Washing the Feet of the Steubenville Rapists


This past week was the first time I let myself explore the Steubenville rape case.  I say, “let” because the whole thing has “trigger” written all over it.  As a mother of boys this case triggers fear and anxiety.  As a woman this case triggers outrage and repulsion.  As a sexual abuse survivor this case triggers shame and self-hatred. 

Not ready to face the firing squad of these triggers, I avoided the headlines and newscasts until I saw this picture:

And read this response from Ma’lik Richmond, one of the teens found delinquent in the rape of a 16 year old girl last summer:
And something broke in me.  

Once I uttered these same words in the aftermath of my abuse. Their pain became more real and more desperate because I could relate.   So, I immersed myself in the details of their case—damn the triggers, and allowed God to deactivated each and every one of them with his careful, loving hand. Left with only my raw, vulnerable heart, a goal of peace this Lent, and a Savior who specializes in restoring the broken, a post began to shape and form.  Given my newly deactivated triggers, this post on the Steubenville rape won’t look like Ann Voskamp’s, powerful open letter to her oldest son, or Abby Norman’s post about the day she taught her class how not to rape, or even cover sexual abuse like Mary DeMuth’s courageous post to the boys (now men) who abused her.
This post will be different because I’m not angry.  I’m not horrified.  I’m not justified, anxious, or indignant.  Others are, but I’m not.  
I’m broken.
I’m heart-broken for these boys. Regardless of what they’ve done or what a court has ruled, Someone does want Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays—and they don’t know it.   
Someone wants them and it seems like the Body is silent on this truth. Maybe in an effort to side with justice, we’re intentionally rejecting grace, but stripped down and bare before God about my abuse and my own sinfulness, I’m too humbled to reject grace. 
You see, but for the grace of God, there goes I.  But for the grace of God, there goes myoldest boy.   

But, by the grace of God, He wanted me and in light of this mercy, I’m moved to stop and write this post that says, “SOMEONE WANTS THESE BOYS”.
Our beautiful Someone —who sought table fellowship with the chief tax collector and washed the feet of his betrayer wants Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays.  Our humble Someone who died while his closest friends scattered wants these boys.  Our scandalous Someonewhose greatest offense was the company he kept—the lowlifes, the violent, the unclean, and the outcast, wants to keep company with the Steubenville rapists. Open up any story of Jesus and this reality glares at us —Kingdom people are sinners that Someone wanted.  Tweet This 

So what’s a good Anabaptist girl to do? In light of this truth, what should I do?
When I’m faced with the image of God doing the work of Satan,  how should I respond?

With love, goodness, and humility.

As much as it’s against my nature as a mama, a woman, and an abuse survivor, I believe the Kingdom response to these boys whose choices have made them my enemy is to love them and to be willing to take my lead from Jesus; our  Someone, who washed the feet of his betrayer and prayed for his torturers forgiveness while nailed to a cross.
Not to stroke my self-righteous ego, but to proclaim “Someone wants you!” in response to Ma’lik’s desperate cry.  
Enemy Love for the Steubenville Rapists
To say that loving my enemy has been wicked hard this Lent, would be an understatement. 
When I signed on with Jesus to embrace peace these forty days, I thought, ‘cool, cool Lord.  I’m all types of stressed out and you’re going to wave your magic hand, throw a “peace be still” in there and peace is going to flow like a river! You know, that peace that surpasses all understanding. So…let’s do this.  Peace me out, yo!
But no, this Lent, peace is looking more and more like Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:32-36 that says in order to truly be at peace, I need to be a fast forgiver and a sure lover of my enemies.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do that.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.  But love your enemies, do good to them and lend to them without expecting to get anything back, then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “

Couple this with these descriptions of God’s mercy and I’m undone:

The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.    Daniel 9:9

But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15

I’m completely undone because I don’t have forgiveness swagger like that!  I’m not slow to anger and quick to love. I enjoy clear lines of us/them. Sometimes, I like being a Christian because I get to be the good guy who fights for righteousness while my enemies stand wicked and unjust. 
But, this Lent I’m learning that my enemy isn’t just the person who has offended me, or the terrorist who haunts my nightmares, or the wicked sinner on the other side of the line. My enemy is the person whose actions, attitudes, and words are just beyond my empathy. My enemy looks like Trent Mays, the white boy who had it all and threw it away or Ma’lik Richmond the black kid in a hoodie who resembles my abuser and every villain in our society’s erroneous cautionary tale of “hoodlums and hooligans”.  They are my enemies—the perfect combination of past hurts and future fears—the ones just beyond my empathy.
I didn’t get that until I paid closer attention to the Steubenville case. I didn’t get that until I chose to see the people behind the offense.
Now, these verses directly challenge my assumptions and ask me to love them, to be more gracious than common courtesy, and to be merciful as my Father is merciful.   
Jesus asks me to do it and so I will. Not just for my peace and not just for his glory, but for their redemption— l will love these boys even though they did something wholly un-loveable. Our faithful, unconditonal love for our enemies has the power to spread the Gospel that:
Jesus wants them.
Jesus died for them.
Jesus loves them.

And we are in danger of dishonoring him by picking up the sword of angry, accusatory words when he’s prepared to sacrificially love and accept them.    
Washing the Feet of the Steubenville Rapists
Last week as I was researching the Steubenville rape, this photo was tweeted, shared, and marveled as the most profound example of Christ-like love from the new Pope. 
It wasn’t a coincidence that these pictures, Ma’lik crying over his offense and the Pope washing the feet of teenage offenders circulated in the same newsweek. This is the heart of Jesus!  He got down and washed the feet of his disciples, including Judas, to show his great love for them.
I’m reminded of my favorite post from Greg Boyd about washing the feet of our enemies

“Knowing all power had been given to him, John says, he wrapped a towel around his waist and washed the dirty, smelly feet of people he knew would deny and betray him in a couple hours (Jn 13:3-5). 

Knowing he could call legions of angels to vanquish his foes, the real Jesus rather chose to let them crucify him, because this is what they needed him to do (though they of course didn’t know it). Then, with his last breath, the real Jesus prays to his Father to forgive his barbaric torturers — and all of us (Lk 23:34). 

This is the kind of power the omnipotent God of the universe uses against his enemies. And this is the kind of power we’re to use against our “enemies.” It’s the power of Calvary-like love.We’re called to imitate the Jesus who washes the feet of enemies, dies for them, and prays for their forgiveness. We are to “live in love, as Christ loved us and gave his life for us…” (Eph. 5:1-2). When we were enemies, Jesus nevertheless ascribed unsurpassable worth to us by paying an unsurpassable price for us. We who claim we are his disciples are called to do the same. We’re to sacrificially ascribe unsurpassable worth to all people, including our enemies — even Osama Bin Laden’s feet  In light of God’s servant love toward us, we must be willing to wash Osama’s  feet —and pray for his forgiveness.”

I want take this call and apply it to the Steubenville rapists.  
In light of God’s servant love towards us, we must be willing to wash Trent May’s feet.
In light of God’s servant love towards us, we must be willing to wash Ma’lik Richmond’s feet
And pray for their forgiveness.
So I’ll end this post with three questions and one prayer:
1: Are you, Kingdom person, you who have been extended great mercy, and who was once an enemy of God but now called his friend, willing to love the Steubenville rapists?
2: Are you, Kingdom person, you who has been forgiven much, who Jesus has cleansed with his blood and offered forgiveness under the shadow of the cross, willing to wash the feet of the Steubenville rapists and pray for their forgiveness?
3: Will you join me in proclaiming that although these boys’ actions were despicable, they are not defined by it— they are fellow image bearers of the Most High. They are WANTED by a glorious Someone and (hopefully) by us?
If so, please join me in this prayer for them:
Beautiful Jesus,
We are all so unworthy of your sacrificial, servant love for us.  What you endured on Calvary at the hands of people you dearly loved is far beyond any offense any of us, including Ma’lik and Trent could do.  Yet you forgave.  You called out for forgiveness as blood, sweat, tears, and life seeped from your body. We call out for forgiveness now for these two boys.  Let forgiveness wash over them.  Empower us to forgive them, even though it’s hard. They have unsurpassable worth, because you ascribed unsurpassable worth to them.  And it has nothing to do with how fast and far they can throw a ball.  Remind us that just as your forgiveness does not negate the severity of our sin, our forgiveness does not negate the severity of theirs. But where sin increases, grace increases all the more.  These boys need to know that.  They need to know you love them. They need to know you want them.  So much so, that even as they sinned, your heart broke for them. Lord, break our heart for what breaks yours. They have walked through the dung and mire of this sin. Let our prayers wash their feet.  Protect them over the next few years as they continue walking in the consequences of this horrible choice.  Place believers convicted to proclaim that Trent and Ma’lik are acceptable to you close to them, so that you, oh great Restorer, can take what the enemy meant to harm them, their victim, and their community and use it for good.
We ask this in your Name, Jesus.

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13 thoughts on “Washing the Feet of the Steubenville Rapists

  1. Oh, Osheta: this was so beautiful. I'm not thoroughly familiar with the rape story (I've read an overview, but not much more), but I was deeply struck by your passionate observation: "someone wants these boys!" Yes. It's so easy to forget that. Our Jesus grieves over their heinous crime, and weeps with the victim; but he still loves and wants these criminals. To him, they are still his boys. They've done something horrible, but they are his little children.I loved the way you put it — that the rapists are "the image of God doing the work of Satan." How is this possible? Somehow, it is. We need to remain conscious of both truths.Also: another Boyd fan here. So much wisdom from that man. And I think I'm becoming a fan of the pope, too. Pretty strange for a Mennonite girl!

  2. I hadn't seen you on FMF for a few Weeks, so I stopped by to check on you. Oh, Osheta, this is beautiful. I also have had to do battle with the arrogance of having been a victim. The hardness and anger. And some of it is just and some of it causes us to lose touch with our own sinfulness covered by our Savior. I love your courage and your willingness to allow His grace to enable you to look head on into this story, triggers and all, and see the bigness of Him. Loving Christ in you and His healing. (Jen @MostIllustriousMother)

  3. Hi Osheta,Thank you for this wonderful post. I am not a religious person but there is truth to the sentiment that we must bend ourselves to these boys so that we can raise them up to be knowledgeable and kind – and ultimately to forgive them for their trespasses against Jane Doe.I too was struck by the symbolism in the image of the new pope washing the feet of those young convicts and its relation to the Steubenville case. You can find more thoughts on Steubenville at mindfuller.tumblr.com/steubenville or follow @AnBonYmous on Twitter.

  4. Excellent post! How truly amazing the grace of God is. I pray that these young men will find Christ and will see that His blood frees them from their past and the mistakes they have made. I love that you have a perspective of one who understands the side of the abused, yet your heart is genuine and reaching out to show love to those who have oppressed you even. May we all have such a heart for Christ in that way. May God give peace to those who have been oppressed and help them to forgive those who have "trespassed against them".Sincerely in Christ,Victoria

  5. Jen, thank you for stopping by! I have missed the FMF community, but things have been cray-cray around here! Thank you for your comment. It is so easy to fall into hardness and anger and let those be our driving emotions when faced with type of injustice. I struggle with it daily, but I know that God opposes the proud but favors the humble, and at the heart of it, my bitterness is just pride wrapped up in offense. I'll be checking in soon to your blog. Blessings!

  6. Wow. What an amazing work you're doing. I will pray for you. I hope these words can minister to some of your students. They are wanted and precious to our Savior. Thanks for commenting. I'm so humbled to be a part of your ministry.

  7. Hi Victoria! Love your blog. Thank you for commenting. This Lent was surprising in the ways Jesus met me and healed me of some of my own abuse and I never. NEVER. thought I could write something like this, but I'm glad I did. I'm glad that Jesus' forgiveness is wide and vast with inclusivity for all…even the oppressors. I'm excited to read more of your blog. Blessings! Osheta

  8. Oh wow! Thanks so much for taking a look at my own blog too! It is wonderful how God will work in us and help us grow so much in ways we never thought possible! I'm so thankful for that!+Victoria+

  9. One of the most moving and lovely explanations and admonitions for Calvary-like love I've read. Certainly the best one in a long time. Thank you for articulating so very graciously the thoughts I've been trying to formulate in my own heart. Bless you, my sister in Christ!

  10. Thanks for this. I pray God will send someone to those boys with this message– not "boys will be boys" or "what you did wasn't so bad," but "what you did WAS so bad, but you can have forgiveness anyway."

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