Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who hare spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3, ESV
I watched the press conference yesterday morning in which the Philadelphia Eagles formally announced their signing of Michael Vick. There has been great public outrage since word leaked Thursday night that the Eagles had signed him to a two year deal. One person in Philadelphia wondered aloud on a radio program why Vick had not been executed for his role in a dogfighting ring. The fact that, as a society, we are more outraged at dog fighting than we are of child molestation or spousal abuse is outrageous to me, but that’s another subject for another time. What impressed me during this press conference was Michael Vick’s mentor and adviser, former NFL coach Tony Dungy. Coach Dungy is an outspoken Christian. In fact, one of the reasons cited for his decision to leave coaching was the fact that he wanted to have more time to contribute to the lives of young men who needed guidance and direction. He left a multi-million dollar job to pursue the work of mentor ministry.
The Eagles have been blasted in the media for giving a second chance to Vick when he hasn’t proven that he deserves one. Last time I checked, that’s why we called a “chance” and not a “guarantee.” Michael Vick doesn’t deserve a second chance. None of us do. But Coach Dungy didn’t provide Michael with a second chance, he extended to him the grace of Christ. He didn’t sit at his home in Tampa and pray that Vick would contact him. He went to Leavenworth and extended grace to him where he was. Grace doesn’t say, “There’s help available to you after you do this list of things to prove you deserve it.” Grace says, “You don’t deserve it, but I’m giving it to you anyway.” What Vick does with the grace extended to him is ultimately up to him. What we do with the grace extended to us by God is up to us.
I understand the world’s reaction to Vick; those in PETA who have set animal life as their idol have no concept of the grace and mercy of Christ to work in and change the life of a person. What I don’t understand are those who claim to be Christians who join in the verbal lynching of a man who has done what he can in the limited amount of time given to him to show himself to be broken and contrite. What he has done to “deserve a second chance” is that he has been willing to confess his sins, apologize for them, humbly speak out against them, and then allow a mentor to walk through life with him. I don’t know too many of us average joes who will allow someone to truly mentor us, for to be mentored you must first admit you don’t know it all and second, submit to the guidance of another.
Part of the problem with the prison system in America is that it is not truly designed to rehabilitate offenders. It’s used to mark them with the Scarlet Letter of “Felon” and then, as a pridefully blind society, we force them to carry that stigma for the rest of their lives. If you tell someone they’re nothing but a worthless ex-con enough times, they will believe you. Coach Dungy has set an example for his fellow Christians of how we should respond to those who have paid their debt to society and need to be brought back into society with the goal of making them productive members of society.
Mentoring takes time, it takes wisdom, it takes commitment. But it’s a command of Scripture that applies to the lowest of criminals, to the most famous of criminals and to everyone in between. After all, Scripture tells us that if you are guilty of breaking one law, you’ve broken them all in the eyes of God, so none of us is really aren’t any better than the dog abuser, the child molester, the thief, or the murderer. Before Christ, we are all criminals in the eyes of God, and we all need a mentor to guide us through this life.
Put in the wrong circumstances at the wrong time with the wrong people, I’m sure I would be capable of anything. May I never think so highly of myself to look upon anyone caught in sin and say, “That would never be me.” Such a self-righteous attitude is the first step down the slippery slope to entanglement in atrocious sin. I know. I’ve been there before, and it took someone willing to walk with me back up the dirty slope to get me out. And if, God forbid, there is another lesson I must learn in this life that must begin in the pit, I pray there is a Tony Dungy standing there who is willing to walk that road alongside me.