Believe it or not
By Dr. Robert R. Kopp
Walter (Chip) P. Oswald, Jr., a child of Bethany Presbyterian Church and greater Rockford, has petitioned Governor George H. Ryan for executive clemency. Chip committed horrific crimes as a teenager; murdering two men who were created to experience and enjoy the beauty and bounty of life. He usurped divine prerogative, deciding in league with darkness who should live and die. He robbed their families of touch, sight and other blessings. He brought tears to the eyes of Jesus.Nearly 15 years later, I support Chips petition because I believe in the redemptive ethic of Christianity and bear no doubts that he meets its demanding standards. Succinctly, Christians believe in existential as well as eternal redemption through confession (admitting sin) and repentance (turning from sin and changing the direction of your life from darkness to light): If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9). We believe people can be born again; or be so new, fresh, and different from before that they appear to be regenerated (see John 3). And because our Lord redeems (restores) relationships through this process, His followers are expected to respond accordingly: Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).
As a former police chaplain with a background in penal reform dating back to seminary over a quarter of a century ago, I am neither naive, precipitous, nor indiscriminate in my concern for Chips past, present and future. Indeed, prior to spending the time to get to know him personally and review his case professionally, I was naturally skeptical. But after a thorough assessment coupled with countless conversations in the church and community, I am convinced he can be a productive citizen sooner than later. Again, I come from a religious persuasion which affirms redemption after confession and repentance. Even cursory contact with Chip now compared to then compels the most cynical to conclude he is a changed man with the potential to contribute to society; particularly pertaining to our need for folks who have been there to enable younger folks from going there. Summarily, if Chip does not qualify for executive clemency, I cannot imagine anyone qualifying.
One question remains for us. Do followers of Jesus accept His verdict on redemptive realities? Ive spent enough time around politicians in church and society to know what is redemptive doesnt always count to those perspiring to get pew and public votes. Principles are often abandoned to the highest bidder. (Isnt there a word for that?) Thats why Ive been sober in my evaluation that whats right within the context of Christianity isnt always popular or possible in a world which winks at Jesus when personal passions and prejudices collide with His ethic. Though this may be salt that stings on an open infidelity, anyone who does not honor our Lords redemptive intentions for the confessionally repentant in existential as well as eternal life should reconsider the veracity of their Christianity.
I expect to be excoriated for this witness by many; but Ive learned something very important over the years. Im going to live a lot longer with Jesus than anybody else, and that makes establishing priorities a no brainer. Jesus died for existential and eternal redemption. Thats why I support Chips petition. As a Christian, I believe in the saving power of our Lord here and now as well as hereafter. Anything alien to this ethic is alien to Christianity.
Dr. Robert Kopp is the pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church, Loves Park.