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Should ISIS brides be treated like the prodigal son?

Should ISIS brides be treated like the prodigal son?

Speaking to Christianity Today, Elizabeth Oldfield offers her perspective on forgiveness and justice in the case of Shamima Begum. 08.03.2019

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Elizabeth Oldfield, director of Theos Think Tank in London:

Forgiveness and reconciliation are deep themes of the Bible, thrumming in the DNA of the narrative. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a moving picture of God’s mercy, and though the story seems descriptive of God’s character, rather than prescriptive for us, elsewhere the ethic of interpersonal mercy is clear. Our instincts should always be forgiveness, mercy, and even non–retaliation or violence. Do not seek vengeance, it is mine to avenge, says the Lord, after all.

Should Begum or Muthana be a friend or family member of ours, the commandment would be clear. The state however, is another matter. Mercy and forgiveness are key themes, but so is justice. And when Scripture talks about the responsibility of a good state, justice is central. Scholars of all political persuasions agree that if you can extract one directly applicable political lesson from the Bible, it’s the need for access to justice.

The myriad victims of ISIS’ brutality, to which these two contributed, will likely never see most of their tormentors face justice. With these two women they can. Not as vengeance, cast out into the stateless darkness, but repatriated and tried. Though we can forgive, the victims if they wish can forgive, the state can and should not. That’s not its job. But nor does prison need to be the end. There, visitors, chaplains, and restorative justice programs (many heavily rooted in Christian thought) can still bring some measure of healing and rehabilitation. These two young women, made in the image of God and tragically misled, have a life left to live and should be allowed to rebuild it, once justice is done. Only God gets to decide the end of their story.

You can read the full Christianity Today article here.

Image from Twitter @CTmagazine.

Elizabeth Oldfield

Elizabeth Oldfield

Elizabeth is Theos’ Director. She appears regularly in the media, including BBC One, Sky News, and the World Service, writing in The Financial Times and delivering Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Posted 8 March 2019

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