Thug Hugger

Thug Hugger

You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry . . . Exodus 22:22-23

I recently learned a new term – Thug Hugger. It’s a derogatory term, used to mock those who’re seen as too kind, loving, and compassionate to those who’re incarcerated. The premise is this – If you disapprove of an individual’s past behavior, then you must disapprove and even dislike that individual. Any kindness or compassion shown to that individual is naïve and misplaced. This of course is absurd. I can love an individual while also believing what they’ve done is wrong. I can believe that it’s just that they’re incarcerated, while still treating them with kindness and working towards their rehabilitation and recovery.

Still, I get it. Often, when I find out the crimes that my patients have committed, it turns my stomach. If I’m honest, I must admit there’s a part of me that wants to provide a different level of care for some inmates than for others. For instance, if I meet someone who’s struggled with drugs, as I have, then I’m prone to be quite compassionate. If, however, that inmate is incarcerated for drunk driving when he hit and killed a family, then it’s my natural impulse to be vindictive. Can you imagine though, if, as a physician, I doled out medical care based on a patient’s past behavior? As a physician, it’s my duty to provide the same care to everyone. As a Christian, it’s my duty to love those God puts in my path, whether I approve of their past behavior or not.

Often, when I get to know an inmate, even if his past offends me, I find myself more able to love that individual, while still recognizing the evil they’ve committed. If I take time to listen to someone’s history, I’ll often learn of a terrible childhood. Maybe they grew up in a broken, dysfunctional home. Maybe they grew up with abusive parents. It’s not an excuse for bad behavior, but it helps me understand how they got to where they are. I had a great childhood and I still found drugs, addiction, and life disaster. If I’d have grown up in profound dysfunction, I’m sure I’d have made far worse choices in life.

To me, this is the message of today’s passage – That I must find compassion for those who’ve been through difficult life circumstances. It’s easy to judge someone, but I don’t know what they’ve been through until I ask. Once I ask and listen, I find it’s far easier to love that individual. Doing so doesn’t mean that I approve of or dismiss their past. It just means that I love them as Christ loved me – while I was still a sinner.

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