The Witness of Forgiveness
The opioid epidemic is delivering tragedy and pain to families across the country. Here’s how one such family has responded in Christ. On January 30, 2016, Ashlynn Bailey, a twenty-year-old from Pelham, Alabama, died from a drug overdose. As John and I have said on BreakPoint many times, America is in the midst of an opioid epidemic—one that kills more people every year than the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. This means that thousands of families endure the kind of anguish and pain that Bailey’s parents have gone through. Yet, in the midst of their pain, Bailey’s family reminded us of the difference faith can make, even when the world has ceased making sense. In the aftermath of her death, her parents established the Ashlynn Bailey Foundation, whose mission is to help addicts and their families. Part of that assistance is sharing their own story. Ashlynn Bailey grew up in a Christian home. She “grew up in the church, learned about God, and became a Christian at an early age.” Sadly, as many Christian parents know from painful experience, this isn’t always enough. Bailey began experimenting with drugs in high school and within a few years was using heroin. On January 30, 2016, she bought what she believed was heroin from a dealer in Birmingham. Instead it was fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and which is often mixed with heroin. It is so potent that a policeman in East Liverpool, Ohio, accidentally overdosed after brushing fentanyl residue off his uniform following a drug bust. Federal prosecutors charged the dealer who sold Bailey the drugs that killed her, Rodrigus Lee Pearson, with a series of drug-related offenses, and were able to increase his sentence because of the link between his actions and Bailey’s death. At Pearson’s sentencing hearing, Mike Bailey, Ashlynn’s father, approached Pearson, and offered him his hand. He told Pearson “We extend forgiveness to you for the wrongs against our family in the same way that Christ has forgiven our wrongs, even without asking for that forgiveness.” Afterwards, he told reporters that “I think [Pearson] needs to be held accountable . . . But I don’t want him to feel any less of a person in God’s eyes.” He added, “I hate drugs, I hate the effects of drugs, I hate the pain that they bring, I hate how it affects families . . . It’s one of the largest demonic forces in our nation right now, just sent to break a family apart. I hate all that, but I don’t hate the individuals.” The pain that Mike Bailey and his family are feeling is unimaginable for nearly all of us. But the grace they have demonstrated should no t be. It is what is expected of those who have experienced grace in their own lives. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Jesus taught us to pray. The Apostle Paul urged us in Ephesians chapter 4 to “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This forgiveness is not optional. That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s also the most powerful Christian witness imaginable. While there are many counter-arguments, some better than others, against specific Christian ideas, there is no argument against the kind of grace and mercy Mike Bailey displayed. It’s a reminder of what sets Christianity apart. As I said, I can’t imagine the pain the Bailey family is feeling. But I can thank them for reminding us that the light of grace shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.