Published On: 6 March, 2012|By |

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?”

Some preliminaries

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.

Conclusion

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.

About the Author: Jason Harris

Jason loves to communicate God's word both in the local church and at conferences and retreats. Jason has been involved with Worship Music since 1996 and InFocus since 2005. Jason has degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research and is currently a PhD candidate and lecturer in the College of Business, Law, and Governance at James Cook University, Cairns. Jason is also a pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.

15 Comments

  1. PJ 6 March, 2012 at 6:36 am - Reply

    Thanks Jason, this clarified some things for me. It is a really difficult issue for some people and I think you’ve explained the pros, cons and Biblical position really well. God bless.

  2. Kez 6 March, 2012 at 9:44 am - Reply

    Wow, Jason, this is a really good post. It is well thought out and gentle but clear. It covers all the questions that immediately come to mind in a non-complex, but precise manner. It quietens the protestations of bystanders so quick to judge or give their uninformed opinions and it encourages thinking on these things without pressure. I appreciate you sharing the truth about these difficult topics. Thank you… =)

  3. Daniel kriss 6 March, 2012 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Hey Jason, wonderfully written article which lovingly and carefully suggests all the alternatives and gives very clear direction! I know many who will find this a great help. Sadly there are hundreds even with Christianity who have experienced abuse and I trust that this will encourage them to see it in its true light: gross sin! God bless you bro. Dan

  4. Alen 6 March, 2012 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Jason, the fundamentalist movement is notorious for keeping crimes in house. I believe these series of articles you’ve been doing are probably among your top work that you have done. I’m really glad that you’ve put these out there.

    I hope they lead not only to a culture change where crime is no longer kept in house but to also change the culture of attacking the victim. One is often seen as bitter and revengeful, especially if one is no longer a part of the community (such as myself) and cannot protect themselves against slander.

    Once again, great work.

  5. Wendy 12 March, 2012 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    Was Joseph wrong to not want to prosecute a capital offence? “And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly.” This was after discovering that Mary was pregnant. He must have thought she was guilty of fornication, a crime punishable by death, but instead thought to deal with it secretly. I.e., Not taking it to the police.

    • Jeremy Crooks 12 March, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      I am not sure comparing fornication 2000 years ago and modern criminal behavior is a fair comparison.

  6. Jason Harris 12 March, 2012 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    @Wendy,

    I don’t think he was wrong. But I find the question a bit confusing since the post doesn’t suggest it is wrong to not prosecute. Of course there are times when it would be wrong not to prosecute (e.g. when others are in danger).

  7. Wendy 12 March, 2012 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    In relation to the above article and your article on 16 reasons to prosecute criminal behaviour; I was just reading Mark 14:47 about when Peter tried to protect Jesus by chopping off Malchus’ ear. AT Robertson writes, “Mark does not tell that it was Peter. Only John 18:10 does that after Peter’s death.
    John MacArthur writes, “Mark and the other synoptic writers do not identify Peter explicitly, perhaps because they wrote earlier than John, during the time when Peter would still have been in danger of Jewish revenge.”
    Here is another biblical case of when a godly man was protected from being reported to law after a serious criminal event took place.
    The principle seems to indicate that not all criminal behaviour should be reported. These commentators are saying that the earlier Gospel writers, Mark and Luke,were protecting Peter from revenge (prosecution?)

    @Jeremy, fornication was punishable by death by civil authorities in that day, so I think it can be compared in principle to modern criminal behaviour, even though it is not punishable today in such a way in Australia.

    • Jeremy Crooks 13 March, 2012 at 6:09 am

      @wendy. There is a point where justice does not equate to enforcing civil law. I would argue it that chopping the hands off thieves because they stole or sending them to a penal colony in 1788 is not a punishment fitting the crime. Both of these are/were valid civil punishments. I would probably put stoning for fornication in this category

      On the other hand, allowing pedophiles to escape the law of the land is like preventing them from having a millstone placed around their neck and dropping them in the ocean. History shows it also allows them to repeat offend.

  8. Jason Harris 12 March, 2012 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    @Wendy, Perhaps you need to go back and have a closer look at that earlier post. The title of the post was 16 reasons crime should not be handled in-house. That is very different from “16 reasons to prosecute criminal behaviour.” That article deals with a third party’s obligation to report crimes. This one deals with the victim of a crime themselves deciding whether to pursue prosecution of a crime. Hopefully that clarifies a little.

    Regarding the matter of Peter’s incident, the fact that the New Testament writers may have tried to protect him (of course that’s quite speculative) doesn’t suggest that that was the right thing to do. Prosecution is not revenge; it is justice.

  9. Kezia Dennison 13 March, 2012 at 3:40 am - Reply

    @Wendy, I may have misunderstood you, but you seem to believe that the law is something a godly man who has committed a serious criminal offense might legitimately need protection from and that it might be right to not report him for the criminal act. Do I understand you correctly in that?

    If so, how can that be when Scripture is quite clear that God has put the law and it’s officers in place specifically to deal in justice – especially in regard to criminal matters. If a “godly man” (or anyone for that matter) is innocent of a charge, he has nothing to fear from the law. But if he’s guilty, then what possible reason could people have for needing to protect him from his deserved consequences?

    As Jason said, why the New Testament writers withheld Peter’s name is speculation and even if ithe theory were true does not mean they did the right thing in doing so. I’m interested if you could you perhaps offer some modern day scenarios where it might be right to “protect someone from the law” and/or not report them when they have committed a serious crime please?

  10. Wendy 13 March, 2012 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Hey, all I’m saying is that the Bible shows that all things being considered, Joseph chose to secretly put Mary away when she was found pregnant, rather than taking her to law to be executed by a just, good and holy law. He thought she was guilty, after all, she WAS pregnant and engaged to him. He is not condemned for not turning her in to the authorities, is he?
    Thus, the implication is that there are times when certain factors have to be taken into consideration which may mean that a crime should not need to be reported. As Jason said, in his concluding statements above, “Ultimately, there are complex issues that need to be addressed at multiple levels (spiritual, legal, personal, etc.). ”

    @ Kez, Jesus died unjustly at the hands of the government that you say no innocent man needs to fear. Paul died unjustly at the hands of a government that God allowed to rule and a government that in principle he had written to Christians to obey in Romans 13. Paul was godly, and innocent of the charge but died at their hands unjustly. When the Nazis governed Germany, many godly people who were innocent of their charges were put to death or horribly tortured. Godly people had reason to fear when corrupt governments ruled. See Proverbs 29:2 and Matthew 2:16 where it shows that at times godly people have legitimate concerns about the injustice of government actions.
    @Jeremy I am not for hiding pedophiles. I once convinced one to turn himself into the police.

  11. Jason Harris 13 March, 2012 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    @Wendy,

    First, the situation where the Jews wanted to stone the aduleress was neither law nor justice. An angry mob is incapable of administering true justice. That is not law… it is vigilantism and it is a crime in itself.

    Second, if indeed that was still law, it was a hangover from the time when Israel was ruled as a theocracy. Israel hadn’t been ruled by a theocracy for over a thousand years at this stage. It was originally intended to be carried out through due process and under direct divine authority. Governments today rightly fear to use this right of capital punishment because of the possibility of getting it wrong among other things.

    Third, Joseph did not know that Mary had committed fornication. He had no evidence. In reality, to turn her in would have been a false accusation based on no evidence except for that which was obvious to everyone… namely that she was pregnant. So it is invalid to suggest that this was a secret matter. Joseph intended to do what he was going to do discreetly, in a way that would not cause unecessary damage and this is admirable, but it is of course impossible to hide a pregnancy and a child.

    Fourth, if the point was valid, then it would be crucial to point out that while Joseph is not condemned, he is not commended either. It is interpretatively faulty to assume that because something is not condemned that it is not only commended, but also a pattern for our behaviour. This hermeneutic has done significant damage to the Church as immature expositors mistake biblical precident not only for biblical commendation, but for biblical instruction.

    Again, it’s unclear what you are suggesting overall. For instance your comment that “certain factors have to be taken into consideration which may mean that a crime should not need to be reported” suggests that you are referring to the previous post again. Fair enough. And I agree. If a man confesses a crime on his deathbed, you do not need to report it. If a man confesses stealing a pencil from a company, you do not need to report it. If a man confesses breaking the speed limit, you do not need to report it.

    But let’s be clear. If you are aware that a man beats his wife and/or children and you do not report it, you have done evil. If you are aware of a single instance of child abuse and don’t report it, you have done evil. If you are aware of significant harm, whether neglect, emotional, physical, or sexual to someone who is weak and you do nothing, you are a participant in the evil. If that weak person is under your spiritual care, the evil is multiplied.

  12. Kezia Dennison 13 March, 2012 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    @Wendy, I must apologize. Communication is obviously not one of my better points. =)

    I meant to make it clear earlier that I was speaking in the context of criminal activity. In other words, you said about how we know Peter committed a serious crime but he was not reported and was even deliberately protected and you seemed to take the principle from that and say that in some circumstances other people who have committed serious crimes perhaps should not be reported to the law also. If that is a correct grasp of what you were saying, my question is once again, what would be some modern examples where it might be right to protect someone or not report someone who you know to have committed a serious crime? I am honestly very interested in some scenarios…

    I believe criminal prosecution is a very different matter entirely from persecution and martyrdom. In the context of criminal behavior, the law is there to protect the innocent and bring justice to the guilty. God has placed them there for this purpose so what cause do we have to fear civil authority in this context? If a person is innocent of the charge as judged by a jury of their peers, they’ll go free and if they’re guilty they’ll pay the consequences. If we love justice like God does, how could we justify not helping the law do the job for which they were ordained by God and our country?

    God has set the law up as an authority to which we need to obey but when it contradicts the highest authority of God himself than we may be crossing over into the area of persecution and corruption and legitimate concerns about government actions.

  13. David LaVeque 21 February, 2014 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    dear brothers and sisters,
    The only things that have not been answered is why Peter was not reported?There was no crime comitted.Jesus repaired the damaged/severed ear.Not only that,but I believe that the gaurd became a believer at that moment.The gaurd could have reported the crime,but what evidence could he offer?
    Now,as to persecution of the Saints,and or crimes comitted against them,and no government to prosicute the evil doers,you may have forgotten the highest authority,GOD! He will always prosicute evil.The Saints did not have to report it,God was the witness'(thats plural)
    Now,as to joseph not haveing Mary stoned as was his right according to the law,he had the right to show mercy,and he did.Then an Angel of the Lord appeared to him and explained what God required of him.So Joseph being being a devout man,submitted to the will of God.That again,a higher authority prevailed.I hope this helps.May the Lord be exalted in all we do.

    Dave

Leave A Comment

Share This Article!