Who Deserves Compassion?


Many people don’t “get” the work of Emmaus when they first hear about it. For some, it’s the “ick factor”: hustling can sound too sordid. Others have never even heard of men being sexually exploited. They don’t know what to expect when they see Stories from the Streets, hear an Emmaus presentation, or even walk through Emmaus’s doors themselves.

Larry was just such a person. As he rang our doorbell, he didn’t know what would happen. But he was feeling desperate, so after hearing our name and that we worked with men, he called and set up an appointment. We sat down in my office and he looked at me steadily.

“I’d better start with telling you about my situation to see…to see if you can work with me.” I’m used to men feeling shy telling me about sensitive subjects, so I assumed the best reassuring look I could and encouraged him to continue.

“Last year I was arrested for a no-contact sexual offense—for distribution of child pornography.” He paused and sighed. “This is usually the part where you tell me to leave and that you can’t work with me.”

Whatever I might have expected, this was not it. But I didn’t know anything about Larry’s history, so I explained to him that Emmaus believes that everyone is worth helping, but that we specifically work with men who have been exploited in some way themselves.

Everyone is worth helping. Emmaus believes it, but do I? What did I think should happen to someone who was not the victim, but the victimizer? Larry did not fit my expectation of what a predator looks like. He was a beat-down, ordinary-looking person who had lost his family, house, and income because of his first offense.

“I take responsibility for what I did. I’m going to therapy for depression and addiction, I’m working with a lawyer, I’m looking for housing. But when people hear what I did, no one will work with me,” he said wearily. “It’s like, people understand murder, but a sexual offense is just too much to deal with.”

This made me think. Does the “ick factor” that affects many of our men hurt Larry? I’m forced to admit that it does. There are whole TV shows about men and women on death row—people who actually ended a life—in which they are interviewed and given a voice. Viewers are encouraged to understand their circumstances. Can you imagine such a show for sexual offenses? If you had one relative convicted of murder and one convicted of a sexual offense, which would you be more ashamed to tell your friends about?

What Larry did was wrong, no question. Should he be held responsible? Yes, absolutely. But does his offense mean he is ever-after a monster who should be shunned and find no place to turn to for help?

If you’re a Christian, the answer is simple: How does God feel about him? If God loves him, then we should, too. The Bible doesn’t list sins that exclude people from receiving God’s grace and love. Rather, despite our sin, God says we are worth saving (Romans 5:8 and chapter 8). Our society makes it so easy to hate people like Larry. Our social justice system and culture give justifications for why he is now an outcast. But does the Church have a pass to agree with these justifications, or a mandate to reach beyond them?

In the end, Larry denied being a part of Emmaus’s client base, and left my office after thanking me for being “enlightened” enough not to reject him at face value. The thanks may not be fully deserved, but his visit and honesty have challenged me to strive ever more to love the way God does and see people the way he sees them. Emmaus is one of the only organizations that exists to help men like our guys. Who is going to help Larry?

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To provide Christ-centered support to men seeking to escape survival prostitution and embrace a life of health and wholeness.


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4201 N Troy St
Chicago IL 60618

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