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31 July 2015

Shame or sympathy: What does Lord Sewel deserve?

Shame or sympathy: What does Lord Sewel deserve?

We all have our little foibles, but for most of us, snorting coke from a prostitute’s breasts is a step too far. Particularly when that person chairs the House of Lords’ privileges and conduct committee. Especially when that person brags about spending their allowance – which is of course taxpayers' money – on this kind of leisure pursuit. And it’s doubly not good when there’s some casual racism thrown in.

It’s fair to say I’m not feeling hugely compassionate towards Lord Sewel. He is involved in leading our country. He is involved in taking drugs that are made and transported in dubious, high risk scenarios, which leave a trail of warfare and death. He is involved in the commodification and objectification of women – just something to take drugs off, with their sexual proclivities defined by the continent of origin. I wonder how this man perceives his female colleagues? If you pay women for sex, it will affect how you perceive us and our role in the world more generally. Some policy makers and scholars say that we will never achieve gender equality while men can pay a woman for sex: they consider prostitution a form of violence against women. I’m definitely not feeling much compassion for this reckless, careless man, who seems to think and behave in such a noxious fashion.

But Jesus does.

And that’s a problem for me. I want to write Lord Sewel off. Especially since working in prisons, where many of the women have at some point been involved in prostitution, I have a lot of anger towards men that pay women for sex. I want to write them all off.

But Jesus doesn’t.

And while I’m here, I want to write off the unfaithful, the porn users and the pimps. Anyone involved in the objectification, oppression and degradation of other human beings. But I can’t because that is not what God calls me to do.

Because Jesus doesn’t.

And – let’s be honest – I’m describing some of my friends and community here. I too, at times, oppress and degrade others. Because even within the Church we discover we have leaders who cheat on their spouses, who are convicted for child pornography, who steal money and leg it. We have to get off our high horse and be more humble about stats around Christians divorcing or Christians who use porn. We have to get real about each of our capacities for sin and darkness, rather than splitting people off into pantomime goodies and baddies. We need to provide a space in the Church where our broken places can be nurtured into wholeness and not hidden in a never-ending spiral of shame. What is the appropriate response to sisters and brothers – inside and outside the Church - engaged in less-than-ideal behaviours that we’d rather pretend didn’t exist?

God created us for love, wholeness and freedom. So I don’t think He’s ok with taking coke and using prostitutes – these are the behaviours of bondage and brokenness. And yet, Jesus came for those of us in bondage, for the bruised reeds and the foolish. Jesus saw the social context that people operated in, that often contributed to their plight and responded in and to that context. Jesus changed the people he interacted with and treated each person as an individual with unique unmet needs. This challenges me deeply and my thoughts on Lord Sewel and others engaged in similar behaviours. Luke 6: 37-38 says: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” What is the measure of grace I’m prepared to give Lord Sewel? And how is my view of God – as predominantly punitive or gracious – having an impact on how I view my own sin and the sin of others?

God wasn’t in the fierce storm, He was in the still small voice. That still small voice of healing and freedom still whispers today. It whispers the radical chain-breaking fact that the cross is enough for us all and God’s love breaks prisons of pain, shame and addiction even now. God calls us to be like Jesus: to deal with people as individuals, to offer hope, to love people out of their shame. God calls us to examine the log in our own eye before picking out the speck in our neighbours’ and longs for us to reckon with his radical grace for our own hearts and lives before we start tinkering with – and judging – everyone else’s.

It’s hard. But there’s freedom in it.

Sara Hyde works with, and campaigns on, women in the criminal justice system