Punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal. ~ Elizabeth Fry, Quaker, and Prison Reformer
A lot of people won’t know who Matthew Lodge is, something Matthew Lodge is no doubt pleased about. A few years ago he committed a heinous act of violence against an innocent family in New York City. Now he just wants everyone to forget about it so he can move on with his life and his football career.
First, you need to know that Matthew Lodge is a very big, imposing man. He stands 191 cm tall (6 ft, 3 in) and weighs 118 kg (260 lbs). He’s a professional rugby league football player in Australia and could have a promising career ahead of him.
Except for what he did in the early hours of October 16, 2015.
That night, Lodge approached a German tourist, Carolin Dekeyser on the streets of New York City and began physically harassing her. Terrified, Dekeyser started frantically pressing the doorbell of a nearby apartment complex. Lodge kept menacing her: “Do you think you’re going to die? This is the night you’re going to die.”
Inside the building, a resident, Joseph Cartright heard the bell and went to see what the commotion was about. Finding Ms Dekeyser outside in a terrified state, he let her into the lobby, but Lodge followed them inside, and began punching Mr Cartright in the head. He then entered his victim’s apartment, locking the dazed Mr Cartright outside in the lobby, as he proceeded to trash the place, destroying furniture and smashing plates.
When Joseph Cartright’s partner, Ruth Fowler and their nine-year-old-son Henry, took refuge in the bathroom, Matthew Lodge tried to smash his way through the locked door. Little Henry begged for his life, screaming, “I’m too young to die!”
Matthew Lodge was arrested at gunpoint by New York police officers.
He spent two weeks in New York’s Rikers Island, before a judge granted him a conditional discharge, releasing him from jail and allowing him to return to Australia. His football club tore up his contract and fired him from the team.
Lodge’s victims then filed a civil lawsuit against Lodge for US$2 million, but Lodge claimed that without a football contract he was broke. He hasn’t paid a cent in compensation to Carolin Dekeyser, Joseph Cartright or Ruth Fowler. Nine-year-old Henry suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. He is terrified whenever the doorbell rings. He has night terrors and loud noises distress him.
All that’s just terrible.
But then this week it was revealed that Lodge has been offered a 1-year contract worth an estimated AU$100,000 with the Brisbane Broncos for the 2018 season. Matthew Lodge is about to resume his promising football career.
Of course, there has been an outcry about this. Some have said he should never be able to play professional football again. They believe he is unworthy to be considered a role model to young fans.
Since his New York drug-and-alcohol-fueled rampage came to light, we’ve learned that Matthew Lodge has an appalling history of criminal and unsavory behavior. Only a few months prior to his New York rampage, Lodge had been hit with six charges of common assault, malicious damage, stalking and intimidation in Sydney. He was served with a provisional apprehended violence order (restraining order). Six months prior to that, he was arrested after being involved in a fight outside a Sydney nightclub
And back in 2014, he was sanctioned by the National Rugby League for writing “c—” on his wrist strapping while playing representative football for New South Wales.
The kid is big, mean and dangerous. And he needs help.
Nonetheless, some think the two weeks in Rikers, the loss of his contract, and the damage to his reputation is punishment enough. Australian football legend Paul Gallen held a press conference and declared, “If he’s served his time and done everything required of him, how long do we keep punishing him for? We’ve let blokes back in the game who have touched women — or hit women — I wouldn’t put him in that class. We got blokes like that still playing so let’s just move on.”
Not the most eloquent defense, and a few days later, Gallen walked back from his call for everyone to “move on,” insisting Lodge should pay compensation to his victims.
But it was the line, “How long do we keep punishing him for?”, that got my attention. How long, indeed.
In the two years since the New York incident, Lodge has attended a six-week program at a rehab clinic in New York City, participated in AA meetings, and undertaken a six-week program at a rehab clinic in Sydney. He volunteered in a soup kitchen in Western Sydney and was tested for a year for alcohol and prescription and recreational drugs and never returned a positive.
And yet many fans think that because of the extreme nature of his assault on Carolin Dekeyser, Joseph Cartright, Ruth Fowler and their son, Henry, Matthew Lodge should not be playing professional football this weekend.
Matthew Lodge is only 22-years-old. And by the sound of him, a very immature 22-year-old. What do we do with people like him who commit disgraceful crimes and then try to straighten up and fly right? For how long do we keep punishing him?
I began this piece with a quote by Quaker Elizabeth Fry, pointing out that a Christian approach to crime and punishment is focused on two broad objectives, to reduce criminal behavior and to reform the perpetrator. When we think about the punishment of criminals we have to do so in light of the value of love.
Love requires us to have a focus on the common good and on benefit to the soul or character.
Therefore, Christians have always argued that cruel and unusual punishment which is harmful to the soul should be avoided. Conversely, any punishment that might be beneficial to the soul should be favored.
This is modeled for us in Jesus’ engagement with the woman caught in adultery in John’s gospel. In Chapter 8, religious leaders bring the woman to Jesus and ask him whether she should be stoned to death – the standard penalty for adultery at the time. Very cleverly, Jesus tells them to carry out the punishment according to the letter of the law, but he insists on one provision: that whoever is without sin should throw the first stone. None of the woman’s accusers could do it. As religious leaders they knew their doctrine that all people have committed wrongdoing.
But it’s Jesus’ engagement with the guilty woman that is most interesting here. Remember, this is a time when women were treated like chattel by men, used and abandoned when no longer needed. Note that the religious leaders didn’t bring her male sexual partner to Jesus as well. We have no idea of the circumstances of this woman or why she found herself in this situation, but she might very well have been as much a victim as a perpetrator in this crime. Consequently, Jesus’ treats her with mercy. “Then neither do I condemn you,” he tells her, “Go and sin no more.”
Mercy means not giving people what they deserve, but bringing guilty people to a place where they can live as they ought.
This is core to the Christian view of punishment. We can’t condone punishment for punishment’s sake, but something that aims to restore people, always offering the offender a chance to “sin no more.”
I think Matthew Lodge’s behavior has been reprehensible. But in light of his two years of rehab and his continued sobriety, he should be given a chance to start again. He should be allowed to play professional football and he should commit himself to a plan to pay compensation to his victims.
It’s not up to me or anyone other than God and his victims to forgive Matthew Lodge, but I do believe that even the most hardened criminal can receive God’s mercy if they truly repent. I also believe that when people allow God to take control of their life, they can be completely transformed into a new person. There is always hope that an offender can be reformed or rehabilitated.
Therefore the punishment meted out to someone like Matthew Lodge should always allow for the possibility that they could reform. Let’s pray that really happens in this case.