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May 26, 2009

The proof is in the penitent

Brotherston When Billy Barclay's mother saw her son's killer on TV singing praise songs, the only thing she could find in her heart was disgust. Apparently, convicted killer Garry Brotherston became a Christian in prison and is now openly discussing his conversion on Christian TV. But, for Billy's mom, it doesn't sit right.

“There is nothing that he can say that will convince me he’s a Christian," she told the Clydebank Post.

If we believe anything at Prison Fellowship, it's that people can change--that bank robbers can become philanthropists, that drug dealers can become pillars of society, and that murderers can become peacemakers. But ... it must start with repentance. And that means not simply repenting before God, but also repenting before those one has most grievously injured--in this man's case, to the family of his victim.

Brotherston's transformation might indeed be sincere, but the proof lies in actions of remorse and repentance. In an interview, Brotherston claimed to think of his victim's family every day. But has there been a letter of apology? Nada. Has there been any attempt at communication? Zip.

In Catherine's As We Forgive, we learn of a man named John who waits more than 10 years to seek forgiveness from a woman whose father he had murdered during the Rwandan genocide. At first, the woman--Chantal--rebukes him in her anger, accusing him of false repentance. But John doesn't leave the apology there--he follows up by visiting Chantal to help her cultivate her land, demonstrating by his actions that his remorse is linked to his soul. Over time, Chantal finds the strength to extend forgiveness to John, and she, herself, is transformed by the freedom it brings.

Conversion must be punctuated by remorse. I don't blame Billy's mom for her skepticism. I'd probably doubt the man's sincerity too.

(Image courtesy of the Clydesdale Post)

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Benjamen R. Meyer

All I can say is:

How sad that she (at least) thinks that "[there] is nothing that he can say that will convince [her] he’s a Christian".

Whether someone who has wronged us or not has sought our forgiveness in a matter, we should still rejoice upon their coming to faith in Christ. It may take healing on both sides before either a mortal forgiveness can be sought or given, but that need not stand in the way of spiritual repentance before Christ.

That is not to say that repentance to those we have wronged in this world should not be sought - it should.

But repentance that is premature is not repentance at all.

Thus, in her situation we should pray not just for them to repent of the wrong committed against us, but also for ourselves that we may forgive them - not when they come to ask for it, but as soon as we are able. Both actions are grace by the hand of God.

Mary DeMuth

They ran a several page story on this in the Dallas Morning News. While I love that Garry Brotherston has turned around, I left the story with the same empty feeling. True repentance involves unabashed and humble admission TO the people wronged. And brokenness. While I can't judge Brotherston's heart, I know I'd have a similar response if I were the mother of the deceased. I could still forgive Brotherston, could still pray for him, but I'd have a hard time believing he'd turned his life around had he not contacted me and asked forgiveness.

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