Sunday, August 20, 2023

Just Homeless

I was blessed today to attend a trial in DC – pro-life friends on trial for a rescue in DC two years ago. Will Goodman, Lauren Handy, John Hinshaw, Herb Geraghty, and Heather Idoni are charged with violating the FACE Act (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance) and conspiracy. This is in a Federal court; the charges are Federal. FACE carries a maximum penalty of one year; conspiracy has a max of ten years. The conspiracy charge is more than slightly weird; every single act of civil disobedience that Rev. Martin Luther King engaged in required a “conspiracy” to prepare.

The judge is Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. She’s half-Irish, half-Hungarian, educated in Catholic schools in DC – Visitation then Catholic U then CUA Law School. My experience with Catholic judges in years past was bad: they often leaned over backwards to prove that they weren’t bowing forward towards Rome, and so they hammered pro-lifers. But she has a solid reputation as a judge who listens. We’ll see.

The trial may last two weeks. Jury selection took three days; today was day four. The prosecution started with a cop, and a clinic employee – standard, standard – and then a pro-lifer who accepted a deal and is testifying against her friends – not standard, ouch.

We saw lots of video of the arrests, and I was deeply moved by the simplicity and tenderness displayed by Heather Idoni and John Hinshaw. And Lauren’s honest and clear and straightforward exchanges with the police were inspiring. (Will was almost invisible, so far. And Herb was not a participant; it’s not clear yet why he has been charged.)

I’d like to offer a thought about a glancing reference to Will. The pro-lifer testifying for the prosecution said he was late to a meeting of the conspiracy because he was coming by bike. He was late, you see, cuz he’s a homeless guy. That was factual, more or less – but not true. It was an insulting half-truth, and it caught me off guard. I was shocked, and nearly wept.

(Silly. The trial is about dead babies, and whether we care about them. The clinic where these arrests took place offers late abortion, biggish little kids. Women leaving there can’t dodge reality and mutter about blobs; they need some heavy-duty help to face the bloody truth. It is embarrassing, in that context, to worry about a few years of jail time, let alone an ignorant and unintended insult. So I’m embarrassed, and it was silly and likely senile, but there we are.)

Homeless: that’s true-ish, semi-factual. But it sounds irresponsible, scatter-brained, and that’s really dishonest and unjust. The truth is, Will takes Franciscan spirituality seriously. He has chosen poverty. His commitment to nonviolence and solidarity and poverty is solid, tested, and admirable. Consider it with me a moment.


I’ve been looking at strangers in Scripture, and it has been fascinating. There are different kinds of strangers – exiles like Adam and Eve and all their descendants, immigrants like Ruth, wandering migrants like Abraham and Moses, fugitives like Elijah and King David. But there’s another complex and immensely important category of aliens – scapegoats. The scapegoat idea shows up in Leviticus: two goats (or sheep) are offered to God to deal with social evils – the “sins of the people.” One goat is killed, but the other is loaded up with the sins and driven out into the wilderness.

Jesus, of course, was the Paschal Lamb, sacrificed to atone for our sins. But also, John the Baptist points him out and identifies him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world; then, after his baptism, he goes into the wilderness to confront and defeat the powers of hell. So he’s the Paschal Lamb but also the Levitican scapegoat. Note: this scapegoat is not just an animal; he is also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. This scapegoat is not a stranger; he comes from the midst of the people. But he takes on alienation and is driven away. This generous and sacrificial decision to become a despised and rejected outsider is salvific for his people – if they allow themselves to accept and affirm their bond with the alien.

Let me clarify that a moment. When Jesus was crucified, he died. But before that, he was tortured, scourged: an additional horrific event. And before that, he was abandoned in the garden, alone in his mental and spiritual preparation, finishing the work he began at his baptism. 1-2-3, alienated, tortured, killed: escalating steps: they all matter. My point here is that the Gethsemane event is worth considering by itself, even though the crucifixion is much more significant. It is worthwhile to focus on and understand this facet of the whole revolution, even if it is admittedly secondary.

The role of the scapegoat / suffering servant / lamb of God who takes away sin offers a door into various minor aspects of Christian life including:

  • monastic life
  • intercessory prayer
  • solidarity
  • nonviolence …


So how should Will think about this careless little insult? In serious nonviolence, being neglected and abused and insulted is not in any way surprising. Actually, it’s in the job description of the suffering servant.

Thanks, Will! And Lauren and John and Heather. (And Herb! Don’t skip Herb just because no one knows why he’s at the party. If he’s risking jail, he’s in our puzzled little hearts.)