When members of the 400 Mawozo gang kidnapped 17 missionaries in Haiti last month, they not only broke the law, they also stirred up the wrath of civilized people worldwide (5 of those kidnapped are children, 1 an infant). One group, however, is choosing a different response to the outrageous crime. The Amish and Mennonite families of the victims are praying for the captors.
Their roots are in the Anabaptist tradition. Anabaptist history is rife with stories of persecution and martyrdom. Many of the hymns in their hymnal, the “Ausbund,” were written in 16th century prisons. The themes they sing about in their weekly services are heavy on loving and forgiving one’s enemies. Thus, many of these Christians naturally and easily offer forgiveness to the captors.
This can cause distress among some who fear that this forgiveness can minimize the need to see justice done to criminals—especially abusers. Often, victims of sexual abuse in these Anabaptist-tradition congregations are forced to reconcile with their abusers after a minimal amount of punishment and rehabilitation. The tension between law and grace can be palpable in these communities, and this latest kidnapping situation in Haiti once again brings that friction to the surface.
The tension between law and grace in Christianity has caused contention since the days of Paul, even though the law implied God’s grace from the beginning. In fact, Deuteronomy 10:12-13
suggests that even the giving of the law was in itself an act of grace. God’s only requirement of us, according to this passage, is simply that we love and serve God with our whole being.
The benefit we receive when we live by God’s laws and decrees, according to the Hebrew phrase “letov lak,” is that it is “for your own good.” Living with God, and for God, is in our own best interest. The law acts as a boundary of protection not only for the victims, but also for the abusers themselves.
The question for us in all this is how will we treat others? It’s often easy to say that we should always forgive people when they sin against us—indeed, according to Matthew 6:14-15
we are required to do that. How, then, do we extend grace to abusers? How do we fulfill the directive to forgive and yet protect ourselves, and others, from further abuse?
We offer grace when we forgive, and at the same time we can help the abusers by upholding the law, holding them accountable, and preventing them from committing further crimes for their own good.