Is there any crime worse than molesting a child? How about if it’s your own child?
Just before 6:30 p.m. Thursday, a friend of mine posted a public confession on Facebook that he molested his own young daughter 11 years ago. His post said that he was going to find a police officer right after posting the confession. He’s decided it’s time to admit to his crime and face the punishment.
I was stunned and I’m still processing the news. I only know Brad Spangler casually and only as a Facebook friend. He’s one of hundreds of people with whom I’ve connected but never really gotten to know well. From his posts, I know him only as a brilliant left-leaning anarchist/libertarian who wrote well and seemed very thoughtful and well-meaning. I knew he had personal problems — including health issues — but nothing prepared me for this.
“During a particularly bad period in 2004, I molested my young daughter,” Spangler wrote. “I did not do so forcibly, but the betrayal of trust and resulting potential emotional fallout for her has weighed heavily on my conscience ever since, to the point of doubting my sanity and refusing to believe I had, or even could have, done such a thing.”
He assured his friends that he didn’t plan to harm himself or anyone else.
“I think what I’m going to do immediately after making this post, though, is see about peaceably turning myself in to the Kansas City Police Department, confirming this confession, refusing any potential bond and facing accountability in court,” he wrote. “While there are lots of impersonal topics I can rationally discuss, the truth is that I have not been emotionally well for a long time, if ever.”
Humans are capable of both incredible evil and unbelievable good. The hardest thing to accept is that we’re all capable of both the good and the bad.
The evil I’m capable of is probably different from the evil you’re capable of, but we’re both capable of doing evil things under the right circumstances. I’ve been thinking a lot about that issue lately and I even wrote about something similar a couple of weeks ago. I have trouble understanding how you could possibly do some of what you’ve done. You might feel the same about things I’ve done.
But I think almost all of us would feel that way about what Brad Spangler says he did. How could a human being do something this evil? I don’t understand it.
I’ve recently spent a lot of time taking with a retired police officer about things he did — and situations he was in — years ago in his job. He’s one of the nicest and most decent people I’ve ever known, but when he tells me about some things he was part of, I try to reconcile those things with the man I know today. How can one person have the goodness I see in him and also the history of being involved in things I see as horrific?
We like to see people as black or white, but we’re all shades of gray. What’s more, we’re not the same shade throughout. We have bright white parts and deep, dark parts — and everything in between. We just learn not to let others see those dark corners of our hearts and souls.
Brad Spangler chose to confess the deepest and darkest place in his soul. Do we condemn him for the evil he did 11 years ago to a small girl? Or do we acknowledge his bravery for facing his guilt and confessing to the world? Or something else?
I honestly don’t know how to react. There’s an angry flame war going on right now in the comments under Spangler’s post on Facebook. Some libertarians are angry and ready to string him up. Others are more interested in philosophical purity and arguing the case against involving the state in restitution. There’s a lot of anger there.
For me, I find it hard to imagine how I would feel if he had done it to someone I love. There’s a young baby girl who I’ve recently come to love and I can tell you without hesitation that if someone harmed her, I would feel no guilt about killing the person. It angers me just to think anyone could possibly harm this child in any way. But I know that’s an emotional reaction out of love and a desire to protect a specific child. What does that say — if anything — about how I should react now to Spangler?
It’s hard for me to imagine anything worse for a father to do than to sexually molest his child. I find myself thinking about his daughter and wondering what she remembers and how this has affected her. She’s the one we should be most concerned about. And I have no idea about the answers to those questions.
I have two conflicting impulses here. One is for anger and punishment of someone who has confessed to something evil. The other is toward forgiveness and reconciliation for someone who wants to make things right.
I don’t have any interest in the philosophical purity tests that are going on in the comments under Spangler’s confession. I’m only interested in whatever is best for his daughter and in dealing with whatever remorse and guilt are in Brad’s soul.
As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness, but that’s not the same thing as cheap grace — where we just pretend nothing happened and we ignore evil deeds in such a way that it encourages more. So what’s the answer?
Brad felt compelled to turn himself in to the state for punishment. If that’s what it takes for him to do the right thing, that’s fine with me, since that’s the system that’s currently set up (regardless of its many flaws). I don’t know if this confession is just to assuage Brad’s guilt or if it’s really what his daughter needs, but that’s not for me to judge.
All I know for sure is that someone who I’ve admired did something unspeakably evil and damaged a child who trusted him — and now he’s willing to try to take responsibility for it.
I don’t know where this will end, but I can only hope that it can somehow lead to healing — for a man who has obviously been tortured by what he did and for a girl whose trust was betrayed in the ultimate way. I hope both of them can find peace, whether it’s through punishment or reconciliation or something else.
Humans are capable of incredible evil. We’re also capable of many good and beautiful things. Maybe the most difficult and beautiful thing we’re capable of is forgiveness and reconciliation. At least sometimes — if a man is willing to take responsibility for what he’s done instead of pretending it never happened.
Please pray for Brad and his daughter.
Update: As of a week after this piece was published, I’ve been told that Spangler was admitted to a psychiatric facility in Missouri for evaluation and that his daughter has confirmed his story (but has no interest in pursuing it legally). This information comes from someone who has been a personal friend of Spangler, but I don’t have access to any official records.