Pardoning Sheriff Joe

I’ve not blogged much of late. Because I have been busy trying to keep body and soul together, working on a novel (more anon), and frankly, I’m not sure there’s anyone out there paying much attention.

And I’ve not much to add one way or the other on current political discourse. Well, I do, it’s in the novel. It’s a story set some two decades in the future about a group of foster kids who form a small army to get revenge upon the giant company that arranged for and profited from their abuse. Yeah, it’s informed by this ministry I do — because there are real parts to it, I think I’ve done some good, and when “Melina” handed me a wonderful story (wonderful in terms of fiction, and not in terms of the story she told), I decided it really was a shame to waste it.

But I’ve not much to say about Trump and the current condition. I am a pessimist. I believe much worse is coming, and I’ve believed this for a very long time.

When President Trump first hinted, early last week, that he was considering a presidential pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I didn’t really have an opinion one way or the other except to remind some folks that pardons — ahem, forgiveness — is for the guilty, and not the merely to unfortunate. They are, to an extent, a fuzzy shadow of divine grace, extended to those unworthy because … that’s what God does.

It has been fun to watch my Twitter feed argue the relative merits of the pardoned, particularly those comparing Arpaio’s pardon to that of Chelsea Manning (which wasn’t a pardon, but a commutation, which too is an act of grace and mercy). And A lot of what I’ve seen about the merits of the two pardons deal with the character of the person pardoned, whether they merit sympathy or empathy, and the consequences of the acts that got them convicted in the first place.

(For anyone unclear, there are those who allege that Manning’s theft of government documents and handing them over to Wikileaks got people killed.)

I’m not here to argue the merits of either act. Just to note how we talk about deserving pardon here. In both instances, the presidential act gets in the way of justice being served (though there was and is a lot less and anguish over Manning’s commutation). I agree that it is likely the use of the pardon in Arpaio’s case is likely a sign of the kinds of perfectly lawful lawlessness that is to come from Trump.

And yet I do stand by the principal of the unlimited pardon, even for a horrific human being just like Joe Arpaio. Yes, there will be times — many of them — when as Christians who wield the sword we will say something like “May God have mercy on your soul, because we cannot.” But at the same time, once we speak of “deserving mercy,” we reach a place where none can be extended to people we believe unworthy. It is hard, as I frequently note of Christendom, to wield the sword with anything resembling authentic Christian love. In fact, I believe it to be utterly impossible. There is no way to love someone in any meaningful way when you are inflicting pain, suffering, or death upon them. Even in the name of justice.

Yes, I understand that in another time, Arpaio would not have been pardoned unless he had first showed himself worthy — that he had repented and been penitent, showed that he had changed his life. (Nor would Manning have been pardoned either.) But we don’t live in that world anymore, and Jesus did not call disciples who had gotten their lives together first. He met Peter and Andrew at their nets, poor, half-naked, and smelling of fish. He met Levi at his traitorous tax booth. And he didn’t wait for Saul to see the light and rethink his life. He was the light that changed Saul’s life whether Saul wanted it changed or not.

We don’t deserve God’s love. And sometimes we don’t deserve the grace we find in the world either. Anymore than we always deserve the evil that comes our way as well.

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One thought on “Pardoning Sheriff Joe

  1. I’m still here. I’ve haven’t been reading regularly since the middle of May or so, but I hope to catch up. I’ve been distracted by a lot of things, but also my spirit has just been drifting some. I want that to change. Meanwhile, my wife’s sister had a cerebral hemorrhage in the spring, but seems to have recovered fully. My wife then was hospitalized for most of a week with pneumonia (septic — in the bloodstream) soon joined by a recurrence of congestive heart failure. She’s come back pretty well, too. She and her sister have been swimming regularly and plan to keep up exercise of some kind. For myself I am tired and tend to be a cranky recluse. Nothing new.

    The exception a couple of weeks ago was at a party where my brother-in-law lives. His wife is Turkish and from a family eminent in Turkish culture, and they live with her mentor, a 96-year-old founder of the Turkish studies department here. Amidst the singing and dancing and reciting of classical Turkish poetry, one guy (of Kurdish ethnicity he told me) persuaded me to advance from beer to raki (like the ouzo I’ve had in the long-ago past). Then I found myself singing a song in Ukrainian, since there was a Ukrainian woman present, and then a song in Bengali, since her husband (recently wed) is a native speaker of Hindi, and Bengali was the closest I could come. It was nice to be at a party where me singing in Ukrainian was the least exotic thing that happened.

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