Friday, March 20, 2009

In the News: Pastor Under Fire

While reading the headlines the other day I came across one that might as well have jumped off the screen at me:

New England Town Outraged After Pastor Takes In Child Killer

Of course I clicked and read. You should too, because the headline (while purposely worded to strike fear and generate interest) isn't really as accurate as it could be. In a nutshell, Rev. David Pinckney offered 60-year-old convicted felon Raymond Guay a place to live temporarily, when he was paroled and had nowhere to go. Part of Guay's criminal record includes the murder of a 12 yr old boy in 1973 when Guay was 25 years old, as well as a later kidnapping charge in another case, and assault charge in yet another, in 1991. Apparently 1991 is where his criminal activity ends. What initially struck me about the article itself, is that the media purposely focuses on Guay's most outrageous crime of murdering a child in 1973, while downplaying the fact that it WAS 1973, and that his criminal history ends 18 years ago.

I'm not someone who's spent a lot of time around criminals. I know it was just a line in a movie but I think there's some real wisdom and logic in it when Red goes before the parole board in Shawshank Redemption and finally just tells them he doesn't really care anymore if they deny his parole, and explains that what he did as a young, stupid kid so many years ago was a horrible thing. He says he is not the man he was all those years ago, and that if he could go back and talk to that young man he certainly would. I would have to assume a lot of convicted felons feel the very same way, when they look back at who and what they were as young men or women. Fact is, young people do things that older, wiser people just don't do. Fact is, people grow up and people are almost never the same at 60, as they were at 25.

That was just my initial reaction to the story. Far more important are the details of the Pastor's decision and the personal testimonies of who Raymond Guay is today, in 2009.

According to a letter Pastor Pinckney released to the media after his decision to take Guay in, he did it because it's simply the Christian thing to do. Now, that blows a lot of people away. If I were to be honest, it leaves me a little bit unsettled as well. Not unsettled because this man is doing the Christian thing, but unsettled because I'm not so sure I'd make the same decision and extend that same mercy if I were in this pastor's shoes. No question it would be a very difficult decision to make in light of Raymond Guay's criminal and violent past.

I can only assume the decision was made a little easier by Pastor Pinckney's very own words when he was quoted: "Pinckney insists that his life “has been on a very different course” since becoming a follower of Jesus Christ in 1993". Raymond Guay was referred to pastor Pinckney by Al Lamorey, who served as Guay's pastor in prison for 10 years.

Now lets think about this for a moment. As Christian people we will all attest to the very same statement that pastor Pinckney's church website has issued which reads in part "We believe in the power of God to save and change people, both inside and outside prison walls". As believers, we know this is true and our very lives are testimonies of it. Some of us were as "bad" as Guay. Some of us were druggies, some were prostitutes, some were child abusers, some were thieves, others were liars, and the list goes on for a trillion miles. All of us were wretched, rotten sinners who's god was self and self was #1. While not all believers were convicted criminals in the eyes of society before conversion to Christ, every unbeliever was guilty of the sin of rebellion against God.

Raymond Guay, for the past 10 years at least, has been under the pastoral care of a prison pastor who has seen the fruit of Guay's "jailhouse religion" as its commonly known as. He has watched him grow in grace, mature in Christ, and seems convinced of this man's true conversion. I haven't had the same pastor for 10 years, but I would certainly hope that my own pastor would be able to say the same about me. According to everything I've read on this in the past few days (and I've read everything I can find), not only is Raymond Guay NOT the same man he was at 25 when he killed that boy, he is not the same man he was when he committed his subsequent crimes until 1991. From all testimonies I can find, the power of the Holy Spirit changed this man in 1993, and he is a new creation in Christ Jesus. This, according to those who've spent the most time with him and know him better than anyone else.

Now with that said, comes the outrage of the local community that this ex-con is in their midst. If in fact Guay is a changed man, these people have absolutely nothing to fear. The problem is, the local community members that are understandably (from their perspective) outraged do not know or understand the depth and the totality of this kind of power of God to truly change someone. If they knew it and understood it, they would not be reacting the way they are.

One thing I find interesting is how unbelievers react to what Christians do. Unbelievers are the first ones to cry HYPOCRITE and mock the Christian faith when a pastor makes headline news because he's done something wrong, and yet unbelievers are also the first ones to cry foul when a pastor makes headline news when he does something entirely in line with Christian teaching, as in this case. It would appear Christians can't win for losing, in our society.

If in fact Raymond Guay is a genuine believer (and I only say it that way due to the fact that I don't know these people and can only gather as much from what the media is reporting - I do not intend to insult anyone's faith in Christ), then what took place is one Christian brother extending a hand of mercy to another Christian brother in need. This is exactly what the Scriptures instruct us to do, and exactly what takes place in Christian congregations & fellowships around the world, every single day. This is simply what we do, because we should and the Scriptures tell us it's the good and Christlike thing to do.

I have to wonder though, if this pastor was your pastor, and this was your church in the news, how would you react to all of this? As a Christian, would you support your pastor's decision to take in a man with a past like Guay's? These are thought questions more than anything else, because it's certainly given me serious pause for thought these past few days. This is where we put feet to our faith, and actually DO what the Scriptures instruct us to do. This is practical Christianity being lived out, in a culture that truly hates god, is filled with creatures denying their Creator, and where Christianity is fair game in the media and the society at large for routine mockery and disdain.

So what if this was my pastor, this my church, and this my community? Tough questions to wrestle with but important ones, I think.

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