Posted by: 15shekels | June 14, 2012

The Tribunals of Heaven and Earth

I have found that prosecuting sex traffickers and rapists does not feel good. I have discovered that I don’t relish “putting them away.”  Unlike some of the prosecutors I have met who celebrate after big “wins” and talk about punishing those they view as “really bad people,” I have looked into the eyes of men who have done horrendous things and simply felt sad. Surely it is good and necessary that justice is done, that victims are rescued and given restitution, and that future criminals are deterred. But that does not mean that I want to throw a party after I see someone sentenced to life in prison. I believe that this reaction is due partly to my politics, and partly to my theology. And although my current internship might be much more fun if I took pleasure in these prosecutions, I am grateful for a worldview that instead surrounds these cases—even, perhaps especially, the successful ones—with sadness.

I will first talk briefly about politics, and then more in depth about theology. During my senior year of college, I had the opportunity to work with low-income urban residents of an economically depressed city. The experience taught me more than four years of college classes. I saw men and women whose homelessness, joblessness, drug addictions and criminal records were almost entirely due to circumstances out of their control. I saw that many of them came from abusive or broken families, and from neighborhoods with high levels of violence and drug addiction. I saw how trapped many of my clients felt because they could not get a job without a permanent address, but could not get an apartment without a job. And I saw that crime is usually committed not out of malice but out of desperation. I believe that, even from a totally secular standpoint, nobody has the right to judge criminals or people who cannot “pull themselves up” out of poverty, especially if one has been born into a family that is economically stable and free from addiction and abuse, let alone loving or encouraging. With this perspective, I can look at sex traffickers and see that many of them have been sexually abused, and many of them are economically desperate. I can hate their actions, but I cannot hate or judge them. Now stepping off my bleeding heart soapbox.

More importantly, I cannot hate or judge the traffickers because doing so would fly in the face of what I know to be true about myself, true about the world, and true about God.

Last week, I worked on a case involving a man who had raped a child. I told my husband afterward that I had trouble looking at the man, because I had been told what a vile person he was. My husband replied, “You know how you can look at him when nobody else can? You can look at him as a child of God. When the world is disgusted by him, you can look at him with compassion.” He was completely right.

Because the truth is, I have no right to judge him. I am no better than him. That statement has made even the strongest Christians in my life cringe for at least a moment, because they cannot imagine me trafficking another human being for sex or labor. Neither can I. But God has made clear that there are not “good people” and “bad people.” Instead there is a world of people made in God’s image who choose to rebel against him daily.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘you shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Matthew 5:21-22.

“As it is written: ‘there is no one righteous, not even one.” Romans 3:10.

Therefore, I can look at the traffickers and know that literally there but for the grace of God go I. Not only has my upbringing placed me on the other side of the courtroom barrier, but more importantly, I have experienced the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in my life. And here comes the hopeful part. Because if only the politics were true, we would be stuck in a dismal situation in which people could not rise above their circumstances. In contrast, as a Christian I believe that although none of us can be good or righteous apart from God, we are justified by Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Although we will not be perfect on this side of heaven, we can experience real transformation. And our access to this grace is not determined by our circumstances—it is available to all. This also means that when we do make progress, we will not be self-righteous or judgmental, because we know it was not done out of our own power.

I have considered becoming a defense attorney, because I think that it is incredibly noble to see people as more than the worst things they have ever done—I think it reflects Christ advocating for us. But I think there is also a great need for prosecutors who seek justice for those who commit terrible offenses, especially when they can do so with compassion and some sadness. There is a need for prosecutors who will seek earthly consequences for a person’s crimes, while knowing that Jesus stands ready and willing to be a fierce defense attorney for that same person before the tribunal of heaven.

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Responses

  1. […] friend Heather is a law student with a calling from God to help end sex trafficking.  She has just written a […]

  2. Hi Heather – I hope law school is going swimmingly!

    Here’s a group I’ve run into in Boston doing great things to counter human trafficking:
    http://www.egc.org/abolition

    And a blog by the director:
    http://abolitionistmusings.blogspot.com

    • Thanks Adam! I love discovering new groups and organizations working on this issue.


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