The controversy arose from the views of one man who had watched a television show based on a sting operation set up by the producers. Those caught in the sting had been lured online by false promises from underage girls--and, I believe, boys--into a trap where they were greeted with TV cameras and cops instead of their intended victims. I happen to think the ethics of the network in this television event were in themselves debatable--no matter how despicable the targets--but leave that question aside: the man who initiated our controversy was enraged by the abusers--so much so that he emailed out a proposal that we use available information in police records about sex offenders to exclude them from participating in our common work.
Having observed the exchange of a good number of heated emails, I decided that I needed to step in. My own response follows, lightly edited to protect identities:
I have been abstaining from the conversation about child abusers initiated this past week for a variety of reasons--not least because I'm averse to getting into no-win arguments! I have been disturbed by the exchange, however, and
want to add a piece or two that I have not heard voiced.
What concerns me is the tenor of certain comments, not primarily their content--though I will say that I too was amongst the victims of sexual abuse as a child and speak with the authority of that first-hand (sorry: no pun intended!) experience. Some of us have a powerful and passionate voices, which risk creating in this case the impression of a lack of compassion. I trust that is not true. The spiritual path I have chosen in my own life teaches compassion for all living beings as a bottom-line value, and I aspire to practice it even for those I loathe, fear, or distrust; compassion even for those I judge to be evil.
That said, insofar as our training weekends are concerned, or for the organization at large, I feel deeply uncomfortable about taking it upon ourselves to troll through police or other records to identify undesirables of any kind. Should we start this practice, where would we stop? At those who have killed, no
matter their motivations? Wife-beaters? Those who have stolen? Those who have spent time in jail? There might be men amongst us who would be delighted to exclude gays, judging their sexual proclivities to be sinful.
Lastly, what if we don't--or can't, as one man says--"cure" them? What is lost in our having included the worst of the worst of men, the child abusers? We have no children on our weekends. There is no danger of molestation. No pederast will infect me, or convert me to his ways. Are they any more likely, for having taken part in our training weekend, to go out and molest again? Or, just possibly, less? I hope the latter. At the very least, by including them, we will have done no harm. We will instead have exercised that quality that is too much missing in the world outside our weekends: compassion.
Our Buddhist teacher made his monthly visit to our meditation group yesterday, Bush, and I referred the matter to him. I was interested particularly in his thoughts about forgiveness--an issue one of us involved in the controversy had raised: were men capable of such evil worthy of forgiveness? And then, of course, the next step: are we to forgive monsters like Hitler, Stalin, and their ilk? In response, our teacher pointed to the distinction between "forgiveness," which goes one way and does not require the participation of the offender; and "reconciliation," which requires some admission of guilt and a desire to make amends. As for the question of exclusion, he asked simply: "Where else are they to go?"
So much for Monday morning, Bush. Just thought the debate might be of interest to you. Good luck with that speech tonight. It looks like a lose-lose proposition for you with your Republicans, but who knows?