Crime and Punishment

I read a short article today detailing some of the crimes of a pastor from Iowa. His crimes were ugly – having sex with young men, one of whom was only fourteen, and claiming that it was to help them become sexually pure in the eyes of God. There are plenty of anti-gay groups out there, and they’re all wrong, but having homosexual relations with kids in order to cure them of homosexuality is way out in front of the ‘harmful ways to try and change an inherent part of a person’ pack.

What the man did was vile. He raped teenagers repeatedly under the guise of helping them, using and abusing their trust and his position of power. It’s sick. I could throw adjectives at this for a long time, and then it would be time to create new words for it. It was incredibly wrong. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

The article had a comments section, and the commenters were asked what punishment they think would be appropriate if the man was convicted. The comments were not as ugly as the crime, but they were still distasteful.

Send him to a prison with people that will rape him! . . . That makes us no better than him. That makes us in favour of rape if we don’t like the victim for whatever reason. The Geneva Convention makes rape in the course of war a war crime. Rape in the course of Justice is just as bad. Rape is bad. Fullstop. No exceptions.

Castrate him! Without anaesthetic, preferably! . . . what kind of monsters do we want to be, that we would subject a man to that kind of pain? Yes, what he did was sick, and I can even understand the idea of chemical castration for sex offenders. But taking a blade to a man’s most sensitive parts is barbaric.

Crucify him! It was good enough for Jesus! . . . Do we really and to get into the business of death for sex offenders? It’s far too easy to execute an innocent man. I understand some of the thinking around the death penalty, and I understand that it would be cheaper economically to execute the worst criminals. Even if it was decided that the death penalty was to be the sentence for this type of crime, do we want to emulate one of the most tortuous methods of execution in the ancient world? ‘Barbaric’ starts to be an understatement. We have moved on from those bloodthirsty times.

He should be drawn and quartered, with a fifth rope added for his penis! . . . You call this man sick, and then you come up with this?! Just because it’s in the name of Justice, doesn’t make it any less abhorrent. This ‘punishment’ makes the punishers worse than the criminal.

Justice is hard. Matching a crime to a punishment is hard, especially when the only options open are fines, community service, jail, or death. Are we trying for punishment, deterrent, or rehabilitation? It’s difficult to choose rightly.

There are always complaints that the judicial system is corrupt, biased, or too gentle on serious offenders. But it’s there for a very good reason, a reason these comments show. People can be cruel and bloodthirsty, and mob justice is rightly feared. We need a judicial system to help us not fall into barbarity.

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