"It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important." - Martin Luther King Jr.
On October 31, 1994, Yolo County California social worker Jill Floyd along with Woodland Police Officer Nicholas Schwall knocked on the door of Robert and Shirley Calabretta. They were investigating a report from an anonymous caller about possible child abuse. The caller informed police on two occasions that she heard children screaming, "No Daddy, no" and "No, no, no." She also informed the police that the children "are school age and home studied" and that "this is an extremely religious family."
Ms. Floyd visited the Calabretta's residence more than a week before and noted that the children "were easily seen and they did not appear to be abused/neglected." But Ms. Floyd decided to visit the Calabretta's again with a police officer to investigate further without bringing a search warrant. All parties involved dispute reports about how Ms. Floyd and Officer Schwall entered the Calabretta's home, but we do know that Mrs. Calabretta refused their initial attempt to enter her home. (Later, District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton ruled that unless there is evidence of an emergency, a social worker and police officer investigating a report of child abuse must have a warrant.) Finally, Mrs. Calabretta relented and let them in.
Ms. Floyd questioned Mrs. Calabretta's twelve-year-old daughter privately about somebody hearing one of the children say "No, Daddy, no." Mrs. Calabretta's daughter didn't remember her or her sister screaming "No, Daddy, no," but she did remember her sister hurting herself in the backyard recently and screaming "No, no, no."
Ms. Floyd asked Mrs. Calabretta's daughter about how her parents discipline her and her sister. The twelve-year-old said her parents use a "a round, wooden dowel" to punish "irreverence" or "disrespect." Ms. Floyd later testified that any physical means of disciplining children "raises a red flag" for her.
She informed Mrs. Calabretta that, "It's against the California state law to hit your children with objects. And I found out that you hit your children with objects. And I need to see Natalie's bottom to see if there are bruises there." Reluctantly, Mrs. Calabretta pulled down the three-year-old's pants and she had no marks.
Illegal entry, an apparent distain for religious and home schooling families, a strip search of a three-year-old child and erroneous citing of state law. What would God have us to do when we see or face injustice like this?
God Hates Injustice
Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent-the LORD detests them both. (Proverbs 17:15)
Before we can know how God wants us to respond to injustice, we need to know how He feels about injustice and the above verse makes it clear-God hates it.
Encourage The Oppressed
Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)
How can we encourage those who face injustice? Think about the times that you've received a note, an e-mail or a phone call from somebody while you were facing difficult circumstances. Or think about the time that somebody stopped you in the hallway at church and prayed for you right there. Wasn't that encouraging beyond words?
Those facing injustice don't care nearly as much about what we say to encourage them as they do that we just say something. They don't care how eloquent we are, they want to know that we care enough about them to spend time with time during tough times.
Isaiah 1:17 also says to seek justice for the oppressed. How are we supposed to do that? If the injustice we face is at the hands of governing authority, then Biblically we are to seek justice via the civil magistrate (the judicial branch of government). God gave the civil magistrate the authority to administer justice (Romans 13).
That begs the question, what do we do when the civil magistrate acts unjustly? Do we have recourse? Indeed we do, but it may come with a price. When King Darius established a decree making prayer to any god or person unlawful for thirty days unless the prayer was to the king himself (Daniel 6:7-9), Daniel recognized this decree as unjust. He went home, opened his window, kneeled down and prayed three times that day, as was his daily custom. He was prepared to face the consequences for his actions and he quickly found himself in a lion's den.
Are we supposed to openly defy unjust laws like Daniel did? What about unjust rules at our workplace? Or how about an unjust ruling from the elder or deacon board in our church? Christians have a history of openly defying injustice on all levels. Peter and John defied the Sanhedrin in Acts 4 when they were told not to even speak the name of Jesus any longer (verse 18). God blessed them by filling them with the Holy Spirit (verse 31) and empowered them to continue to speak and teach about Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's small "Confessing Church" defied the German church when it wanted believers to stay silent about the holocaust. Martin Luther King Jr. defied the unjust position of the United States government that treated African-Americans as undeserving of equal civil liberties. Today, the church considers these people heroes and we applaud their actions. Why? Because they sought justice.
We may have to defy authority to stand against injustice at some point in our lives. But remember, God established a judicial system where our legal grievances can be heard. Whatever our circumstances, God wants and expects us to seek justice.
Petition The Civil Magistrate
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3-4)
In these verses, God is speaking to judges. With these verses in mind, think about what Romans 13:4 says about the civil magistrate, "He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." God established the civil magistrate to maintain the rights of the oppressed and to punish wrongdoers. When they don't do that, they are violating their very purpose for existence as defined by God. Therefore, we have grounds to petition the government via the judicial system.
Several Christian organizations now exist that specialize in helping those who face injustice stand against it. These organizations are well versed in the law and some of them even defend believers in court. We also have the option of hiring our own legal representation or representing ourselves in a court of law to fight injustice.
Whichever method we select, we may still lose if we face an unjust judge or if their hands are bound by an unjust law. If the judge is unjust, we can appeal to a higher court. If the judge ruled against us because of a bad law, then we have the wonderful opportunity in the United States to petition our legislative branch to change our law. In either case, it is Biblically correct to continue to seek justice.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)
Jesus pointed to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees when they tithed but failed to practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Just as we practice the tithe every week, we are instructed by Jesus to practice justice. That's a little harder to grasp. We know what a tithe is because it is measurable. But how do we practice justice? By action. When we see injustice, we make phone calls, we send e-mail or letters, we file complaints-not on a one-time basis, but continually.
The Calabretta's sued Ms. Floyd and Officer Schwall. A U.S. district judge and a court of appeals panel sided with the Calabretta's. The court said, a "social worker is not entitled to sacrifice a family's privacy and dignity to her own personal views on how parents ought to discipline their children." And God was pleased.
- Lee Warren