Justice is blind, and her judgments are fair, impartial, and moral. The blindfolded Justice holds a balance in one hand and a sword in the other. On Justice’s scales, she weighs evidence against truth; Justice’s blindfold shows her impartiality; and Justice wields a sword of authority, which she uses in her swift judgment.
Some think Justice doles out retributive punishment, the just desserts of one’s past deeds. However, modern justice is not vengeful. In the name of mutual fairness between competing stakeholders in society, her acts are utilitarian, consequential. A person’s deeds have consequences. Positive consequences encourage repeat behavior in the future. Negative consequences deter repeat behavior in the future.
Lady Justice is but a symbol; however, her attributes are rooted in biblical justice. Throughout the Old Testament, God juxtaposed the concept of justice against unjust societies. Justice marked an ordered, God-following society. Justice showed a system of accountability, and without justice, societies plundered into all manners of evil.
Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”—Martin Luther King, Jr., from ‘Letter from Birmingham, Alabama Jail’, April 16, 1963.
Definition of justice from Merriam-Webster: the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments; especially: the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.
Beyond the Bible, modern history shows legal justice systems haven’t always rendered true justice. For example, take the unjust justice in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In this novel set against the Jim Crow South, the maligned social order of fictional Maycomb, Alabama set in motion the injustice that happened to Tom Robinson, a black man wrongfully accused of rape. In truth, accuser Mayella Ewell improperly solicited Tom Robinson. However, the people of Maycomb were sick with prejudice, blind with it. Racism obstructed their sight, and they could not see truth (like Proverbs 21, “Every way of a man [was] right in his own eyes…”). The word of a known delinquent white was worth more than the word of an honest black man. The townspeople took part in the gross injustice of “killing” an innocent “mockingbird,” simply because he was black.
In the closing argument of Tom’s trial, Atticus Finch said:
“Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.
I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system — that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.
In the name of God, believe him.”
The objective evidence was on Tom’s side. Atticus laid out the evidence strategically, revealing gaping holes in the Ewells’ illogical and incoherent narrative. And the jury of twelve white men still found Tom Robinson guilty. Justice was absent. She would have decided differently.
Justice applies law and gospel, accountability and forgiveness with caution.
If legal justice systems can fail to render justice when blinded by human partiality, smaller communities–churches, universities, organizations, clubs–are that much more at risk. Understanding this may help such communities avoid committing secondary harms to abuse victims. This is especially important for church communities to understand when responding to sexual abuse victims in their congregations. Following allegations of abuse (especially when an alleged abuser is a member of that church community), many church persons dole out unjust portions of law to victims and gospel to abusers. Such portioning shows reckless disregard for the nature of abuse and may constitute secondary victimization (i.e., spiritual abuse):
“Members of the clergy, church elders and lay Christians often struggle with the application of law and gospel to victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse. Partly as a result of ignorance of the dynamics involved in these cases, Christians often apply a heavy dosage of law to victims and gospel to offenders. This misguided, sometimes cruel application of theological principles often drives victims away from the church and emboldens offenders to remain in their sin, if not to offend again.”
Vieth, Victor I. 2012. “What would Walther Do? Applying Law and Gospel to Victims and Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 40 no 4: 257-273.
Spiritual abuse stymies victims’ healing, and church persons should seek to understand how hasty words of “law,” regardless of intent, could re-injur the already wounded. Martin Luther differentiated “law” and “gospel” by defining gospel as that scripture pertaining to “salvation,” “grace,” “comfort,” “peace,” and “joy,” and law as that scripture pertaining to “wrath,” “sadness,” “pain,” “judgment,” and condemnation.
John Wesley also delineated the “law” and “gospel” and advocated for a cautious preaching that adjusted the ratio of law and gospel by an understanding of congregant circumstance. In a letter he wrote December 20, 1751 to Ebenezer Blackwell, a London banker and benefactor of the Methodist cause, Wesley said preachers needed to empathize with congregants to determine the appropriate law/gospel mix. Wesley called such preachers “wise builder[s].”
Church persons can be wise builders to abuse victims if they build trust with victims:
1. Communicate transparently;
2. Listen wholeheartedly,
3. Withhold judgment,
4. Empathize with pain,
5. Refrain from minimizing,
6. Educate themselves (e.g., learn common features of abuse, common effects of abuse, common myths surrounding abuse, statistics involving true/false reports, etc.); and
7. Believe victims (above all).
Church persons should also be aware of their internal biases. Justice requires fact-finders be free from conflicts of interest or stakes in outcomes. As with the small Maycomb, close-knit communities–universities, churches, athletic groups, clubs, organizations–are ill-equipped for impartial investigation and judgment. Therefore, where reports or inquiries arise in small communities like churches, church persons should defer to external auditors whenever possible. If an external audit stalls and a church is compelled to investigate for the safety of others (i.e., a report of sexual abuse exceeds statute of limitations), then churches should ensure all investigations involve impartial investigators who have no relationships with involved parties. Never should church persons be investigating members of their own crowd or family.
Justice, out of love, gives “gospel” to the abused and “law” to the abuser.
Clergy and laypersons alike should be careful in their application of “law” and “gospel,” recognizing their prejudices may influence responses. They may see after-effects of abuse, depression, eating disorders, addictions, sexual promiscuity, etc., and (ironically) they will focus on these as “sins” rather than manifestations of abuse. Often church persons will “preach at” these wounded, with heavy doses of “law,” when the abused are already fearful. The fearful don’t need more fear; they need more grace and love.
Offenders, on the other hand, are often not fearful enough. When their only accountability is “cheap grace,” they will feel emboldened and are more likely to offend again. Because by its nature sexual abuse is a secret crime, it may take years, even decades, for additional abuse victims to come forward and reveal the additional havoc an abuser wreaks.
Sex offenders who are truly penitent should be willing to hold themselves accountable for their serious crimes. If someone were to commit arson and burn down a church in a neighboring town, and the arsonist came to his church people, said he was sorry, said he’d been forgiven, but said he didn’t intend turning himself in to police, then would that arsonist be truly penitent? Not likely. As Victor Vieth says (link to article above), “Such a harsh application of the law is not cruel, but a genuine act of love. A sex offender unwilling to accept full responsibility for his conduct, who continues to minimize his offense or to blame others for his conduct is not yet the ‘crushed’ sinner . . . ready for the gospel.”
Isaiah 59 King James Version (KJV)
59 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
3 For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.
4 None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.
5 They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.
6 Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.
7 Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.
8 The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
9 Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
10 We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noon day as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men.
11 We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves: we look for judgment, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far off from us.
12 For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them;
13 In transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.
14 And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.
15 Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.
16 And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.
17 For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.
18 According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompence.
19 So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.
20 And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord.
21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.