I had the recent privilege to sit in on a hearing in the district court. It was a chance to witness the public proceedings to which this country gives open access, and I am grateful. But more so, it was an opportunity to hear the courageous testimony of a victim who gave voice to her story and for that I am deeply honored.
As I sat in that courtroom three words came to mind. They are familiar words to anyone living in the United States. School children, before they learn to read and write, memorize these words. Whether you are born here or immigrated, if the United States is your home, you will learn the words “justice for all,” the last three words of the Pledge of Allegiance. Sitting in the court filled me with passion for those words. We were there for justice.
The situation was complex, spanning many years of repetitive coercion, manipulation, threats, and violence leading to deep confusion and the crushing of a spirit. She was a college student volunteering in children’s ministry. He was her pastor. She was vulnerable. He was powerful. The grooming and lies started early and led to atrocious abuse of power and authority. Yet, as evidenced by the brief lines of introduction before the judge, this would be abridged to a single incident shared in the courtroom where she was not a person with a story but a case with a number.
As the case unfolded, it became clear that there was one thing everyone was looking for—evidence. If terrorizing drew blood, if manipulation left marks, if bullying left bruises—then, the evidence would be undeniable. But abusers know better. They know how to twist the truth, making even their victims believe their lies. The book of Ecclesiastes says it well when it states, “…I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter (Ecclesiastes 4:1).”
Pressed into the standard protocol of the court and in the hands of an overwhelmed and unprepared district attorney, she was simply a name on a form in a large stack of disheveled papers. A name filling a timeslot on a docket. A name mispronounced, a name repeatedly gotten wrong, a name mistakenly called. If they didn’t even know her name, how could they ever know her story? She was a case, a number, a file declared to have “lacked the evidence” to bring a conviction.
Justice for all? Though this court did not deliver, the words retained their power. Not because of a pledge, but because of a promise. The promise is not found in the words of a prosecutor or an advocate or even a supportive friend. Rather, the promise of “justice for all” is found in the God’s Word. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed (Psalm 103: 6). The Bible is full of promises related to God’s just judgement. He has promised to defend the abused and punish the abuser.[i]
Justice for all? Where the pledge fails, the promise stands firm. She is not a case, a number, a file. She is a person with a voice. An important voice. A valued voice. A voice of truth heard by God and his promise of justice is sure.
I witnessed incredible courage from this woman in that courtroom. She was honest. She was clear. She was brave. Abuse is wrong and must be exposed. As she continues to wait for justice, her testimony was not in vain. She stood for truth and she stood for the many other victims whose voices are still unheard and I am so proud of her. She knows God heard her voice she can agree with the Psalmist in saying, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live (Psalm 116: 1-2).”
[i] See Psalm 72:4, Psalm 146:7-9, Proverbs 17:5, Proverbs 22:22-23, Isaiah 10:1-3, Jeremiah 50:33-34, Micah 2:1-3 for just a sampling of how the Lord views abuse.