Cecil and Justice

CecilsmThe news last week about Cecil the Lion was tragic. If the allegations that the hunter and his guides intentionally lured Cecil out of an animal preserve to shoot him illegally are true, I hope that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Poaching needs to be stopped.

But I found the global response to this news story more disturbing than the poaching itself. Here are just a few of the responses that were directed toward dentist and hunter, Walter Palmer:

“I’d gladly hunt him for free.”

“He should rot in a cell in Zimbabwe for the rest of his life.”

“Burn in hell murderer.”

Some even celebrated that at about the same time another big game hunter was crushed to death by a young bull elephant, as if this death might balance the scales of justice.

Throughout the week I kept coming back to a story in John’s gospel about a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8). The religious leaders lined up to stone the woman to death, but Jesus said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” They all dropped their stones and walked away.

I wonder how many children died of starvation in Africa the day of Cecil’s death, while I casually threw perfectly good food into the garbage.

But it’s more than that. There is a growing trend to shame and humiliate people through social media for their failures. And the more we tuck into this viral feeding frenzy the more deeply we imprison ourselves in fear and shame. The more we create a culture in which people are crushed for their failures the more we are driven to hide our own guilt and shame from others. That creates a toxic community in which grace and forgiveness become endangered species.

Those who break the law should be brought to justice, but at the end of the day God’s justice is less about punishing and more about restoring the sinner. And not just for the sake of the sinner. For the sake of all of us.

How did you respond to news story about Cecil? How do we balance justice with Jesus’ words about casting the first stone?

Jeff Marian is lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota

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  • Vicki

    Thank you for reminding me about my neighbor. I couldn’t put my finger on why all the fb rhetoric bothered me, but your insightful words were spot on!