I read a story on cnn.com this afternoon that really saddened me about a woman named Donna Fairchild who kill herself and her husband Bill this past January after her character was assassinated in the midst of a local political race in Mesquite, Nevada. The events that led to Fairchild’s death are paradigmatic of the breakdown of grace in an American society that at one time at least retained a semblance of Christian influence.
Donna was a city councilwoman who had been racing for mayor with incumbent mayor Susan Holecheck. Fairchild had been representing Mesquite on the board of the Nevada Development Authority, an agency charged with helping Mesquite promote itself to tourists and potential residents. Fairchild disparaged the agency in an interview with the local newspaper, which got the agency president hopping mad and caused Holecheck to find out that Fairchild hadn’t attended the last agency board meeting despite submitting a mileage expense report to the city as though she had gone. Holecheck seized on this $94 mistake/crime and used it to torpedo Fairchild’s campaign for mayor. Or, told differently, she had zero tolerance for this kind of fraudulent behavior from her council members so she had no choice but to tell the local newspaper about it.
So a lot of really nasty comments went back and forth on the online forum for the Mesquite newspaper. It must have looked like a teenager’s facebook page except it was a bunch of angry retirees going after each other. Some people called Fairchild’s house to yell at her for what she had done. And in the end, the retired internal affairs police officer, whose sense of integrity had been shattered, decided to kill herself and her husband.
I don’t want to suggest that Fairchild’s extreme response to her public shaming was reasonable or that she wasn’t responsible for her own actions. But the whole incident does offer an illustration of what the world looks like without grace. I’ve been trying to think about how the body of Christ would handle a situation like this differently. If someone submitted a false expense report at a church where I was in charge, I would need to have a conversation with the person to provide an opportunity for confession. It would certainly have to be a stern and direct conversation but it would be a private one. Matthew 18:15-17 provides the model for how we are supposed to handle others’ sins. We always confront privately first.
The goal in the kingdom of grace is always for the person’s dignity to be fully restored. This absolutely doesn’t mean ignoring the sin, which would perpetuate the loss of the person’s dignity. We rather name the sin in complete openness, name God’s forgiveness of sin, and figure out what needs to happen in the future for the person to avoid sinning again. We operate under the presumption that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). If her expense report wasn’t just an error but a deliberate act of deceit, then Donna Fairchild needed to be able to tell the truth to somebody in a safe environment so that she could heal and be restored. Jesus died for our sins so that we could be that kind of safe environment for each other. In a world where everyone is a grateful, forgiven sinner, other peoples’ sins are not shocking or outrageous bits of gossip to be shared with the local newspaper; we deal with them sternly, calmly, and lovingly since others have had the grace to do the same for us.
Suicide is such an awful final decision. And to couple it with murder. I cannot imagine carrying a burden like that through all of eternity. When I hear about things like this, it makes me want to believe that the God who has reached out to me in all my times of despair is reaching out even now to Donna Fairchild and trying to persuade her to accept His forgiveness and mercy. I know that God is loving and just. He is wiser than all of His children who try to decide in our systematic theologies what He’s allowed to do for us beyond the grave. I trust in God’s mercy. In the meantime, let’s build a more gracious world.