In each instance, it has been less than a year since the allegations against these men surfaced, and in each instance, the men have done little in the way of public contrition. When they have apologized, they have done so with carefully worded, legally vetted statements. They have deflected responsibility. They have demonstrated that they don’t really think they’ve done anything wrong. And worse, people have asked for the #MeToo movement to provide a path to redemption for these men, as if it is the primary responsibility of the victimized to help their victimizers find redemption.
“Should a man pay for his misdeeds for the rest of his life?” This is always the question raised when we talk about justice in the case of harassment and rape allegations against public figures. How long should a man who has faced no legal and few financial consequences for such actions pay the price?
I appreciate the idea of restorative justice — that it might be possible to achieve justice through discussing the assault I experienced with the perpetrators and that I might be involved in determining an appropriate punishment for their crime. Restorative justice might afford me the agency they took from me. But I also appreciate the idea of those men spending some time in a prison cell, as problematic as the carceral system is, to think long and hard about the ways in which they violated me. I would like them to face material consequences for their actions because I have been doing so for 30 years. There is a part of me that wants them to endure what I endured. There is a part of me that is not interested in restoration. That part of me is interested in vengeance.
We spend so little energy thinking about justice for victims and so much energy thinking about the men who perpetrate sexual harassment and violence. We worry about what will become of them in the wake of their mistakes. We don’t worry as much about those who have suffered at their hands. It is easier, for far too many people, to empathize with predators than it is to empathize with prey.
.. he has remained in control of the narrative. He gets to break the rules, and then he gets to establish rules of his own when he must answer for his misdeeds.
.. He should pay until he demonstrates some measure of understanding of what he has done wrong and the extent of the harm he has caused. He should attempt to financially compensate his victims for all the work they did not get to do because of his efforts to silence them.
- .. He should facilitate their getting the professional opportunities they should have been able to take advantage of all these years.
- He should finance their mental health care as long as they may need it.
- He should donate to nonprofit organizations that work with sexual harassment and assault victims.
- He should publicly admit what he did and why it was wrong without excuses and legalese and deflection.
.. Whatever private acts of contrition these men, and a few women, might make to their victims demands a corresponding public act of contrition, one offered genuinely, rather than to save face or appease the crowd. Until then, they don’t deserve restorative justice or redemption. That is the price they must pay for the wrong they have done.
Almost all religion and cultures that I know of have believed in one way or another that sin and evil are to be punished and that retribution is to be demanded of the sinner in this world—and usually the next world, too. Such retributive justice is a dualistic system of reward and punishment, good guys and bad guys, and makes perfect sense to the ego. I call it the economy of merit or “meritocracy.” This system seems to be the best that prisons, courtrooms, wars, and even most of the church (which should know better) appear equipped to do.
Jesus, many mystics, and other wisdom traditions—such as the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous—show that sin and failure are, in fact, an opportunity for the transformation and enlightenment of the offender. Mere counting and ledger-keeping is not the way of the Gospel. Our best self wants to restore relationships, and not just blame or punish. This is the “economy of grace.” (The trouble is that we defined God as “punisher in chief” instead of Healer, Forgiver, and Reconciler and so the retribution model was legitimized all the way down!)
What humanity really needs is an honest exposure of the truth and accountability for what has happened. Only then can human beings move ahead with dignity. Hurt needs to be spoken and heard. It does not just go away on its own. This can then lead to “restorative justice,” which is what the prophets invariably promise to the people of Israel (e.g., Ezekiel 16:53; Isaiah 57:17-19) and is exemplified in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and throughout his healing ministry. We lose that and we lose the Gospel itself.
The aim of restorative justice is to return the person to a useful position in the community. Thus, there can be healing on both sides. Such justice is a mystery that only makes sense to the soul. It is a direct corollary of our “economy of grace” and yet the term restorative justice only entered our vocabulary in the last few decades. How can we deny that there is an evolution of consciousness, even consciousness of where the Gospel is leading us?
As any good therapist will tell you, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge. What you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control from within, festering and destroying you and those around you. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus teaches, “If you bring forth that which is within you, it will save you. If you do not bring it forth, it will destroy you” (logion 70). 
Only mutual apology, healing, and forgiveness offer a sustainable future for humanity. Otherwise, we are controlled by the past, individually and corporately. We all need to apologize, and we all need to forgive or this human project will surely self-destruct. No wonder that almost two-thirds of Jesus’ teaching is directly or indirectly about forgiveness. Otherwise, history devolves into taking sides, bitterness, holding grudges, and the violence that inevitably follows. As others have said, “Forgiveness is to let go of our hope for a different past.” Reality is what it is, and such acceptance leads to great freedom, as long as there is also both accountability and healing forgiveness.
The bumpy path of Desmond Meade’s life meandered to its current interesting point. He is a graduate of Florida International University law school but cannot vote in his home state because his path went through prison: He committed non-violent felonies concerning drugs and other matters during the ten years when he was essentially homeless. And Florida is one of eleven states that effectively disqualify felons permanently.
Meade is one of 1.6 million disenfranchised Florida felons — more people than voted in 22 states in 2016. He is one of the 20 percent of African-American Floridians disenfranchised. The state has a low threshold for felonious acts: Someone who gets into a bar fight, or steals property worth $300 — approximately two pairs of Air Jordans — or even drives without a license for a third time can be disenfranchised for life.
.. What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement? Enhanced public safety? How? Is it to fine-tune the quality of the electorate? This is not a legitimate government objective for elected officials to pursue. A felony conviction is an indelible stain: What intelligent purpose is served by reminding felons, who really do not require reminding, of their past, and by advertising it to their community? The rule of law requires punishments, but it is not served by punishments that never end and that perpetuate a social stigma and a sense of never fully re-entering the community.
Why evangelicals give pride of place to penal substitutionary understandings of the Cross.
.. Evangelicals more than most are deeply moved by the notion that Christ died for us on a cross, that he was a substitute who suffered in our stead, that he endured a punishment we deserved.
.. To be sure, it has been framed sometimes in crude and even pathological ways. But it remains a way of looking at the atonement that deeply moves millions and draws them in grateful love to the one who hung on that cross.
.. reminding us of the many models of atonement alluded to in Scripture. Like the ransom model: We are held in the power of the devil until Christ died and freed us from his grip. And Christus Victor: The malevolent principalities and rulers of this age have been defeated by Christ on the cross. And the moral model: Seeing the lengths to which Christ went to demonstrate his love by dying on the cross, we respond in love.
Still, evangelical Christians believe there are persuasive theological reasons for privileging penal substitution among these and other models
.. The main reason is simply this: It makes intuitive sense to men and women of an evangelical disposition.
.. But they are not sophisticated theologians when they first find themselves astonished at hearing about what Christ has done for them on the cross.
.. They are grateful because they have, as we have noted in earlier essays, “an urgent sense of man’s predicament … a mood so deep that it could never be completely articulated.” The mood is despair, and the urgency comes from a foreboding: If the reason for this despair isn’t addressed, one is doomed. The despair is grounded by guilt and shame for transgressions against divine law, which evangelicals recognize not as an impersonal and arbitrary law, but one that is a direct expression of the Personality behind the law.
.. When we sin, we are keenly aware of the connection between the law of God and person of God. We have not merely violated a law but a person, and as such we are subject not just to punishment but also wrath, not merely just consequences but also rejection.
.. Many argue such notions are more akin to primitive religion that seeks to appease angry gods
.. The biggest problem is the sabotaging of trust; the teen has failed to respect, honor, and love his mother.
.. “The wages of sin is death”
.. What type of universe is this in which every day and relatively harmless behavior—lying, greed, pride, lust, and so forth—deserves eternal and irreversible damnation? Evangelicals respond, “This type of universe,” and point to common experiences with very much the same dynamic—relatively insignificant actions that result in horrific and lasting consequences.
.. A woodworker thoughtlessly moves his hand too close to the table saw blade, and in an instant, his hand is lost forever to him. A jogger glances at her cell phone and momentarily wanders onto a busy street; she is hit by a passing car, and after multiple operations, she is told she’ll never be able to run again. Why the world is built this way
.. where small lapses in physical laws can have such devastating consequences
.. evangelical Christians are also more comfortable than most in calling such consequences a form of punishment. To talk only about consequences drains the blood from the dynamic and moves us in the direction of deism, into a world where God sets up the moral and physical laws and steps away.
.. thus in Scripture, God reacts to sin less like a judge who impassively metes out justice, but more like a wounded lover who has been rejected. It’s very personal.
.. This personal dynamic is what gives substitutionary atonement such homiletic force, and why it is a staple of evangelical preaching, teaching, and devotion. Of all the models of atonement, it best reflects the personal God of the Bible
.. The punishment that results is not an arbitrary expression of a rejected lover’s wrath, but also an act that somehow balances the moral books. That is why forgiveness as a mere act of the will is not sufficient
.. Sins must be paid for, as a debt must be paid for. Why this is the case, why the moral universe operates in this way, is hard to say, another deep mystery of life.
.. An apology from her is all well and good, but you are not satisfied until your father adds that your sister can’t watch TV for a week. Punishment is part of the solution to this problem, and if there is no punishment, you feel like justice has been cheated.
.. Or take the trope that Hollywood regularly relies on in revenge movies. The screenwriters are appealing to something deep and basic in the human heart: When a great injustice has been done, retribution is due.
.. The villain rapes and murders a series of teenage girls; all through the movie, the viewer wants the villain not merely caught but punished, usually in some violent scene that leads to the villain’s death. In spite of the predictable fireworks and excessive violence, we keep coming to such movies precisely because we are deeply satisfied by the punishment of offenders.
.. Again, evangelicals see this dynamic at work at a spiritual level. Our sins cannot be swept away by the wave of a hand. They deserve death, and only by death can they be adequately paid for.
.. Again we’re tempted to think we’ve regressed to primitive religion, but once more, we look around to see this phenomenon all around us. It’s another regular trope of storytellers, who create “Christ figures” whose deaths liberate others.
.. This is a powerful motif not merely because it mimics the crucifixion but because we recognize a mysterious law of the universe in play: Sometimes the suffering and death of one key person—who is perceived as good and loving—transforms the lives and situations of others for the good, as the deaths of activists like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. suggest.
.. evangelical preachers have proven themselves more open-minded and ecumenical than their liberal brothers and sisters. Whereas the latter insist on completely eliminating substitutionary atonement—and especially penal substitution—as primitive and unworthy of the modern mind, evangelicals simply will not eliminate any of the other models, no matter their weaknesses (which each model has).
.. evangelicals give priority to substitutionary atonement; they see it as the one model that holds all the others together, making sense of each one. And many agree with Packer who, in the essay noted above, suggests that substitutionary atonement is not a theory as much as a model, not an ironclad explanation of the mysterious ways of God but a dramatic narrative
.. is not in any sense to “solve” or dissipate the mystery
.. the effect is simply to define that work with precision, and thus to evoke faith, hope, praise and responsive love to Jesus Christ.
.. Yes, the model has been abused. Some have explained it as if Jesus appeased the wrath of an angry Father who gleefully watched his Son tortured to death—as if the Father and the Son had two different wills about what was going on. Not quite. Substitutionary atonement grounded in good Trinitarian theology insists on the unity of purpose of the Father and the Son, since “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19, NASB). That is, God was enduring in his own self the divine wrath that we deserved—that I deserved.
.. Where Christus Victor, for example, is a wonderful model to describe cosmic redemption, substitutionary atonement is about my salvation: Christ died for me. It doesn’t get any more personal than that. And evangelical religion is nothing if not personal.