I have not written about the sad, sad case of the bicyclist killed in a hit and run, apparently by the suffragan bishop of Maryland who was, reportedly, intoxicated and texting. That she had a previous DUI that was relatively under-known has also led to concern that this was a pattern.
There is no doubt that this is a tragedy on many levels, and many have responded with reflection. For example, our Bishop wrote a thoughtful letter to our Diocese calling us to mindfulness and care while driving, thinking about our relationship to alcohol in the church (and since he's big on clergy wellness, he will also incorporate that into clergy health and well-being) and about distractions especially while driving. As he wrote, "As your bishop, I should let voicemail do the work while driving and let driving be my singular work." That is good advice for all of us.
But I have been shocked at the near-vicious anger expressed on line about this sad event. Amongst comments I saw were those that didn't care if the offending Bishop were impoverished or left without insurance or locked up forever for the evil of her deed. I think most of us also agree that she is likely ill with the disease of alcoholism, which does not exonerate her of blame but also calls us to mercy.
Without further discussion of this particular case, I want to reflect on how we respond.
Revenge: the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands. We want an eye-for-an-eye, but then the whole world ends up blind. This desire comes from that place of anger and while it is a natural visceral response it is not what or who we are as moral, thoughtful people. It must be distinguished from
Retribution: punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved. There is a process that will occur, both legally and ecclesiastically. It is likely that there will be a substantial prison sentence which is a very grim prospect for anyone, as well as of course losing job and orders is inevitable, I'm sure. But this is incomplete without
Rehabilitation : to restore (someone) to health or normal life by training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness. As well as punishment, prison time is supposed to rehabilitate. Shouldn't our goal as a society be to return the transgressor to being a full restored member of the community? I find it interesting that in other countries, for example, Norway, there is no such thing as a life sentence even for murder (though someone perceived to be a continuing danger can be kept incarcerated due to mental health reasons). That means that they must turn their attention to re-incorporating the person into the body of society, accepting they have paid their debt, and achieving
Redemption: the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil; clearing a debt. Redemption requires forgiveness, from inside and outside. It is not an erasure of the action, but accepting responsibility, and moving forward. Aren't we all frequent sinners, if you will? Not one of us is perfect. Shouldn't our aim be to redeem our fellows and welcome them back to our midst? Shouldn't we aspire to forgive?
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
Merchant of Venice, IV:i