand of forgiveness and reconciliation. This can be an opportunity for us to examine how it is that we are truly different from the world. How do we keep ourselves “without spot from the world”? How do we show ourselves to be a people who forgive others even as we ourselves are forgiven? How do we recognize and heal the brokenness of our communities that perpetuates the downward spiraling cycle of violence? How, in this place and time, do we become an example of God’s wide love for all persons? How do we, in this place,
Make A Difference . . . For Life!