Tom Pittman's WebLog

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2007 October 26 -- The Prisoner Exchange

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. -- Rom.2:1
It started innocently enough, a flippant remark taken wrong. When the battle escalated to the point that he was hitting harder than I wanted to hit back, I did as I always do when I am hurt: I asked myself, am I doing the same thing? And I was! So I offered what I call the "Prisoner Exchange," where both parties know they were both off-base, and both agree to stop. This is usually accompanied with mutual forgiveness -- essentially a promise to desist.

I first became aware of the mechanism a few years ago, in an asymmetrical conflict where I caught the other guy off-base, and a third party tried to pressure me into confessing some fault. I couldn't figure out why at the time, but later realized he was aiming for a Prisoner Exchange. I have a long history of being victimized over past faults, so I don't volunteer that information.

The Prisoner Exchange is not particularly Christian -- Christian repentance is unilateral and unconditional, not dependent on the other guy responding in kind -- but it seemed appropriate in this particular conflict. He rejected it outright. Come to think of it, all the Prisoner Exchanges I have seen attempted tend to be imposed by a third party. It's like somebody's mom saying "It doesn't matter who started it. You can stop it." So I did, unilaterally. It's pretty hard in the face of a relentless barrage of hostility to not fight back -- I think I slipped once or twice -- but his prisoners have pretty much died of old age. Lacking some new confession (which as I said, I am reluctant to volunteer: you need to catch me in the act), he no longer has much to exchange.

Reading in Romans today reminded me of the problem of accusing another person of a fault the accuser is guilty of. Jesus said not to do that. So I wondered, was Paul guilty of all the sins he painted the Romans with? I don't think so. Paul had his faults -- he apologized in Acts 23:5 -- but I don't think he was guilty of the sins he lists in the first couple chapters of Romans. So in principle, it can be done.

I still like the Christian way of doing things. If you are guilty of wrong, confess it and stop doing it. Don't wait or press for an equal confession from the other person. After you have cleaned up your own house, if the other guy is still doing wrong things, you can (with all integrity) ask him to stop. If he refuses, there are procedures involving church authority, but the bottom line is to cut the ties.

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