When is there a right time to do something wrong? Well, there is never a right time to do something wrong morally. However, there are many times where there is a right time to do something wrong according to the law of the land. Not every law in our land is just to begin with. However, what I will be emphasizing in this article is not so much the law itself being just, but how we are to apply certain laws as they pertain to ethics.
Law and legal systems, good and bad
You could say that most laws have loopholes, and not just for the sake of getting around obeying the law, but for the sake of morality. One reason we have judges and courts in the first place is because everything is not so black and white. Yahweh gave laws and explained them, but he also instituted a system which would allow for the reality of circumstances to help determine a just ruling. He wanted the judges to use wisdom and not just point to the rules sign. Unfortunately, because our “Justice System” is sometimes not so much motivated by justice and righteousness as it is by greed and power, we may suffer under the hands of those who have an alternative agenda from applying the law ethically.
Many judges in our system simply see everyone as another number. By going “by the book,” they are not so much interested in judging case by case. For the state, it’s all about whether they can prove according to the law that they can prosecute this individual. Even if they say the individual is innocent until proven guilty, they know their profit is contingent upon proving he or she isn’t innocent. If they can just prove without reasonable doubt that this individual has broken the law, there is nothing else to be said about the matter. There is not much consideration of the whole person and whether or not they did break that law. Further, the judges and prosecutors have immunity from much of the “justice” system they enforce. It is not a surprise for them to show no mercy—even if they are wrong. Like the experts of the law in Luke 11:46, they load people with burdens they aren’t willing to bear themselves. And they suffer no consequences.
This does not mean that the Marxist theory of criminology is any good answer. This theory believes that overthrowing capitalism and instituting socialism will prevent crime. It believes that socialism will eliminate most of the circumstances which encourage crime. This is not the direction we should seek to go at all. At the same time, I condemn any authority or someone in power which uses their power to keep others down, to remain in that power. That doesn’t mean we should find a way to improve one class of people through some revolution, expecting this to eliminate crime, either. Nevertheless, this abuse of power is a crime which breeds more crime. “Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart” (Eccl. 7:7).
What then is a more ethical view of crime and judgment of individuals? One important principle can be taken from the Bible, when David was given the consecrated bread with reasonable cause. Any ethical dilemma in this story is resolved by the contexts and the facts: choosing to starve out of duty would exalt a ceremonial law for a reason and purpose which was never intended. The priest had a greater duty to preserve David’s life than to preserve the bread for ceremonial purposes. The priest was not simply following the “letter of the law,” but using critical thinking and weighing the whole law together.
Guilty Beyond Reasonable Doubt
It seems that every age claims crime is on the rise. But is this really true today as many say? It depends on whose standards and definitions you are following.
According to the United States, “crime” is on the rise. But it is on the rise because of how many laws exist and how many laws legislators keep creating. It is on the rise because the laws they keep creating are burdensome, unnecessary, and oppressive of citizens of America. This provokes them to commit any number of “crimes” unknowlingly in some cases, or to feel forced to commit real crimes for survival in others.
When I say real crimes, I am speaking of crimes that are said to be crimes by Yahweh. Crimes according to Yahweh are on the rise in one sense, and in another they aren’t. What I mean is this: the corrupt judges, lawyers, politicians, and those in power are prevailing in lifting their fist against God. They don’t just “commit” crimes, they are committed to crimes that are against Yahweh. Also, with the rejection of truth in our post-Christian society, yes, some crimes are on the rise in general as well. In another sense, crime is not on the rise, depending on what type of “crimes” we are talking about.
When you look at the war on drugs, the dehumanizing of previous convicted felons, taking their rights away, the lack of real protection in the courts for defendants and witnesses, the lack of true retribution for victims of real crimes, and more, there is much to dissect when the law of the land is broken before we can decide how to discern real justice, let alone enforce it. Many judges sit in courtrooms as gods, and not in the biblical way, but as the ultimate authority. Whatever they say goes. They are unaccountable. When they interpret the law and influence the jury with their interpretation and application, they attempt to leave no room for the details of the situation and the law to be truly examined.
In most cases, judges are mainly concerned if the prosecutor can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant has broken the law. Defense lawyers should be concerned with upholding the defendant’s innocence by proving that the prosecutor has not provided enough evidence to convict them. In some cases, the lawyer does not have to do much because of the presumption of innocence of their client. Many times, however, defense lawyers are either trapped in the system, forced to play by the rules of plea bargains, or they are in bed with everyone else in the courtroom.
Although the defense may be able to prevail in some cases due to presumption of innocence, what if their client did break the law, but with a reasonable cause? Rarely do you see defense lawyers willing to go this route, even if evidence is stacked against their client. Even those who are genuinely trying to fight for their clients are unable to exercise a defense based on ethics. Neither are courts inclined to allow a jury that will exercise its power to nullify. Unfortunately, many churches practice church discipline in the same manner, making everything black and white, rejecting critical thinking, and making elders an ultimate authority.
Justifiable killing by necessity
Even in the law of God is not as black and white as we may often presume. The sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” for example, is not forbidding just war, self-defense, the magistrate bringing wrath on the evil-doer, and the defense of others. Even in our civil laws, these are justifiable. If proven in court that these were the cause of a homicide, the defendant can be acquitted. However, this is not always the easiest thing to prove, and many times the whole circumstance is still not always considered, even though even our laws make provision for it. There are some cases which you see applied ethics, but it is rare.
The law of necessity justifies homicide in the case where the defendants acted to prevent a greater evil to themselves, another person, or society. The defendant in some cases must prove this to be true, and there are limitations to such laws. For example, the danger has to be imminent and there must be no other option such as getting the police involved. While I agree with most of this law, I see where some of the limitations can fall short considering we don’t live in a society with a just system in the first place.
Let’s consider, for example, the case of a married woman—we’ll call her Jane. Jane’s husband Jim ended up losing his job after twenty years, then turned to drinking due to stress, and took his anger out on his wife by beating her. Jane seeks counsel from her church and they advise her to separate but not divorce him. Jane has two kids with Jim, and Jim doesn’t like the idea of separation. Jim was arrested at first for domestic violence, but is out on bail. He is now constantly harassing Jane at her new apartment. Jane calls the police several times on Jim. Jane leaves her church and struggles with her faith because of the counsel she is given. She couldn’t comprehend why God would want her to stay with Jim. So, Jim comes over drunk one day asking for sexual favors from Jane and she refuses. Jim rapes her, and Jane is fed up. Jane finally files for divorce and a restraining order. The restraining order gets rejected. Meanwhile her church has condemned her for divorcing Jim against their counsel.
Jane has nowhere to seek refuge, and even though she tried to move, he was able to find her. She knows Jim isn’t going to stop, and she doesn’t wait for the next time for him to come and abuse her. With no real help from the police or the judge, she feels helpless. So, Jane goes and takes matters in her own hands. She kills Jim.
For some, Jane was not in imminent danger. But, does the law of necessity protect her when the justice system and society has failed her? Was there a duress of circumstance? I know many Christians may disagree and call this revenge or doing evil for evil, but I would argue that there was at least an understandable cause. Is it reasonable? I think a jury would be best to decide that when given all the facts of such a case.
There is a movie called Enough in which a character played by Jennifer Lopez has a similar situation. She ends up having to change her identity and leave town, only to be faced with her predator once again. She eventually must take matters into her own hands. You also see this in the movie called Kidnap with Halle Berry, where she is forced to take matters into her own hands when her daughter is kidnapped by human traffickers and the police want her to wait around for them to find her son. Likewise, there is Taken from me: The Tiffany Rubin Story, based on a true story, played by Taraji P. Henson. The child’s father takes the child to another country where she has to go “illegally” and “kidnap” her child back.
Let’s take it a step further. Looking at the violence, specifically in the inner-city such as Chicago, many from the outside looking in think “those people” are just animals. Although many of them are living recklessly, we too often have not considered being in the shoes of someone living amid that type of warzone. Imagine how many situations occur where someone is forced to go take matters into their own hands to protect their family from some type of gang threat in the neighborhood, because they know they are not protected by the justice system. This is what I mean when I say everything is not black and white. The law of necessity justifies killing when a defendant has no other reasonable alternative. In many cases, the alternatives most will present are not reasonable. Many are programmed only to respond, “Vengeance is of the Lord.” My response is, maybe this was the Lord’s vengeance. Yet, such a person may have to prove the reasonableness of their actions when in court.
There are times where the law may justify a crime if the defendant has acted under compulsion or where the threat to their lives was greater than the crime they committed. In some instances, there is a moral duty to take the loss. However, there are cases where it might be reasonable to break the law, where there are no victims harmed, to preserve your life.
Many have heard of the term “No Snitching”. I do not condone witnesses or bystanders remaining silent out of loyalty to true criminals, while innocent people become victims. Yet at the same time, we must consider why in many circumstances people are not willing to come forward to testify of a crime they have seen taken place, even such as a murder.
If we are honest, witness protection in America is not compelling to most citizens. It is not enough to get someone to open their mouth even with a reward. Maybe an anonymous tip may come forth for the reward, but to testify in court, or in any capacity where you risk the danger of anyone finding out about it, is not worth it for many people. They would rather spend time in prison before they open their mouth.
People can end up being punished for lying about what they know about a situation, and although they may indeed have a moral duty to speak up, there are other details we must consider. Who are they were trying to protect? Were they just trying to protect a criminal? Or were they trying to protect their children? Were they just trying to save someone some trouble and leave someone dangerous in the streets, or were they really in fear for their lives? I am not saying this should always be the excuse used, but in many cases, this should be considered when judging if the party is guilty or not.
Yahweh is the standard of right and wrong. While the selling of marijuana, for example, is illegal in many states and has intense punishments, circumstances should still be considered. No matter what one believes about its legality, the system often doesn’t even look at the whole situation when judging cases of possession or trafficking.
The pharmaceutical industry pressures doctors to distribute products which seem only to keep patients dependent on a drug and not really cure them. Where such things are knowingly done, they are the real criminals, and that really is all about greed. Whereas your neighborhood marijuana dealer is often just trying to feed their family or rise above poverty. That doesn’t mean every neighborhood dope boy is an angel trapped in bad circumstances. However, as mentioned earlier, oppressive and unjust laws have bred an environment full of violence.
The culture of violence and other crimes that surround the selling of marijuana are due to the plant being illegal in the first place. This does not justify the violence or other true crimes that are perpetuated in that culture, but it speaks to the root of the problem. Obviously, marijuana isn’t the only illegal substance sold in neighborhoods suffering oppression, yet it is the substance that doesn’t hold the threat to individuals and families as others do, and it is the most common.
So from an ethical stand point, if a man has been laid off from a job that is being taken away from his community, and who has a record due to some other unjust criminal charges, therefore hindering him from getting a job that would support his family, goes out and sells marijuana to feed his family, is he a threat to society? Is there a victim? Would he have done better allowing his family to starve or to take welfare? Would he be a more faithful man to his household by following the law in this case?
What about victims of disasters such as hurricanes? If the whole city is in ruins, and yet there is a neighborhood store with supplies and food in it, are they just thieves because they break in for resources? Or is there a reasonable cause here? I am not saying that something can’t be worked out between the owner of that store and these people who broke in, but at the moment of the “crime,” an ethical decision was made. Preserve the store, or preserve life. “Loot” or die. This does not justify by any means all acts of “looting”—especially not for sweets and flat screens—but extreme circumstances can be considered apart from that.
Likewise, is a man who is a previously convicted felon wrong for keeping a firearm in his home to protect his family? He isn’t out robbing anyone, shooting anyone; he just keeps it for protection. Our lawbook says he can’t have it. So, all a prosecutor would have to prove is that he is in possession of a firearm. If he proves that, a jury could convict him, and would no doubt be directed to do so. It’s that simple. So, this man who wanted to provide protection for his family, must bring a knife to a gun fight if there is ever an armed robbery in his own home because “it’s the law.”
Even if you couldn’t agree with how I have applied ethics in these different scenarios, you should at least agree with the concept. If you agree with the concept, then whether you practice law or end up on a jury, you should be able to look at crime through more biblical lenses.
Many refuse to think critically because they think “following the law” is just simple. Many Christians believe Romans 13 leaves no room for considering circumstances, unless it directly pertains to preaching the Gospel, and even then there are limitations in their mind. Our system in many cases doesn’t allow for critical thinking. Sometimes this is good, but sometimes it is corrupt and harms many people. I am not suggesting we excuse real criminals by any means or pat people on the back just because they are in a bad situation when they do something immoral. I am arguing that we must decide based on all the evidence, the situation, and the higher rule of God’s law, whether or not they have done something immoral to begin with.