So you are the victim of a crime. It may be publicly known or it may be unknown to most. It may be recent or it may be the silent horror of a broken childhood. The perpetrator may be someone you know well or someone you never met before the crime took place. The crime may have been theft, physical abuse, sexual in nature, or any number of other issues. And now you’re facing the difficult question: “Should I pursue prosecution of the crime?”
First, I am assuming you have taken steps to get help with the effects of the crime on yourself. I am assuming you have disclosed the crime/s to several other people, have sought counsel if necessary, and have sought medical help where required. I am assuming you are well on your way to putting the pieces back together.
Second, it is not my intention to give legal advice in this post. Nor is it my desire to trump the advice of your medical, mental health, or spiritual advisors. Each person is different and each situation is different.
Finally, I am assuming the guilt of the person that is accused. In other words, while the person is only an alleged criminal until proven guilty, I am responding to these objections based on the assumption that the person actually did commit the crime of which they are accused.
My intention in this post is to address some objections to pursuing prosecution which tend to arise in the context of Christianity.
I’m sure those who raise these objections are well meaning, but it is not enough to be well meaning. Especially when such important matters are at stake.
Common objections to pursuing prosecution
I’ll address these common objections under four main headings.
1) WHAT OTHERS WILL THINK
People will think it’s revenge > The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what other people think. God says that vengeance is his, but he also set up government and gave them the sword to exercise for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of evildoers.
People will say I’m bitter > Unfortunately, this is almost certain to happen. This has become the stock answer in some corners of Christianity when someone raises concerns. Of course it’s a juvenile response. People give, preach, pray, and sing with bad motives but it would be childish to accuse everyone who does these things of bad motives. The key is to check your motives and guard your heart. There is nothing inherently “bitter” about pursuing justice.
Someone I respect doesn’t believe I should prosecute > Ok. My advice is to understand his/her concerns deeply and then make a decision about their validity. If you decide to proceed, try to help him/her understand why you’ve come to your decision and if possible, maintain his/her support. You will need all the support you can get.
2) SCRIPTURAL OBJECTIONS
We should forgive and forget > Scripture never teaches that we should forgive and forget. In fact, the proposition is entirely unreasonable. I may forgive an employee who steals from me, but I will not be entrusting money to their care any time soon. It would be foolish to do so. The importance of the point is magnified ten thousand times when the crime is sexual abuse and the context is ministry. This error is the result of confusing forgiveness with reconciliation.
1 Corinthians 6 forbids prosecution > This passage addresses civil disputes in the local church context. A crime is neither a dispute nor is it a civil matter. In short, it does not apply to criminal prosecutions in any way. I address this matter in more detail here.
We should love our enemies > We should. This only presents a difficulty if love is defined as niceness. But niceness is often unloving and love is often not nice. For instance, if a wife is being threatened with harm, a husband who is nice is not being loving. He is sinning. Or if a young person is experimenting with drugs, love is not nice. Love confronts and does battle for the well being of the person he loves. There is nothing inherently unloving about pursuing prosecution.
We should turn the other cheek > When Jesus was struck in John 18:22-23, he defended himself in a legal context. So clearly his comment does not mean we should not pursue justice. Rather, he spoke of a meek willingness to suffer criminal assault without criminal retaliation.
It is not Christlike > Additional to Christ’s self-defence referred to above, the Apostle Paul made full use of the legal options available to him. Jesus Christ is both loving and just. Jesus went to the cross because justice matters. Jesus will come again to pour out judgement on all who do not obey his gospel. Any view of Jesus Christ that cannot reconcile the meek lamb before Pilot with the angry display in the temple has failed to grasp all that God is.
3) AFFECTS ON RELATIONSHIPS
It will hurt the person who committed the crime > That is not really your concern primarily. It is the nature of crime that it is not committed against individuals, but against society and the state in general. That is why it is the state that prosecutes the crime, not the individual. This is different from a civil lawsuit where it is one person vs. another. In criminal law, it is the Crown vs. the criminal. And that is as it should be. The Crown is, in this instance, “God’s minister to you for good… he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:4).
I love the criminal > Good. That is the second commandment. It demonstrates that you have forgiven others as God has forgiven you. But that has nothing to do with whether you should prosecute or not.
It will hurt my relationship with the criminal > If the criminal has not repented, your relationship with the criminal cannot be healthy. If they have truly repented, prosecution will not hurt the relationship.
It will hurt my relationship with mutual friends/family > It might. This is something you need to weigh up. But ultimately, healthy relationships are based on honestly and truth. If family or friends doubt your story, this will invariably put strain on the relationship. Pursuing prosecution could clarify the matter. Or not.
It will cause division in the church > If the pursuit of legal justice causes division in the church, there are bigger problems than division at play. Perhaps God intends to use you to shake up a church that loves comfort more than truth and justice.
It will hurt the testimony of Christ > What hurt the testimony of Christ was the crime, not addressing that crime the way God authorised it to be addressed. Sure, others may find out about it. But what better place for the gospel to shine than in a situation where great sin is being addressed? What hurts the testimony of Christ is when crime is hidden and criminals are protected under the banner of “testimony.” This adds more sin (and sometimes crime) to the original crime and often results in deserved scandal down the track.
4) PERSONAL RESERVATIONS
It will cause more trauma for the victim > It might. I could be accused of being “pat” up until now, but at this stage I’m backing down. There are times when pursuing prosecution just isn’t worth the cost. There are many issues to consider and I can’t make that decision for you. Some general things to consider are whether prosecution would result in so much more damage to the victim that it is unreasonable to pursue, whether the criminal is a risk to others, and the severity of the crime.
It will cost me time and effort > It will. If there are others at serious risk, then it is your duty to pursue it if you can. But under other circumstances, you will need to wrestle with the costs versus the benefits. Remember that you will not be the prosecutor. The Crown will be. Still, no man builds a tower without first sitting down and counting the cost.
Prosecutors might not be willing to pursue it > True. That is their decision to make.
The criminal might be found not guilty > True. But remember, a “not guilty” verdict does not mean the jury/court believes they didn’t do it. It just means that there was not enough evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they did do it. You can’t control the outcome. Nor should you try. All you can do is fulfil your responsibility in the matter.
They’ll get off easy > Maybe. Again, that’s not your concern. Your job is to do your job. But even if they get off easy, there are many benefits to a guilty verdict in terms of justice and protecting others in the future.
No good can come of it > God loves truth. Hiding, pretending, evading, avoiding, and denying have no place in God’s nature. Bringing the truth into the light of day has merit in itself. Other benefits might include a sense of closure for the victim/s, helping other victims come out of hiding, helping the criminal face reality and get help, protecting potential future victims, cooperating with government in fulfilling their God-given role, deterring future criminals, spending time in “the house of mourning,” etc.
If you conclude that you need to pursue prosecution of a crime, past or present, the first step in that process is to contact your local police.
Ultimately, there are complex issues that need to be addressed at multiple levels (spiritual, legal, personal, etc.). I pray that these thoughts will help some.
I have addressed a difficult topic so I’m confident there are things that need to be clarified or corrected. As always, I appreciate those who contribute to that end in comments.
God loves mercy, justice, and truth. May we as well.
Grace to you.