Obstacles to the Dialogue on Racism: Defending the Guilty

Obstacles to the Dialogue on Racism: Defending the Guilty

This is a difficult thing to understand, so I ask for some grace with this. The person who defends the guilty is not trying to protect the guilty but is trying to protect the ideal of justice. The American justice system is designed to naturally defend the accused, both innocent and guilty alike. Many will defend the apparently innocent but few are willing to defend the apparently guilty because it makes them look as if they’re promoting and supporting the evil of the guilty. But if there were no one willing to defend the guilty, the murderer, the racist, the rapist, then all justice would reduce to mob rule, which is no justice at all. And if innocence weren’t presumed, but instead guilt, then our error would be on the side of punishing the innocent compared to freeing the guilty. As a result, this system, I believe, has an aspect of grace and mercy designed into it.

The difficult thing to ask in this situation is to allow the justice system to be the one to make pronouncements of judgment, not the general population. Because the authority of judgment lies in the hands of others we are prone to fear and suspicion. Some of this is justified. The Bible has much to say about the abuse by the powerful on the powerless. I recognize this is especially the fear of the African-American community. The sentiment, I believe, is that the request to be patient and let the justice system work it out is just another diversion tactic in a long history of delayed justice. Perhaps there are no grounds to ask the African-American community to “trust the system.” I don’t know if I have an answer or resolution to that, other than to try to live out the Gospel in my life as best as possible, and seek and promote justice for all.

But as I’ve been reflecting on Scripture lately, I’ve also noticed that sandwiched between two commands to not take advantage of the disadvantaged (Ex. 22:21-22, 23:9), there is also a command to not be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit (23:3). All this to say, there is also a precedent in Scripture for us to resist the compulsion to unfairly side with the disadvantaged, and as a result, pervert justice in the opposite direction too. Given that, it’s only reasonable for Christians who genuinely seek to practice God’s justice, to ask questions and be slow to judgment in cases of apparent guilt/innocence.

Now, I think the overall idea in Scripture suggests that we should be more suspicious of perverting justice in favor of the powerful than the powerless; this is certainly the natural way of corruption. Given that, I do think Christian culture tends toward airing on the side of defending the disadvantaged. But how do we know if we’ve been too favorable of the claims of the disadvantaged and need to consider the claims of the privileged more fairly? Do we discern this by looking at the number of times we side with white against black, rich against poor? I think perhaps the ideal would be that we could have virtuous characters in that we can regulate ourselves, but the reality is that we fall into one disposition or the other. I don’t know this, but perhaps it is God’s calling on specific people, like the prophets, who will consistently speak from one perspective or the other. They’re there to challenge our consciences and make us ask whether we’re perverting justice to one side or the other.

All this to say that while this may be a difficult thing to ask, I don’t think you should dismiss your brothers and sisters in Christ who are genuinely asking questions about the nature of a person’s guilt/innocence. While persons willing to ask questions are frustrating because they seem to doubt the obvious nature of a thing, they are also necessary.


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