A Note to—or at Least a Note on, Since It’s Doubtful She’ll Ever See it—a Now-Elderly Woman Who’s Well Practiced in the Arts of Grand Theft and of Self-Justification, Respectively
By Ken K. Gourdin
Doris Payne is an 85-year-old Atlanta resident who made a career out of grand theft as a jewel thief. However, apparently, not only is she not remorseful for her crimes, she had the audacity to wear a (probably-purloined) pair of gaudy earrings to the interview that are probably among the . . . “fruits” . . . of her . . . “labors.”
To be sure, I do have my own flaws. They are legion in number, and many of them are gargantuan in size. Admittedly, I, myself, have engaged in more than my share of self-justification. That said, some of the commentary that Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, provided on the New Testament is interesting. BYU Professor Dan Peterson once commented that the trouble with us 21st-century moderns is that many of us have lost our respect, fear, and reverence for the Divine, coming to think of God, instead, as everyone’s ever-loving, ever-supportive, never-judgmental pal. In a related vein, interestingly, Joseph Smith slightly changed the King James rendering of Matthew 7:1: “Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged.”
I do believe the admonition of Jesus Christ, who invited anyone who was sinless in the crowd that took the woman in adultery to throw the first stone at her (see John 8:7). But the problem isn’t simply that people in the crowd wanted to pass judgment on her; the problem is that none of them could do so righteously. To the extent that I judge Ms. Payne unrighteously, I apologize and repent. The Salt Lake Tribune recently ran a story by Kate Brumback of the Associated Press about Ms. Payne. Even though it bothers me all of the time, I’m glad that, unlike Ms. Payne apparently, I actually grew a conscience. See here, last accessed February 8, 2016: http://www.sltrib.com/home/3482818-155/i-was-a-thief-jewel-pilfering-woman. I commented as follows:
I suppose, given the time in which you came up, Ms. Payne, you and those closest to you have seen (and perhaps have even received) some of the worst treatment of blacks many people in this country have to offer. Certainly, it has taken some time for the United States to live up to the ideal expressed in the Declaration of Independence that all are created equal.
Certainly, the country sometimes seems far from living up to the ideal I allude to above, and many of its individual inhabitants have a long, long, way to go yet before reaching that ideal on a personal level, the level at which which, to quote the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we judge people by the content of their character rather than by any invidious characteristic, such as the color of their skin.
To borrow and slightly alter Robert Frost, we all have miles to go before we sleep. But to deny what progress has been achieved on those fronts is to cheapen the sacrifices of those who worked so hard to move the country in that direction. As someone else once said, We’re not where we could be, we’re not where we should be, we’re not where we ought to be, but thank goodness we’re not where we were.
Perhaps, in your mind, you’re simply evening the scales or leveling the playing field at least a bit in the face of all of that injustice and maltreatment. If so, you ought to have paid more attention to what’s actually in that Bible to which you appealed for protection as a youngster: “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay” (see Romans 12:19).
But here’s the thing: If it’s true that countless people have experienced everything you have and worse (and surely it is), why is it that they, unlike you, are not concerned with thoughts of evening the scales or of leveling the playing field—or at least, they’re willing to leave such ultimate justice to One whose perspective on what is just and whose power, ultimately, to achieve justice far outstrips their own?
Even if one accepts your premise that you never took anything someone else didn’t want you to have, Ms. Payne, “He wants me to have it” is different than “He doesn’t care if I pay for it,” just as it does not fall to you to level unjust playing fields or to even unjust scales. And someone has to pay for all of that jewelry you’ve stolen, even if you don’t.
It may not be fair that bona fide purchasers have the resources actually to pay for their wares (even when factoring in a premium for thievery such as yours) and you don’t, but your thievery does nothing to redress that; it simply adds to the problem. As most of us learned as children, two wrongs don’t make a right.
In response to another commenter, who opined that Ms. Payne belongs behind bars, I responded that the only way she’d ever see the inside of a correctional institution—even the comparatively-cushy confines of a “Club Fed”—would be if she happened to tour one.
I wish you luck when you try out all of your excuses for your behavior on your Maker, Ms. Payne. You’re going to need it. (Luckily for you, He’s more merciful than the rest of us.)