Terrorist receives pardon by Scotland on grounds of Christian compassion

Al-Megrahi, 57, was serving a life sentence in a Scottish prison for bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270 people in the air and on the ground”, that is, until last week. Associated Press reported: “the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing returned home Thursday to a cheering crowd after his release . . . an outrage to many relatives of the 270 people who perished when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded.”

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill justified the release of former Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Baset al-Megrahi on grounds of compassion, as he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Yet many, including compassionate followers of Christ, do not agree with the decision.

“MacAskill said although al-Megrahi had not shown compassion to his victims–many of whom were American college students flying home to New York for Christmas–MacAskill was motivated by Scottish values to show mercy. Mr. al-Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power.”–Associated Press

It appears that the Scottish government is acknowledging the presence and power of God, the “higher power” able to impose this new life sentence and is acquiescing to his authority. While this seems admirable, not all believers in God agree this was the right course of action.

God followers often disagree on God’s will in situations requiring just sentencing on earth. For the United Kingdom’s deadliest terror attack, for taking the lives of 270 innocent people, al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in prison. If he had been tried in Texas, he surely would have been executed long before cancer had time to save his life. Texas, like the rest of our historically Christian nation, does not express compassion by giving murderers the opportunity to die at home surrounded by family and friends. They certainly didn’t offer such an opportunity to their victims.

Yet these were MacAskill’s words:


“In Scotland, we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity. It is viewed as a defining characteristic of Scotland and the Scottish people. The perpetration of an atrocity and outrage cannot and should not be a basis for losing sight of who we are, the values we seek to uphold, and the faith and beliefs by which we seek to live.”


Christianity is most likely the faith to which MacAskill refers. Scotland is a predominantly Christian nation and “the Revolution Settlement of 1690 finally established the reformed, Presbyterian Church as the National Church of Scotland. The monarch even today has a special relationship with the Church of Scotland and renews that every year with a representative of the monarch attending the General Assembly.”

MacAskill went on to say:

“Mr. Megrahi did not show his victims any comfort or compassion. They were not allowed to return to the bosom of their families to see out their lives, let alone their dying days. No compassion was shown by him to them. But that alone is not a reason for us to deny compassion to him and his family.

“Our justice system demands that judgment be imposed but compassion be available. Our beliefs dictate that justice be served, but mercy be shown. Compassion and mercy are about upholding the beliefs that we seek to live by, remaining true to our values as a people. No matter the severity of the provocation or the atrocity perpetrated.”

Where does the Christian draw the line between compassion and justice? Or is there a line to be drawn? If governing authorities released all prisoners out of compassion for them, how is this acting with compassion toward those whose lives they are called to protect?

Surely there is a way to invoke punishment in a compassionate manner. When children misbehave and they are secluded from activities, we do not release them because we feel compassion or sympathy for them. We may feel sadness, yet we know that the punishment is befitting the crime and will serve to teach the child appropriate behavior for the future. While they are in “time out”, we still love them, feed them, clothe them and give them shelter.

Prison ministries in America, such as Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship, are numerous and effective. While visiting the imprisoned, compassionate Christians plant seeds of hope in the lives of the hopeless. This is compassionate justice–one that provides appropriate punishment for the perpetrator and protection for the population, all the while tending to their basic needs out of compassion for all.

I have compassion for Mr. Megrahi because I serve the God of compassion. But I also serve the God of justice, who abhors evil and calls us to do the same. We are called to maintain order on this earth we call home. Part of this task is to condemn evil so that God’s laws are upheld and His purposes furthered. Within condemnation, however, there is room for compassion.

Sadly, instead of appropriate condemnation coupled with Christ’s compassion, Mr. Megrahi received unchecked compassion followed by colossal commendation.


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  1. MellowedHeart said:

    I believe that compassion and justice are two separate issues in an unredeemed society. If justice is undermined, as it seems to have been in this case, then the rule of law is undermined, and the reality and severity of crime is undermined. That society then becomes insecure, believing that justice doesn’t exist, and moves one step further towards everyone ‘doing their own thing’. It is not possible to run a fair society without upholding justice, and letting the people in that society know that this is so. Ultimately the leaders who give in to a ‘weak kind of compassion’ will only undermine their own authority and the people they are supposed to be serving. Adequate civil compassion could have been shown in this case via alternative means. For example, Al-Megrahi could have been transferred to a secure medical establishment, shown kindness and care, and allowed family visitors, without releasing him from his sentence. Christian compassion exists because God is love and looks upon us with deep, deep kindness; but never at the expense of that same God being just. We receive mercy only because Another has received the eternal justice in our place, and never because God goes soft on the crime. When Jesus intervened in a mob execution in John 8, it was not that He was turning a blind eye to that which was true legally, but He could release the woman knowing that He Himself would hang on a cross for her mistakes very shortly, and justice would be served… as well as compassion and mercy. Eternally He has done the same for all of us, including the worst mass murderers, if we will receive it. But in society justice must be served and seen to be served, or society itself will ultimately disintigrate.

    September 2, 2009
  2. Your comments are beautifully worded. Thank you for the time you spent contributing to the conversation. To be responsible Christian citizens of this world, we must engage our minds, hearts and mouths (or fingers) in thoughtful discourse over tough issues, so that together we might discern the wisdom and will of God.

    September 3, 2009

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