Mercy and love looks different than we think
Assuming all legal obligations and consequences have been enforced, Christians can help abusers by offering them true mercy and love in the form of relational and communal confrontations and consequences. For example, we cannot force someone to change their abusive thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. But if we are prepared, we can confront and challenge abusers when these symptoms emerge.
Plus, we must remember that all abuse is always about power and control. Therefore, unrepentant abusers will (often secretly) despise every moment of our mercy and love since our knowledge of their sinful bent, and our commitment to their emotional and spiritual health will inoculate us against their controlling tactics.
In other words, mercy and love towards abusers is manifested in requiring and enforcing them to adhere to behaviours that go against every distorted belief, thought, and attitude they have. We must require they walk the walk of repentance and suffer consequences when they step off the path. This type of mercy and love is painful and difficult. Transformation and healing will not occur in any other way.
In Telling Secrets, Frederick Beuchner illustrates real mercy and love in the story of his daughter’s anorexia. Beuchner loves his daughter deeply, yet his attempts to help her heal were inadequate. Her transformation began when others stepped in with legal consequences to require his daughter heal in a specialized environment. He writes, “Those men and women were not haggard, dithering, lovesick as I was. They were realistic, tough, conscientious, and in those ways… loved her in a sense that I believe is closer to what Jesus meant by love than what I had been doing. God loves in something like their way, I think.”
We must learn to love abusers, including Mark Driscoll, as God loves. We may think this means merely offering compassion, forgiveness, and restoration without significant consequences. But it doesn’t. We need a shift in perspective.
Consider the Mars Hill staff, pastors, and members that have experienced or witnessed Driscoll’s abusive patterns of behaviour and have brought his behaviours to light. Are they divisive? Unforgiving? Vindictive? Perhaps they are truly loving Driscoll, his family, and all who attend Mars Hill through their refusal to be shamed into silence, their online and in-person protests, and their insistence that Driscoll step down from leadership and attend to his repentance.
To offer mercy and love to Driscoll and other abusers means requiring repentance and enforcing consequences that are specific to each situation.
For like the rest of humanity, abusers will only do the difficult work of transformation when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. Therefore the job of an abuser’s church leadership and community is not to close ranks around the abuser, protecting them from accusations and offering public defenses, nor is it to shallowly love them with applause and cheap grace.
Instead, true love and mercy is to guarantee that the pain of staying the same will be more painful than the pain of changing.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Mars Hill Church Seattle.