This poor blog has been rather neglected of late. I may talk about the reasons in a future post.
So I think I'll jump back in at the deep end.
A friend of mine has recently been convicted of downloading child pornography. It was a struggle for me to use the word 'friend' in the last sentence: I nearly wrote 'someone I know'. But he was (is?) a friend. Not a close friend, admittedly: I knew very little about his private life, and he knows very little about mine. But I enjoyed his company, his talents, and his quiet dedication to the things he enjoyed.
As I don't want to identify him, or enable him to be identified, or (if I'm honest) risk anyone associating me with him, I'm not able to give many details regarding his offences or his sentencing. I can say that the details of some of the material shocked the judge.
Of course I was sickened. So were other friends. You would be. I was sickened by what it told me about someone I thought I knew, and sickened at the thought of the trauma (both sudden and never ending) inflicted on children so that he, and others, could feed on the images at leisure.
What happens next?
My friend has probably lost his job. He may or may not have lost his liberty (I'm not saying which). He has been publicly humiliated: people he does not know have felt free to express their opinions about him in the frankest possible terms, and people he does know are distancing themselves from him. He has been excluded from the (wholesome) social activities that (appeared) to give his life structure and meaning, and were an outlet for his undoubted talents.
He hasn't got much left really.
How should we respond? What should we do?
Practically, there are obstacles. He is no longer contactable via social media. I have no other contact details for him. He will not be attending the social events at which I used to meet him.
Even if I can locate him, I don't really want to meet him at the moment (what on earth would we talk about?), but I do want him to know he's not forgotten. Whatever he's done, whatever hungers drive him, it doesn't sit well with me to just write him out of my life. And he must be so lonely.
'Love the sinner, hate the sin'. Those words have so often been used against gay people that they have a nasty resonance. And even when an act is clearly wrong the statement is still unsatisfactory, as it makes us the judge, defining and separating wrongdoers and wrongs. But it does prompt a question in me: when someone behaves in a way that is clearly wrong and so injures themselves and others, how can I keep that in mind and yet continue to love, in way that is not patronising or judgemental, but is practical and health-bringing.
And how can I not forget that Christ's heart was always for the outcast, and no-one is more an outcast today than the paedophile. They are so outcast that I am nervous of people wondering about me, simply because I raise the issue (or when they see that I have a DVD of that excellent film 'The Woodsman'. Will some government computer programme even now be flagging up the presence of key words in this posting?
The parable of the good Samaritan is well known, and we can glibly (though rightly) talk about our duty to love those who others would avoid. But a direct reading of this parable suggests a harder challenge is also being talked about: are we willing to allow the outcast to (re)join our society as one who loves, and cares, and contributes?
Sadly, I'm struggling with the first of these challenges, and have no idea even where to begin with the second.
I've just read an article about a remarkable community in Florida, where half the population are sex offenders : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23063492