Living the Bible with an Ex-Con

March 19th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

For most of us, it seems, there is no such thing as paying your debt to society. A convict is a convict is a convict, regardless of punishment served.

Considering how fond we are of such concepts as innocent until proved guilty or even someone was innocent of the accusations because a jury returned a not-guilty finding, you would think we’d do the other end better.

The concept is simple enough. Get accused of a crime. Get convicted or plead guilty. Get sentenced to jail. Get released per se or on parole. And then…and then…the idea is to return to society chastened and ready to contribute.

The current example of our not accepting that is in small-town New Hampshire. Where a fundy minister is living his and his church’s faith by housing and monitoring a parolee. The convicted criminal was no jaywalker either.

Links of chainIt’s about a nasty as human behavior gets. Raymond Guay tortured and murdered a 12-year-old in 1973, kidnapped a couple nine years later, and stabbed another inmate while in prison. The court ordered him on release on parole to spend the next three years in New Hampshire. That hasn’t proved easy, as the mayors of Manchester and Concord forced him out of their cities. NIMBYism is never subtle and can be relentless and vicious.

The discussion is a lot lighter and easier when the released criminal is not violent. A check kiter or cat burglar is less threatening, even if they as or more likely to repeat their crimes. We don’t fear a Bernie Madoff murdering us or our kids in the night.

In this case though, Rev. David Pinckney of the River of Grace Church in Concord is putting his Christianity in practice for real, not in checkbook religion. He is housing and taking responsibility for Guay in his own home in Chichester, population just over 2,000.

In case you have any doubt of Pinckney’s sincerity, be aware four of his five kids, 13 to 18, still live at home. As the minister put it, “We were warned. It was said this could disrupt life. People wouldn’t like it. He’s not liked. But at the end of the day, this is what Jesus did. He defended the defenseless. He was a friend of sinners.”

NIMBYism is never subtle

Pickney’s neighbors are keeping their own kids inside and some have let him know they don’t appreciate his faith in action.

What’s disappointed him, he said, are the reactions of others, given the lengths he is taking to keep Guay under close watch. Though Guay is legally free to go where he pleases, he has agreed to Pinckney’s terms that he always remain under adult supervision, and has even volunteered to wear a movement-tracking ankle bracelet like an inmate on house arrest.

Those just waiting for the worst and ready with shovels of I-told-you-so must be many.  As a father of three, I take a deep breath or two or three at the concept. Here the doctrine and theory are solid, but Pinckney has placed a terrific burden on himself.

Advocates for released prisoner re-entry, such as the Fortune Society, have long and rationally decried the hypocrisy of refusing to accept someone having been punished enough. This extreme case and the penalty for failure here make Pickney a remarkable example of walking it like he talks it.

Interestingly enough for me is that River of Grace is not a UCC or UU church. It is certainly Bible based. Its website doesn’t specifically say it is morally conservative, although it did list on its resource pages Help with homosexual issues: Exodus International. A good look at the sparse site suggests he and I would have considerable theological and political differences.

Yet, the RoG doesn’t hide from the issue at hand. On the home page, it states:

The River of Grace Church in the news

We believe in the power of God to save and change people, both inside and outside prison walls. While we are committed to love and support ex-convicts as they seriously seek to re-enter society and follow Jesus, we also recognize our responsibility to provide a safe-haven for the families and children God has committed to our care.

Pickney didn’t invite Guay home on a whim though. He explained his process and thinking in a letter to the Concord Monitor. He reported that after examining records and with interviews with Guay and numerous others, he firmly believes there is no danger to anyone in Chichester.

As Pickney wrote, “He has committed some horrendous crimes in his past. What doesn’t get reported is that since 1993 his life has been on a very different course. That year he became a follower of Jesus.” Sixteen year of good behavior and avowed Christianity convinced the minister.

For a differing view, a neighbor who lives across the street told the paper, “I say B.S. Once a murderer, always a murderer. I want him off my street, and I won’t rest until he’s gone, period.”

That seems to be the American way and the practical limit of Christianity for most people.

By the bye, the contact for The Fortune Society’s treatment options is here.

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One Response

  1. Robin Edgar says:

    The following is a redacted version of the comment, which goes off topic. You can see Mr. Edgar’s concerns off his main site.

    Forgive me for the “cheap shot” Bob but Rev. David Pinckney is not only living his Christian faith and his church’s faith by housing and monitoring this parolee, he is living what many Unitarian*Universalists pretend is their “chosen faith” while abjectly failing or even obstinately refusing to actually live it by honoring and upholding U*U principles and ideals.

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