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Can pardon be freely given for the worst offense?

A former student of mine, now the pastor of a rural Baptist congregation, recently invited me to lecture at his church. After finishing my duties on a Saturday morning, I was preparing to make a quick exit for my two-hour drive home when my pastor-friend halted me with a hesitant question: Would I accompany him to the local minimum-security prison for a baptism?

The prisoner's family and home-town preacher would probably not attend, and so the cloud of witnesses celebrating the new birth of this convert would be small indeed. My presence might, in fact, double the congregation. Thinking of all the yard work I could do that Saturday afternoon, I was tempted to decline, but in the end I agreed.

Over lunch I learned the newly professed Christian was no ordinary prisoner. He was incarcerated not for stealing cars or selling dope but for the crime our society is perhaps least prepared to pardon. In a drunken stupor this man had molested his ten-year-old daughter. He had thus committed a triple ...

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