At about the time that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced the names of 61 prisoners who were granted pardon or commutation, I began reading Mitch Albom’s delightful book Have a Little Faith. As an unashamed advocate for prisoners, I was particularly touched by the true story of Pastor Henry Covington, whose earlier life was infected with crime in the drug culture. His conversion experience wasn’t all that much different than Saul of Tarsus, and he went on to form I AM MY BROTHER’S KEEPER CHURCH in Detroit. He spent the rest of his life feeding the poor and housing the homeless…at no charge, under any and all conditions, with no questions asked. Christianity in its rawest form.
And that reminded me of how little forgiveness we find in society today, and perhaps in our own lives.
Each time the Parole Board announces the name of a prisoner who is being released, we see a media frenzy, it seems. Details of the heinous crime of 40 years ago are regurgitated, and family members of the victim are interviewed. I do not mean to minimize the painful memories here. That wouldn’t be fair to the victims and their loved ones. But I wonder about their statements that they are still afraid, worry that the newly-released prisoner might harm them or someone, and that they can only feel closure if the inmate remains behind bars forever.
Parole Board members are not known for recklessly returning dangerous people into society.
What we’re seeing, time and again, is the denial that lives can be and are being changed.
We agree that Saul had a genuine conversion experience on the road to Damascus, as we recall that delightful Bible Story. But we must not ignore the fact that he was responsible for taking lives, and murder is murder. Yet, after this remarkable change in his life, he became a missionary, theologian, and author of numerous books of the Bible! Proof positive that God can and does change lives. That didn’t stop in 36 A.D.
Suggesting that a prisoner who committed a horrible crime 30-40 years ago has had a genuine change of life and a change of heart, and can be a productive citizen in 2019, is not a slap in the face to victims of crime and their families. It simply underscores the fact that if the life of Saul could be changed in the olden days, the life of Pastor Covington could be changed in modern times, it can still happen. These miraculous changes are what we pray for!
May God open our hearts and minds to the concept of forgiveness and acceptance.