To those on the outside, Jerry Sandusky's systematic assaults against 10 boys over a 15-year period appear clear cut – he is a monster who deserves to be locked up, and in some minds, die and be sent directly to hell. But instead of whooping over the fact that Sandusky, 68, will likely die behind bars, voices appealing to God's grace say Christians ought to take a good look in the mirror.
Dr. Vincent Bacote, associate professor of Theology and director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College, shared with The Christian Post that Christians need to remember that all sins are offensive to God.
"Any of us, because of our sins, deserve to be separated. It (sin) can make people do things that we think are unimaginable," Bacote explained. "We have to ask the question: 'what is it that has kept me from doing the unimaginable?' And some people need to ask: 'what are those things even about me now that if the conditions were right I would do something unimaginable?'"
Everyone has a shameful past, said Pastor Chad McComas of Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford, Ore.
"Probably if every one of us had to come (to church) with a list of all the things we've done in the past we might be shocked of who's actually in the congregation," he told CP. "Whether a sex offender is part of the past or not, we all have skeletons that we are so glad is our past and not our present."
According to McComas, the Christian church often does a poor job of emulating God's grace.
"I have conditional grace at times. And I think the church has conditional grace and I think our model is always to say 'do we give people what they have earned or what they need?' They've all earned condemnation, I've earned condemnation. What I need from God is grace. And the church has to learn how to give grace without being stupid, of course, but we have to give grace for a person [willing to] change."
It remains unclear if Sandusky has expressed any repentance, which is for many observers the sole motivation for any extension of grace. Recent reports reveal, however, that he maintains his innocence and plans to appeal the conviction. Neither is it clear to the public what kind of relationship the former Penn State football coach may have with Christ, as he and his wife Dottie Sandusky have worshipped for years at St. Paul's United Methodist Church – where their pastor, Ed Zeiders, recently called on congregants to "pray for all of those who are victims and all of those who are predators." Pastor Zeiders declined to speak with The Christian Post about Sandusky's case.
The Rev. Jerry Hancock, director of the Prison Ministry Project at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Madison, Wis., is convinced that "no one is beyond God's grace or our concern."
Hancock's ministry, whose volunteers have reached out to prison inmates more than 2,000 times in the past six years, is shaped by Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, as well as his remarks in Matthew 25 on "the final judgment," in which his believers are commended for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned.
In the Matthew 25 teaching, "Jesus says as Christians we will be judged by how we treat 'the least of these,' including people in prison," Hancock said in a statement to CP.
The "least of these" undoubtedly include children, who are defenseless against and dependent on the adults in whose care they have been entrusted.
The emotional and graphic testimonies made by Sandusky's victims, now young men, revealed that not only had they been taken advantage of during the most vulnerable phases of their lives, but that other adults who never laid a hand on them re-victimized them by choosing to look the other way.
"The monstrosities committed by Jerry could not have gone on for decades without the willful neglect of hundreds in the community to pursue justice," writes Mike Niebauer, deacon of Redeemer Anglican Parish in Chicago.
"Every blind eye turned, every awkward conversation avoided, every assumption that someone else was dealing with the problem, every passing on of responsibility to higher ups, is a crime against God and the victims," Niebauer adds.
Suggesting that God's empathy to suffering and "savagery" lies in the abuse suffered by Jesus during his crucifixion, Neibauer, a State College native, insists that "God continues to mourn along and with those who turn to Him. The Good News is that this mourning does not exist forever."
And Jerry Sandusky?
"Do we say he just needs to be in confinement all by himself and no one should talk to him for the rest of his life? Or if Christians are people who believe that the Gospel is a gospel of grace to sinners – what does that mean?" questioned Dr. Bacote. "And what does it mean in terms of making the case that the Gospel is good news for all sinners, not just everyone except for the Hitlers of our world?"
Touching on the Gospel account of the woman caught in adultery, Pastor McComas commented on Jesus sending the unnamed woman away and telling her to "sin no more."
"Someone taught me years ago that that's the only way we can go sin no more – is that we're not condemned. If I'm condemned, I'll just keep sinning – why change? But if God comes along and says, 'I don't condemn you, now go (and) sin no more,' I have freedom to start all over," he said.
"That's where the Church I think has to be – where we say 'we're not going to condemn you for your past, we're now going to believe for your future.'"
That's what Jesus, seen as Lord and Savior by those who believe in him, would do, McComas suggested.
The pastor noted that this is the same Jesus who put a thief – Judas, his disciple and eventual betrayer – in charge of the treasury.
"I don't really have the answer for that except that God has amazing grace and He knew what He was going to do with that," said the Oregon minister.