March 29, 2015 Editor

“Pardon Me?!”

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Pardon Me?!”

A former friend, Lloyd Billingsley, years ago confidently told me that “the left” by definition is ideological, “the right” by contrast normal/normative. Such in turn ideological blindness still gobsmacks me. Lloyd is an intelligent man but profoundly doctrinaire, and like a close acquaintance, Lloyd sadly is highly unloving – even hateful – towards “liberals/progressives” of every kind. Such in fact is the black-and-white world of ideologues of every stripe: right, left, and centre. All in their various ways suffer from “bent wing syndrome” in their too often hatred of other wings.

If “they’ll know we are Christians by our love…” as the 60s and 70s Jesus People era song put it (not to mention Jesus in John 13 and his High-Priestly prayer in John 17, where love for the other and unity are the supreme – indeed only – Christian identifiers!), then we would-be Jesus followers/imitators are inextricably bound to a God of All-Inclusive Love. Period! This then is the ultimate Great Divide in Christian theology, on the one and the other hands:

  • Those who affirm that God is All-Inclusive Love. Period!
  • Those who affirm God To Be Anything Less!

There is an obvious corollary to the above song/teaching as well:

They’ll also know we are not Christians by our hate!

For Christians then, the only safe wings of refuge and embrace are God’s transcendent wings (e.g. Psalm 91:4).

So when I observe the current virulent opposition by a consortium of Vancouver Canada evangelical churches against even optionally teaching a more inclusive sexuality in the classroom as an anti-bullying strategy (called SOGI/SOGI 123 – see here), or observe in October 2018 in Chilliwack Canada three School Trustees running then voted in on an anti-SOGI/SOGI 123 platform, I sigh, even weep, at what these “Christians” qua Christians are known for: the very inversion of Jesus’ teaching about the only recognisable marks of Christians.

As the local newspaper reported:

That has led to some labelling the group “The Hate Slate” [“They’ll also know we are not Christians by our hate!”] for running on, at least in part, anti-LGBT platforms.

 No wonder Jesus in the West has too often a bad rep! To quote theologian Walter Wink in a different context:

If this be Christianity, then the revolt of atheism is pure religion!

Sigh indeed…

What was patently clear during the Harper years of governing Canada (2006 to 2015) in relation to criminal justice was similar dogmatic exclusionary bias: the politically right wing Conservatives fully eschewed evidence-based research on “what works” in favour of inflexible anti-science ideology about maximum punishment as the ideal recidivism-reducing response to crime.

These guys either did not have kids, or their offspring did not turn out well with, or did in spite of, such a sad “smack-’em-into-submission” creed. They certainly paid no attention to the abundant research. See for example Craig Jones’ “Penal Populism: The politicization of crime under Harper – The Harper Conservatives’ reverence for gain and disdain of evidence helped turn a justice system for the people into an enemy of the people.

One of the great tragedies of the Harper years was (and by two Christians – Harper and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews!) eradication of the word “Pardon” from criminal justice policy: the last remnant in Canada of Christian mercy enshrined in law.

More ominously: an aspect of fascism is invariably excluding/scapegoating a segment of a country’s population from full citizenship. Harper’s government in this legislation took a giant step in that direction. After conviction for three indictable crimes, a fourth automatically excludes this segment of offender from full citizenship. Incipient fascism of the kind ominously rearing its xenophobic head in many parts of the world, not least south of the border, is an alarming development towards (re)victimisation of minorities of every kind. Worldwide, “criminals” (usually from ethnic minorities and the poor) are amongst the most scapegoated of all time.

On Good Friday 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper telephoned Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to overhaul Canada’s pardon legislation.  He declared there are some crimes that should never be pardoned. 

On Good Friday!  The Prime Minister, a Christian believer, called Toews, also a believer, the day Christians worldwide celebrate the pardon Jesus’ death offered all humanity including the thief on the cross. 

Vic Toews now proposes changing the term “pardon” to the emasculated term “record suspension.”

“Forgiveness”, said Toews, “is not the business of government.”

One editorial remonstrated,

That seems mean-spirited.

Perhaps a tad unmerciful even?  Contradictory even of The Lord’s Prayer that reads?:

Matthew 6:12

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.,

with Jesus’ commentary:

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (verses 14 & 15).

Stephen Harper and Vic Toews have been singing hymns for decades, one no doubt by prolific songwriter/theologian Fanny J. Crosby entitled “To God Be the Glory”.  Verse Two goes:

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer, the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a
pardon receives.

Another doubtless by both reprised is Thomas Chisolm’s poem, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, whose third verse begins:

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth...

One can imagine both next time in church belting out “record suspension” instead: and the shocked looks… 

Evidently a “greater than Jesus is here” in Harper’s and Toews’ proposing elimination of “pardon” from Canadian justice vocabulary.  The irony: two of Canada’s top Christian political leaders are expunging the most overtly Christian term we have in Canadian justice.  And an enormous incentive for thousands to do the will of Jesus is thereby expunged, namely:

Go and sin no more (John 8).

Where Jesus said,

Matthew 12:7

I desire mercy, not sacrifice,

Harper and Toews seemingly desire unforgiveness instead. 

Where Harper and Toews seem to evoke Lamech’s principle of limitless retaliation in “seventy-seven times” vengeance (Genesis 4), Jesus stated the Gospel principle of limitless forgiveness in “seventy-seven times” grace (Matthew 18).  In that passage, with legal experts as backdrop declaring “three strikes forgiven, the next you’re out”, like former Crown Attorney Toews wanting no “record suspensions” for any with three indictable offences; with Peter’s upping the conjecture to a presumed perfect seven in asking how often should one forgive harms done, Jesus blows the roof off limits to pardon.

“Government is not in the business of forgiveness so central to the Gospel?”

  If so, what business do Harper and Toews as Jesus followers have in politics?

“Some wrongs should never be pardoned”? 

If so, one can hope that when Harper and Toews cross over Jordan, they will not encounter Jesus’ indictment:

For in the same way you judge[d] others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use[d], it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1).

To them Jesus will hopefully say:

Repent!  You may yet find pardon.

Response to a Response

I responded to a critique of this piece (I do not have that copy) thus:

Thanks, Arthur, for your comments, and for those of others. I only found out about all this dialogue tonight.

It is true that I have not suffered serious criminal victimization. But I’ve spent years walking with crime victims in my work in criminal justice, and a good percentage of offenders turn out to have been repeat victims. I’ve worked with thousands. Wilma Derksen, who lost her daughter to kidnapping and murder, and who is a leading victims advocate voice in Canada, warmly endorsed the above article. You may read more by her (volumes!) at: http://www.wilmaderksen.com/. In my experience, most victims do not wish the kind of vengeance reflected in Harper’s and Toews’ bid to destroy “pardon”.

The “apples and oranges” comment is best addressed by a monumental study entitled The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics by New Testament scholar Richard Hays; or a massive study by evangelical theologians Glen Stassen and David Gushee called Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context; or yet another amazing research project by Mennonite theologian Willard Swartley, Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics. A great website is a section of “The Paul Page” (http://www.thepaulpage.com/), called “Paul and Empire” (http://www.thepaulpage.com/paul-and-empire/introduction-and-summary/).

All to say, “apples and oranges” are invariably “paired” (pun intended) in the Bible: there are no private personal ethics that are not social and political. That “divorce” sadly has a long and tragic history in the Church, traceable at least to Saint Augustine. Such a divorce is heresy (“false choice” biblically). The key biblical text about this marriage is II Cor. 5:17 – 21, beginning:

So if anyone be in Christ, there is a new creation; (Darby)…

The “new creation” covers all brokenness:

  • theological” towards God;
  • psychological” towards oneself;
  • sociological” towards others;
  • ecological” and “cosmologicalvis à vis the Good Creation/cosmos.

The first two are private/personal in orientation; the latter social and political.

It is true that I am disrespectful of Harper and Toews in their removal of pardon from Canadian justice vocabulary. Biblical pedigree is Amos (4:1) who called political leaders of his day “cows of Bashan”; Jesus who called Herod “that fox” (Luke 13:32) and exercised “yellow journalism” against contemporary religious/political leaders (Matt. 23), even picked up a whip against authorized usury and gouging at the Temple (John 2:12ff); and Paul who wrote of certain authorities…

Gal. 5:12

As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! … I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

I did use mockery as a literary tool, but not so strongly as Elijah in I Kings 18.

I do however try to give those political leaders their due respect (Rom. 13), and pray for them (obviously not enough!, I say ironically) to choose the Christian way.

I am drawing attention however to perceived patterns by this government of “enemizing” discernible minorities. In this respect, difference of opinion becomes no mere polite conversation, but genuinely life and death as in the death penalty issue you mention. (See in this regard my review in this Volume of James Megivern’s enormously researched study, The Death Penalty: An Historical and Theological Survey (also here), in which he concludes:

In the end, as in the beginning, the case for respecting human life prevails: from a Christian perspective, the death penalty has nothing to be said for it, and everything to be said against it (p. 489).

Like Moses, in the widest sense of the term, I urgently call on my Christian brothers Harper and Towes to choose/respect life! I observe them instead choosing death. A political science scholar at York University, Rev. Michael Stainton, believes the anti-pardon legislation (Bill C-23) to be a “hate crime” in the making that “essentializes” certain kinds of criminals. (Essentializing is a process by which individual behaviours are interpreted as being a fundamental, natural, “essential” and unchangeable characteristic of a stigmatized group. It naturalizes what is in fact a social construct. Essentializing is a basic strategy of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, etc.)

I find this rings true. The famous saying of Pastor Martin Niemoeller after World War II and his release from a concentration camp bears evocation:

In Germany, the Nazis first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.

Harper and Toews succeeded on June 16, 2010 in rushing through parliament a piece of the proposed anti-pardon legislation in a direct bid to block Karla Homolka and others similarly “essentialized” from applying for a pardon. This is so contrary to the work of CoSA (Circles of Support and Accountability) celebrated by National Post columnist Barbara Kay here: http://www.barbarakay.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=239&Itemid=10.

Of special note is her comment about Christians in that article:

With expansion [of CoSA], recruitment of volunteers becomes harder. I suspect Christians will continue to be the majority among them. The Christian faith, uniquely among the world’s religions, has inspired an awesome tradition of ministering to the lepers most of us cannot bear to look at.

Surely I may note that sadly, Harper and Toews are not to be numbered amongst those adduced “Christians”, and rightly, I suggest, one questions their faith in the spirit of:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him… We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:1, 16 & 19),

and

Matthew 7:20

Thus you will recognize them by their fruits…

In the story of the Sheep and the Goats, might one not wonder about Harper and Toews in light of their anti-least-of-these pardon expulsion legislation:

Matthew 25:44 & 45

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ ”

I ask you Arthur, do you see any spirit/fruit of love (in light of Matt. 5:38ff, Luke 6:27ff, and I Corinthians 12:31 and 13) in the action by Harper and Toews to expunge “pardon” from Canadian justice vocabulary and practice? I wish I did!

I agree that the spirit of exchange as noted in this string was great! Thanks for good modelling by all.

This response is long enough, so I will add no more! Well… except this: There is much on my website about the Conservative government’s destructive 2011 Omnibus Bill C-10, “Safe Streets and Communities Act” here.

Please read and consider taking action.

Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future. And of course: There but for the grace of God go I.

May God have mercy on us all! I mean that also for Harper and Toews! I hope they will not be ultimately judged according to how they judged others in this harmful, profoundly exclusionary piece of legislation.

References

Megivern, James J. (1997).  The Death Penalty: An Historical and Theological Survey, New York/Mahwah, N. J.: Paulist Press.

Stassen and Gushee (2003). Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context, Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Swartley, Willard (2006). Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

  1. [1]Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.
  2. [2]It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.
  3. [3]Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.

Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.
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