While scrolled through Facebook today, I read a post by a conservative Trump supporter, which said, "[What Kathy Griffin did] should be a crime and she should be locked up..." This begs the question: was it a crime and should she be prosecuted? There are quite a number of nuances and angles to the reaction to the photograph, but I am going to focus on the question above.
Before I respond to that question, let me lay all of my cards on the table. I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I approach politics at arm's length from a post-conservative theological perspective. Also, having been a police officer and detective in the past, I am very concerned about how the law is applied. I am not a fan of President Trump, the person, but I do respect the office he holds and am willing to give him a shot (I felt the same about President Obama [see my other posts]).
From a personal conscience perspective, I find Kathy Griffin's photograph to be repugnant. The image she published was, as Chelsea Clinton said, "vile." It reaches a new level of disrespect for the office of the President and the person, Donald Trump, regardless of a person's political perspective and personal feelings about the man. Sadly, Griffin is causing Trump supporters to generalize and lump all left-leaning citizens into Griffin's political and psychological location.
All that being said, I want to respond to the question at hand. Really, there are five questions that need to be answered, and I will try to respond to them as succinctly as possible.
The first question is: Is it a crime? My response is no for a couple of reasons.
- Intent. Regardless of how repugnant the image, we have to ask ourselves what she intended by the photograph. For those who are defending President Trump and voted for him, the image is at least a personal insult and at worst a threat to the President's life. I do not, however, think she had any intent on actually causing the injury to the President depicted in the image. Furthermore, there is no evidence she has the means or opportunity to cause the injury. I do believe that the image reveals the depravity of Griffin's heart, but her intent was neither a warning to the President that what she planned to do to him what was depicted in the picture nor was it encouraging someone else to do this to the President. I do believe her intent was to protest the President, albeit in a disgusting manner. I do believe that she wishes something like that would happen to the President, but, like it or not, that is not unlawful. In other words, her intent was to offend, not physically injure the President. Thus, there is no criminal intent. I will talk a little more about being prosecuted for our thoughts a little more below.
- The Plan and Action. In order to be prosecuted for making a threat, there needs to be a plan and some sort of action toward completing that plan. There is no evidence that either of these exist.
- Thought Policing. The basic question regarding thought policing is whether a person can be prosecuted for what they think. If there was no actual threat, no plan in place, no attempt to decapitate the President, it leaves simply her deep disregard for the President. In other words, it is simply her thoughts portrayed in a photograph. For some Trump supporters I have seen on social media, her thoughts should be criminalized. By that same reasoning, a Christian's thoughts would be criminal if he or she disagreed with a law or legal decision to, say, legalize gay marriage.
- Overkill. Here is where I get a little theological. Humans have a tendency, when injured, to respond, not in-kind, but with retribution that exceeds the actual injury. Say, for example, that someone steals a bicycle from me. The actual loss may only be $100. But the emotional response tends to drive us to seek retribution far beyond the actual damages. When someone steals from me, they offend me in some way. I am so angry, I want to punish the person beyond what they actually took from me. In other words, I want to take back more than what they actually took. When someone steals from me, I turn into Al Capone in The Untouchables: "I want him dead! I want his house burnt to the ground! I want to go to his house and [urinate] on his ashes! I want him dead! I want his family dead! I want his house burned to the ground!" Yes, my illustration may be overkill itself, but you get my point. God knows this about humans, and in Old Testament set a standard in the Jewish ancient law, which we call the "eye-for-an-eye" principle. Some have misinterpreted this to mean the principle was prescriptive. In other words, they interpreted this to mean that the standard was the minimum basis for retribution, and the victim should automatically receive restitution for the actual damages. The problem with this approach is that it initiates retribution beyond the actual damages. Actually, the principle was restrictive. In other words, it was the most you could see in restitution for an injury, and, if possible, the victim should seek to forgive the offender (seems like I have heard that somewhere before). In regards to Kathy Griffin's photograph, to suggest that it should be criminal for what she did is overkill because her intent was to offend in the affective sense. To use the punitive force of the government to punish her for her offensive thoughts and photograph exceeds the actual damages caused by the photograph.
The fourth question, which I am sure someone will raise, is: what if a person is "inspired" by Griffin's photograph and attempts to injure the President? Is Griffin responsible? It depends on if there was collusion on the part of Griffin and the person. But, again, there is no evidence that she seeks to inspire this type of violence. She simply wants to offend the sensibilities of those who support the President.
The final question and response are genuinely pastoral: how should the sincere Christian respond to Griffin's photograph? I am deeply troubled by her photograph. It is indicative of the widening division occurring in our nation and in the Christian church. Instead of using the influence of her career to bring unity, that photograph only enrages and divides. I don't want to discourage anyone from participating in exercising their Constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of religion, and the right to vote. Be involved. Do your civic duty. As Christians, however, we have a mandate to not confuse being an American with being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. We have a calling to act like Jesus:
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus... (Philippians 2:1-5).
Furthermore, a sincere Christian's response should driven by the fruit of the Spirit, not a blind commitment to a political party.