Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Evil Person Assumption

I've spent a lot of years providing spiritual hope in jails and detention centers.  In the process I've become intimately acquainted with a lot of inmates.  I suppose I have met a few evil people behind bars, but the vast majority are not evil.  All have done evil things.  But that is not unique to prisoners.  All have done evil things.

Most prisoners are there for doing desperate, foolish, and dangerous things out of fear.  Most are coping with horrible circumstances, often beyond their control.  Most have poor coping skills.  Most are utterly uninformed about the means by which they might live more wholesome, healthy lives.  Many, and this will be the focus of this entry, are misinformed about why they behave as they do and what can be done about it.

Most prisoners believe they are evil.  This is the first big lie.  They've been taught to believe this about themselves by people and institutions, most, if not all of their lives.  Usually, it began with parents.  Parents who were also misinformed.  Parents who impatiently wanted convenient kids who didn't interrupt Mom and Dad's comfort and pleasure.  Any violation of which, presented punishment of some sort, and which spawned dishonesty and rebellion.  Shame was used on them as a weapon; not to develop their character, but to further their superior's convenience.  Schools, churches and other institutions then reinforced what they already believed about themselves.

Most prisoners believe they have no options.  They have been taught continually, to believe that their behavior is their problem.  They have no idea that beneath that behavior lie causes and conditions that they are inappropriately trying to cope with by their behavior.  In most cases these people have been "pierced with deep wounds" that have not been treated.  Coping with those wounds consumes them.  They turn to addictive behavior most commonly.  Something to numb the pain.  This leads to inability to remain employed, but demands feeding, leading to crime, homelessness, frustration, violence, and all the things that tend to land them in jail.

Most prisoners are living with despair.  Having tried and failed so many times in their lives.  They have given up hope of any viable alternative to the desperate, agonizing choices they feel compelled to make and repeat.

Many, many prisoners, find incarceration their best option.  Being locked up has it's perks.  They no longer have to cope with life.  At least the parameters and problems are confined to a smaller set of circumstances, with more defined boundaries, fewer opportunities to make mistakes, less danger of failure, and no need to provide shelter, food and companionship for themselves.

These are not evil people.  Confused, unprepared, uninformed, poorly nurtured, frustrated, angry, afraid?  Yes.  But not evil.

We all have contributed to this to the degree that we have hacked at the branches of their problems instead of at the roots.  We have caused this by standing upon our bully pulpits, having condemned them instead of their behavior.  We have created this by preaching the law and punishing it's violation, instead of preaching love and seeking to heal wounded hearts.

We have heaped guilt and shame upon them from our pulpits until we have driven them from our churches, when we should have been treating their wounds by binding up their broken hearts.  We've turned our religious institutions into good old boy clubs where we praise the "righteous" and condemn the sinners.  I assume because we couldn't be bothered and would rather not associate with their ilk anyway.  We are subtle masters at this.

In my own church it see it most Sundays.  We stand before our congregations and preach about the lofty lives we each ought to be living.  We cast judgement upon those who fail to meet our standards.  When do we ever consider that sitting within those congregations are suffering souls, who came to healed, not to have salt rubbed in their already agonizing wounds.  We are instructed to teach nothing but the Gospel.  Which is that Christ has come to Atone for our sins that He might heal our wounded souls.

Last Sunday for instance, we experienced a lengthy discussion on the keeping of covenants.  Apparently, it had never occurred to us that those who keep their covenants are those whose lives have been healed by the Master's touch.  And, that those who are not keeping their covenants, most of whom would love to, are so distracted by their pain and confusion that they cannot even think of doing so.  This while, we continue to fail to teach them, how to allow the Savior to help them with their problems, how to rely upon His grace, how to give their troubles, pains and problems to He who suffered all things that He might succor them.  Do you not suppose that they will make and keep sacred covenants, once they've been healed by the Master and are no longer distracted and crippled by their pain?  How does heaping upon them obligation and expectation, they cannot conceive of accomplishing, help them recover from the agony they are experiencing?

There is no sin in ignorance and confusion, but there is sin in keeping the simple truth from those who so desperately need it.  Institutionally, we do it for the same reason, poor parents do it.  For the convenience.  We want the problems to go away, so we do the most heinous, evil thing of all, we drive them away, rather than deal with them.  We shame them instead of loving them.  We treat symptoms instead of causes and conditions.  We label and judge and count ourselves righteous for having "better behavior."

My biggest fear is that we have among us, hurting, suffering individuals, who are adept at pretending they have it all together.  Who are so accomplished at this that they are elevated to positions of trust and praise.  Who could expect these to teach of healing they know nothing of, or to understand hurting souls, who are, unlike them, unable to fake it.  I was one such and it agonizes me to think of all the salt in rubbed into tender wounds, while pretending to have none of my own.

If we are to build Zion, if we are to emulate the Savior, if we are to fulfill our callings, we have need to quit measuring people and start lovingly leading them to the Healer.  The rest will take care of itself.  Lets stop assuming they are evil and start assuming they are hurt.  Let us stop applying condemnation and shame and begin applying the Balm of Gilead.  Please.

In the church we often preach of accountability.  While this is a correct principle in its proper context, too often we use it as triage to eliminate the "hopeless causes" so we can move on with our success.  If they never make into the hospital, they don't count against our progress.  It is God's intention to save all of His children.  Triage is utterly inappropriate in the Plan of Salvation.

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