If you haven’t joined the ranks of the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve binge watched Making a Murderer on Netflix since December, then…well…I guess that leaves you still in the ranks of the hundreds of millions of people who haven’t, and that’s fine, so don’t worry about it. Regardless of if you’ve seen it or not, you most likely know that the documentary focuses on the question of Steve Avery’s innocence in the murder of a young woman named Teresa Halbach.
Spanning 10 episodes, the film paints a largely one-sided picture of an innocent man from underprivileged means who, after being wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime and serving 18 years in prison, is, upon release and exoneration, framed by the police and given a patently unfair trial. I admit that I was very drawn in by the series. I took great joy trying not to scream at the screen at 1am whilst I watched an episode on my phone under a pillow next to my sleeping wife. It was fun to be drawn in by a well-told story and also to get to cry “OUTRAGE” for ten hours. It sparked multiple conversations with friends–and one Apple Store worker–as to the nature of innocence and the broken justice system.
At one point, when asked if I liked it, I replied, “It made me want to quit everything in the world and become a lawyer so that I could devote the rest of my life to heroically and single-handedly correcting our broken judicial system.” So, yeah, I liked it. I found myself wanting to somehow get in touch with Steve (yep, the film makes you feel like you’re on a first-name basis with him) and let him know that there are people who care about his plight, isolated as he may feel in there.
However, at some point last week, I began to ask a myself the question lurking in the dark behind the series’ overt message of defending the innocent: what about the guilty ones? So much of the show’s power comes from the unfairness of it all. The tale of the man just trying to live his life combined with the critically wounded mechanism of justice create the perfect storm of righteous anger for us, and it is fine and good that it does so.
As Christians, though, we aren’t supposed to stop at defending the innocent; we’re supposed to press on into the realm of extreme and acknowledged guilt. God has a pretty clear history of approaching the traitors with compassion, welcome, and, honestly, even trust. Just think Judas. Or Peter. Or me.
It’s so simple and affirming to stop at the truth of “well, they got themselves into that situation…”, when we’re actually supposed to move past that into things like “…and so have I, a million times” or “…and I am the chief of sinners”.
If Steve Avery is innocent, then it would be odd for anyone not to be on his side. It doesn’t take Christianity or love to ally yourself with the wrongfully accused. It is the heart of Christianity, though, to leave the safety of innocence and take the pain and suffering of someone else’s guilt upon yourself. It is in the DNA of every Christian to place themselves at the crime scene, to incriminate themselves by our associations, and to glaringly remind the accusers and the accused that nothing can separate them from God’s love.
Yesterday, we celebrated Paul’s encounter with Christ, and subsequent conversion, on the road to Damascus. We know him so well as “The Apostle” Paul that we can very quickly and easily forget that he began as an extremely violent and guilty man. According to the Book of Acts, Paul “…began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3) Paul met Christ when he was guilty. God loved him and reached out to him when he was in his sin. We should strive to do the same in our lives.
This is the Year of Mercy, when we are being exhorted daily to offer God’s startling grace and compassion to the world in an overt and intentional way. Taking Matthew 25 as our springboard, we’re encouraged to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and bury the dead.”
Please note that nowhere in the passage does it specify to do these things to those who are in their situation through no fault of their own. The hungry and thirsty are worthy of food and drink no matter why they’re hungry or thirsty. The naked deserve clothing whether they’re guilty or pure. And on and on.
As Christians in this year of mercy, we’re asked never to rest on our laurels, but instead, to offer up each crevice and compartment of our lives and hearts to the mission of relaying God’s love to the most broken, the hardest hit, and those with the greatest guilt.
The degree and intensity to which we respond should mirror the degree and intensity of the wrongdoing. If someone tosses a mild slam against you, a mildly loving response would make sense. The response to something more heinous, say a double murder, could look something like Agnes Furey’s:
Even if we are not the ones directly impacted by someone’s fall into sin and guilt, we bear within us the capability to respond with invasive love. Like Mr. Cavins:
I encourage you, starting today–starting right now!– to actively locate the guilty ones in your corner of the world and, instead of reminding them of the guilt they are already assured of, lavish attention, love, service, and sacrifice on them. As Micah 6:8 commands us, “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”.
Fight to preserve the innocent, but fight just as hard to restore the guilty.
As Christ does for you.