Tag Archives: justice

Seeking Justice After Abuse: Can we Make it Easier?

Seeking justice for self and others is a good thing. No, it is a “God thing.” This world was created to be just and one day it will be made right again. However, now we live in a world where justice is sorely lacking around the world. Even in the United States where the rule of law is paramount, justice is difficult to come by for certain segments of society and for those especially who are abused in secret.

We’re doing a bit better. Rape and other sex crimes are taken more seriously. Laws are changed to allow old crimes to be brought to trail. Notice that the movie Spotlight is in the theaters, highlighting the massive cover-up of church sex abuse crimes. Churches are now much more serious about protecting the most vulnerable in their midst–in part due to increased child protection measures required by law. Organizations like GRACE tirelessly provide prevention education.

You might think then that victims will find it easier to report their crimes and to pursue criminal justice. And I suspect the data would show that more do report their crimes now than twenty years ago. However, easier does not mean easy. Though this essay is nearly 13 years old, I recommend those serving victims (public and private mental health providers, ministry leaders, criminal justice providers) read Judith Herman’s review of some of the challenges of reporting physical and sexual assault crimes. Some of those challenges include

  • The humiliation of telling your story in a public and adversarial setting such as a trial (and telling it repeatedly with those who must question you)
  • The possibility that the perpetrator will use the system to intimidate and to terrorize
  • Being told that your case isn’t going to be taken up; being disbelieved when it is true
  • Being coerced by family not to report due to the perpetrator being a family member

What can we do to help?

Most readers probably do not work in the criminal justice system. Yet, there are many things we can do to help those who need justice.

  • Get educated. Check out resources provided by NOVA; know what abuse crimes are happening in your community; consider having law enforcement or a member of the District Attorney’s office come to a meeting with community and church leaders
  • Find out what laws need to be changed and communicate regularly with your political leaders
  • Become a victim advocate officially, or volunteer to go with a victim to his or her next court date
  • When injustice happens between members in a close community, consider how restorative justice practices might be beneficial for victim and offender
  • Mental Health providers can help prepare victims and their families for the challenges of going through the system
  • Teach on the matter of justice seeking in churches; show that the pursuit of it is central to the Gospel (James 1:27)



Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, Justice, sexual abuse, Uncategorized

“We Don’t Want Facts, We Want the Truth”: Temptations Online Justice Seekers Face

Listening to Terry Gross (NPR: Fresh Air) interview Ava DuVernay (director of the new movie Selma), I heard Ava attribute this to Faulkner,

We don’t want facts, we want the truth.

Not being aware of the context of this line (see the bottom of this post for more on Faulkner’s actual words), I immediately latched on to this as being exactly the sentiment most of us have when we want injustice both acknowledged and corrected.

Don’t give me facts, tell me what I already know is true!

When we experience injustice, it is natural and right to want wrongs to be made right. The first step of righting wrongs is to admit the wrong has taken place. God seeks out Adam after his command “Do not eat of that tree” is violated. But instead of admission, God gets “facts” from Adam: “I was naked…that woman you put here gave me.” All real facts…but not the truth.

Today, we can find similar problems between facts and truth. Whether Michael Brown sought to harm Officer Wilson, African American males know the truth–they are all-too-frequently profiled as dangerous and discriminated against. Defenders of Michael Brown know that Black males do not receive equal treatment and are overly represented in prison populations. This is the truth–whether the facts of the Brown/Wilson tragedy bear out these truths in a clear way.

Or consider this vignette: a Christian institution that has ignored or suppressed voices of those abused within community in order to maintain the appearance of purity. Imagine that in this community a report of possible abuse happens. Instead of seeking transparent investigation, the leaders of the institution investigate privately and determine that no abuse took place. If you were previously victimized at this or a similar institution, you would recognize that something was not right, no matter the facts of the most recent case. The truth is this organization has not (a) acknowledged past failings nor (b) changed behaviors indicating that want to rebuild trust. You might rightly say, “don’t tell me the facts, tell me the truth!” Tell me that you see you aren’t ready to be in the driver’s seat to determine whether abuse took place in this current case.

Temptations of the Internet Prosecution

Prosecutors (Justice seekers?) know an injustice has taken place but have to put facts together to prove their case. The defense uses facts to get an acquittal or a reduction in penalty. If truly guilty, the defense works to shift blame and hide the truth. Given this common dance, prosecutors face the temptation to neglect facts that might lead to an acquittal. That dirty copy, that coerced confession, ignore it. Assume guilt, only look at what proves your point. Read ambiguous data in the way that makes your case.

In the world of the Internet prosecutions, we see similar challenges. If you know an institution or person is guilty of injustices, you know the truth and you might demand that they admit it. This is good! But often we expand our prosecutorial role when the offender confession is lacking or missing altogether. While understandable, we may commit the following sins (impact in parenthesis)

  • Always assuming guilt (notice the damage done when a petty criminal is falsely accused of capital murder)
  • Failing to recognize differences between naïve and intentional offenders (present all offenses as capital offenses deserving our worst punishments)
  • Dismissing substandard apologies rather than encouraging an ongoing and growing apology (tempting the offender to give up)

The bottom line is we justice seekers, knowing how rampant deception exists, can turn to pessimism and use it to assume (judge) all suspected offenders. I don’t know about XYZ person or institution but because they are like ABC then they must be guilty. Let me just pass on this post with a snarky comment.  This pessimism does terrible damage in two ways.

  1. It harms our defense of victims because others no longer hear us as truth tellers
  2. It acts as thorns choking out tender growth in the very institutions we wish to see change.

Let us endeavor to speak the hard truths to friends and enemies in love.

**Faulkner quote:

“The poets are wrong of course. … But then poets are almost always wrong about facts. That’s because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth: which is why the truth they speak is so true that even those who hate poets by simple and natural instinct are exalted and terrified by it.
Faulkner, William. The Town. Random House. 1957. Paperback, Language English, 348 pages, ISBN: 0394701844.

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Justice a luxury of the first world?

Was listening to NPR this morning as they discussed a novel (Hour of the Red God) by author Richard Crompton. It is set in Nairobi and follows a Maasai detective as he pursues justice. You can listen to the program story here.

What I found striking was this little bit of interchange between the detective and his supervisor:

— What about justice? croaks Mollel.

Otieno gives a sad smile. — Mollel, you’re in the wrong country. The wrong continent. Don’t you know there’s something more valuable than justice here?

— What?

— Peace. … Justice is a luxury. Peace is a necessity. You want justice, move to some first-world state with sophisticated crime labs and DNA tests and judges who can’t be bought off.

I find this intriguing and a common viewpoint in the parts of Africa I have traveled (admittedly small). Since justice isn’t possible, seek peace. Unfortunately, such a pattern provides some comfort in the present but allows for desires of revenge to sprout and grow as a poor substitute for justice.

The bigger question is how do you work for justice when you cannot expect the necessary systems to work for that same goal?


Filed under Africa, conflicts

Thinking about justice: Starting from the wronged

At the Justice2013 conference here in Philadelphia. Yesterday’s pre-conference sessions included one by Nicholas Wolterstorff (professor at Yale) entitled, “My Story: Starting From the Wronged in Thinking About Justice”. He told of 2 experiences where he heard the stories of injustice (one in South Africa, the other from Palestinian Christians) and how these stories shaped his thinking about justice. He argues that starting from the position of the wronged changes how we think about justice. Here’s a few of his points:

  • We have reactive (retributive) rights and primary rights. Reactive rights are those that we have once we are wronged. Primary rights are those we always have (e.g., dignity). Most people think only about reactive rights or about justice in light of injustice.
  • In thinking about primary rights/justice, there are two common models: right order model (view that there is an external standard for order and rights (e.g., the bible); inherent rights (what one is due (equity, dignity) from merely being human).
  • Rights and fairness are connected but fairness or treating people equally is not necessarily justice. Some need more than others.
  • Justice and freedom are connected but autonomy as an absolute right is “justice for eagles and lions”, meaning only justice for the powerful. What about justice for those who have dementia, who are born without capacity to act? What if dignity is the foundation for justice?
  • Punishment as payback violates the biblical concept of “do not return evil for evil.” Thus, we must view punishment as connected to love (e.g., as a parent punishes a child to teach but not to pay them back for their evil action).


Filed under Abuse, Justice

Thinking again about justice and righteousness

With the upcoming Justice conference (we’ll be there!), I am thinking again about the relationship between individual righteousness and corporate justice. That thought reminded me further of a post I wrote while in Goma, DRC where justice is not often found–even more so a year later! Here’s what I wrote last October:

Hungering for Justice? A New Read on an Old Verse

During my recent trip to the DRC and Rwanda I practiced French by reading the Bible in French and English. Not sure it helped much but I did discover an interesting difference in Matthew 5:6 between the two translations that made me stop and think.

First the NIV:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Now the French:

Heureux ceux qui ont faim et soif de la justice, car ils seront rassasiés!

Notice something different? Most English translations use the word righteousness. Those who hunger after righteousness will be filled (or find satisfaction?). Now, when you substitute the word justice–those who hunger and thirst for justice–does it add meaning to you?  It does to me.

Justice? Righteousness? Do you hear differences?¹

When I hear the word righteous, I think of individual holy acts, attitudes, and character. When I hear the word justice, I often think of fairness, judgment, and legal outcomes that make right prior wrongs. In reading this verse in French and in Goma, DRC where so many have no justice and can’t return to their villages due to ongoing conflict, my mind considers that Jesus might be saying that those who hunger and thirst after justice are going to be blessed in a particular way.

Obviously, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will also long for justice for individuals, communities and states. One cannot be righteous and yet unjust or just and unrighteous. However, it is possible for us to fight against sin in our own lives, practice individual acts of righteousness, and yet forget to pray and work for justice for those who are being oppressed.

Some years ago Carl Ellis, in a class on African American theology, suggested that White evangelical churches often preach and teach about individual righteousness (i.e., what to put off and what to put on) but rarely teach about corporate righteousness unless it is to rail against worldly matters (e.g., abortion, homosexuality, greed, etc.). I do think this is changing as evangelicals are paying attention to matters of justice around the world. Yet, we can be reminded that God cares about those who are unjustly treated. It is not just Abel’s blood that cries out (Gen 4:10) for justice.

Thankfully, there is a just and righteous outcome. The sacrifice of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:24). Yet when you read Matthew 5 don’t forget that God is actively blessing those who are oppressed. He will satisfy them by fulfilling their desires. Let us not forget to hunger and thirst after justice for ourselves and for the world.

¹In this post I am not tackling the best translation for the Greek word (δικαιοσύνην) used in this verse. The 92 times it is used in the KJV are all translated righteous/ness. However justice is implied in 2 Peter 1:1 as we have faith due to the righteousness of God.


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Some thoughts and emotions on justice

What is justice? How do you go about determining what is just and what is unjust?

If you are like me, you’ve had a number of conversations and thoughts about justice in the last 48 hours. I can only believe that such conversations about justice are good, especially if we apply our philosophies to ourselves as well as others.

So, how do you answer my first questions? Do you lead with your intellect or your emotions? Let’s consider each (even though we can’t really separate these two parts of our being)

The intellectual approach to determine what is just

1. What is legal? Lawful = just. This works if you assume that those who create the laws are just lawmakers. But, we all can point to some draconian laws that we would not consider just.

2. What is deserved? Justice = penalty fits the crime. If you get what you deserve, an eye for an eye, then you have been served justice. Of course, if we follow this thinking, it could be just to walk up to a pedophile and castrate him. This would be illegal whether he was tried and convicted or not.

3. What is adjudicated fairly? Justice = blind adjudication. If you are accused of a crime, then justice is served if you receive a fair trial. However, justice does not hold exactly the same meaning as fair. It more accurately means righteous. One could have a fair trial and still get away with murder.

The emotional approach to determining justice

If we are truthful, our emotions tell us what is just. We hear of someone getting their due and we feel relief. Or, we hear someone who got his due but we hear that the one measuring out justice did so in a vicious or destructive way…and we feel conflicted if not downright sickened. Some of our thoughts on justice reveal certain values that we have yet to articulate. Consider the following options from an emotion perspective:

  • Law enforcement attempts to capture a killer but uses deadly force because they thought they saw him reach for a gun
  • A soldier kills an opposing soldier on the battlefield
  • A soldier kills an opposing soldier who was unarmed and running away
  • A soldier kills an opposing soldier who had dropped his weapon and raised his hands in surrender
  • A mass murderer who was not given a final time to give self up before being shot to death
  • A mass murderer killing another murderer who had only killed once

I suspect we could argue that in each case, the killing was legal, even deserved. But does it pass the emotional smell test?

Think this is a new issue? Then check out Habakkuk in the Old Testament. He raises a complaint to God about the sinfulness of his own people, Israel. God answers him and tells him that a heathen group of terrible sinners will bring just punishment on Israel. Habakkuk, as you might expect, struggles with this. “You are going to you THEM? Why they are the WORST!” God answers and tells him that he, God, is going to act in righteous and mind-blowing ways. And Habakkuk responds in only the faithful way he can: I see your fame, I see your Glory and I stand in awe. You are just in all you do. And even if there is no food to eat, I will yet praise you.”

Justice, it turns out, doesn’t always make sense to us. It may be easier to tell what is not justice than what is. For example, we ought not promote pragmatism (e.g., killing someone because jailing him will cost too much) or vengeance (e.g., eye for an eye…since bin Laden didn’t warn 9/11 victims, we ought not warn him).

We cannot go on human laws alone, intellect (as good as it is), or feelings. God’s view of it surpasses all of these ideas. And even when we come to terms with justice, we recognize that justice, without mercy also, is something none of us want to see. We will treat others better than they deserve. We will rejoice when evil men may no longer harm. We will be thankful when governments deliver justice and yet hold them to higher standards than those they judge. We will not return evil for evil. And we will mete out justice yet knowing that we too will face our day of justice as well. And so we will ask God for the grace to live justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly!


Filed under news, News and politics, Uncategorized

Sebarenzi on reconciliation

Am just finishing up Joseph Sebarenzi’s God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation (Atria Books, 2009). Joseph, A Tutsi, tells his story from childhood experiences of Hutu-Tutsi violence and state-sponsored discrimination to the 1994 massacre (he was out of the country then) and meteoric rise to power where he became the speaker of the parliament and then was pushed out by the Rwandan dictator.

I’m not sure if his story is accurate (about how Kagame tried to have him killed, but I found his views on reconciliation (and the lack thereof thus far) very helpful:

Ever since the genocide, I have asked myself how the nation could heal. How could we live together again in peace? …

Reconciliation brings enemies together to confront the painful and ugly past, and to collectively devise a bright future. It brings together communities in conflict to tell the truth about all past human rights violations and to create a society where they can live in peace with one another….

Reconciliation is in many ways the hardest option, because it requires effort, humility, and patience–whereas revenge is quick and easy. Reconciliation is complicated. it cannot be reduced to retributive justice…nor to forgiveness…. Reconciliation…includes several components: acknowledgment, apology, restorative justice, empathy, reparation, and forgiveness–and several accompanying measures, namely democracy coupled with consensus, peace education, and international assistance.   pp 214-215

The author goes on to describe what he means by each of these components (and some of the weaknesses in Rwanda). He subscribes to a rather Christian view of this process. It is not merely Hutu groveling to Tutsi but both listening to each other.

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Filed under Christianity, conflicts, Forgiveness, News and politics, Repentance, Rwanda