Thursday, October 01, 2009

On "Roman the Rapist"

Susan Estrich, law professor, feminist commentator, and probably most famously, chief operative in Michael Dukakis' failed bid for the presidency in 1988, has a devastatingly accurate brief on why director Roman Polanski, convicted rapist and long-time fugitive from justice, should be extradited from Switzerland to the United States.

Estrich does a good job of covering all the reasons why Polanski, who, as a 43-year old, enticed a 13-year old girl to the home of Jack Nicholson, with promises of a photo shoot, then gave her Qualuudes and alcohol to rape her, should have to come back to the States and do time.

Just one point from my perspective as a Christian pastor, though. Much has been made of the fact that Polanski's victim, now in her forties, settled her civil law suit with Polanski and has said she doesn't believe the director should be extradited.

Depending on her motives, it's healthy, probably, that Polanski's victim has forgiven him. The most common word for forgive in the original Greek of the New Testament is aphiemi, which literally means, I release.

Forgiveness involves release not only for the perpetrator of a wrong, but also for the one who is violated. We all know the energy required to hold grudges even for small misdeeds or perceived ones.

Jesus teaches Christians to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." He also tells those who would follow Him that if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive us; our insistence on putting ourselves in the place of God builds a wall between God and us.

If Polanski's victim is sincere in her forgiveness, more power to her. I hope that she really does feel released, freed, from the debasing act to which a famous, powerful man subjected her. I hope that she has been freed from the bitterness and self-loathing which so many rape victims experience after being so inhumanely violated.

But, again, from a Christian perspective, forgiveness is one thing, accountability is another. At an interpersonal level and under civil law, Polanski is no longer liable for his action. As a Christian, I also believe that were he to repent and believe, as Jesus calls all of us to do, he would also be forgiven in the eyes of God.

Yet, he would still be accountable. We are each of us accountable to one another and to the laws that exist in the countries in which we live or visit.*

An example of how a person can be forgiven, yet remain accountable, which I've talked about here many times before, involves Pope John Paul II and the man who tried to assassinate him, Mehmet Ali Agca. Months after the Pope had recuperated and Agca had been convicted, John Paul visited his assailant in prison. Agca asked the Pope for forgiveness. The Pope gave his forgiveness. Then, the Pope drove back to the Vatican, while Agca remained imprisoned to serve out the balance of his sentence.

We see similar comingling of forgiveness and accountability in many other places in life. The parents of most teens have probably already forgiven their children for breaking curfew even before the kids let down their indignation. But moms and dads know that they still have to impose the promised grounding.

By giving this last example, I don't mean to trivialize Roman Polanski's crimes. With malice aforethought, he raped a young girl, was convicted for his crime, and when negotiations for a reduced sentence didn't go the way he wanted them to go, he fled the country.

No matter how talented some people may think Polanski is, he is a criminal. He must be accountable for his crimes, even if his victim and God Himself forgive him.

[UPDATE: Rick Sanchez's comments regarding Whoopi Goldberg's indefensible defense of Roman Polanski.]

*Of course, there is such a thing is civil disobedience, challenging unjust laws. But Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., the two most obvious proponents of this approach, we always willing to be arrested for their views. Further, I don't think that Polanski was trying to make a point for human freedom when he raped an underage girl.

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