Justice or Revenge?

This is the story of one of my friends. Due to the sensitive nature of this story, I am publishing it anonymously for her. The experience of sexual abuse and the church’s failure to protect is sickeningly common. What are we doing to bring about redemptive change? While working for that change, are we motivated by justice or by revenge?


I was angry. The rage that filled me blinded me to reason or logic as I picked up eggs and slung them at the darkened house. Around me were four or five other teenagers, both boys and girls who also picked up eggs and threw them. We repeated the words that had made us so angry, “We’re just practicing!”

More eggs flew and from inside, we saw curtains move. A friend and I hung one last ornament– loaded with accusation– on the doorknob to make sure there was no question as to why we were there, then turned to leave.

We got back into the car, and dirt, grass, and stones flew as I tore up the yard. We “turned kitties” through the driveway and across the front yard, and then we left.

I was fifteen and I didn’t have my license yet. I also didn’t own a car, but my little sister and I had sneaked off in our parents’ station wagon in the middle of the night to meet the rest of the group that joined us on our mission. The focus of my anger was a seventeen-year-old boy who lived in that house. We had been told that his parents were gone for the weekend, so we wanted to give him a message that he would understand.

My 15th year of life was my angriest year of life. It was the year I realized that life is not fair and painful things have the power tear your world apart and nothing you could do would make any difference.

My little sister got raped that year. She was barely thirteen.

My parents started the process that would put this 29-year-old man in prison. There was a rape kit, an interview on video, and suddenly everything stopped. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember being told that some in our church were discouraging them from pressing charges because we were nonresistant people.

We now knew better than to ever babysit at those people’s house again.

I learned two things from that. The first was that bad things happen that you can do nothing about. The second was that adults could not always stand up for you to protect you or to bring justice when those things happened.

Somehow the kids at our Beachy Christian school found out what had happened to my sister. Our friends asked us about it and we both attempted to shrug it off. We had enough other problems in our life to want to focus on that. My dad was in the process of leaving my mom and our world was falling apart.

But my little sister told me the boys at the Beachy school treated her differently after that. This angered me almost more than the rape did. This was our day to day world—the people we were with every day. One night after a Tuesday night ballgame at school, a much older, high school boy that my little sister had a crush on offered to give her a ride home.

I didn’t realize that she had left until I went to leave with my brother. Her room was dark when I got home, and I didn’t talk to her until much later. That week, a friend told me that he heard “locker room talk.” That seventeen-year-old was bragging to the boys that he pulled over and “had sex” with my sister. He never said a word to her, just pulled over and raped her.

But even worse, he boasted that he had a girlfriend and that he had only wanted to “practice” on someone.

I can’t even begin to describe the rage that filled my mind. I wanted to hurt him in the worst way. I wanted to get him in trouble. I wanted him to feel pain. I wanted him to know how angry I was. How was it possible for someone to use a broken little girl so callously with no thought of her suffering?

But there is no justice–not when you are a Beachy girl who has been taught that you must always forgive. Not when you are part of that troubled family with so many problems and carry your own secret shame–no one hears or cares. Or so I thought.

We took matters into our own hands and showed our anger in our own rather immature, adolescent manner. But the church noticed then.

Within a week, I, and a couple of the kids that had joined me in my egg throwing escapade had to meet with the church ministry team. It turned out that our information had been incorrect; his parents had been home after all that weekend. They had recognized at least a few of the kids involved and had contacted the church.

We sat there in shame as the preachers questioned us sternly. “Are these accusations true? Why would you do such a thing? Why did you hang a condom on the doorknob? Why were you shouting?”

And we hung our heads and shrugged. “I don’t know. It was just a prank.”

Why bother explaining? How could three young teenage girls explain to an entire ministry team of men the shame and vengeful anger we felt? They wouldn’t understand. What good would it do but drag my sister’s name through the mud again?

Later that week, we went with our mothers to apologize to his parents for what we had done. I mumbled my apologies with hatred and anger still festering in my heart.

That was more than twenty-five years ago. The anger and hatred have been eradicated long ago, but I still cried as I typed out this story.

Justice. Mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. Sorrow.

Through the years, these are all words that I have become well acquainted with. I learned the meaning of them in a deeper way than just knowing the definition. Some things you don’t really learn until you live them.

I’ve learned that just because you sorrow doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. I’ve learned that just because you have forgiven doesn’t mean that God won’t extend justice.

I’ve learned that mercy is not forgiveness. I’ve also learned that grace is greater than justice or mercy.

More and more I realize that I care a lot about justice. I can overlook wrongs done to me, but when I see innocence stolen, or people taken advantage of or wronged, something inside wants to stand in front of the one being wronged and fight to defend them. Something in me wants to fight against injustice where ever I see it.

I’ve learned that God is a God of justice and the desire for justice is not wrong. It is God-instilled. I have also learned though, that His sense of justice is much more perfect than mine. There is a fine line between justice and revenge. I can bring injustices to Him and ask Him to fight for those who are wronged when there is nothing I can do. I have seen His hand bringing justice when it seemed impossible.

When I allow my anger at injustice to overtake me and I strike out in hate or anger at the offender, it is only revenge and will accomplish nothing.  I am incapable of balancing the scales of justice perfectly. Justice, on the other hand, is not wrong to seek—especially when someone is being wronged and has no one to stand up for them.

Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

Psalms 82:3 “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.”

Psalms 106:3 “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!”

Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”

Proverbs 21:3 “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

Jeremiah 22:3 “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed.”

Justice seeks to stay within the confines of the law and the moral nature of God. Revenge seeks to satisfy its anger and hatred by inflicting pain or shame upon the offender.

There are a lot of ways that I could have sought justice rather than revenge in the story I just wrote about. Justice could have been accomplished, but instead revenge did nothing and for years I carried anger. Anger that I didn’t even realize was there.

God has a way of bringing things to our awareness that need to be taken care of… One day I saw the man who hurt my sister in a restaurant as I walked up to the counter to order my food. My stomach turned, and I felt physically sick. I left without food. It was at that point that I realized I hadn’t ever forgiven him.

I asked God to eradicate that anger and hatred and to help me to see that young man as God sees him. I truly believe that if I were to see him today, my reaction would be different.

That was a long time ago. And still I am learning to differentiate between defending the downtrodden and afflicted; and taking revenge.

May I be as wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.


What thoughts and emotions stir in your heart and mind when you read this story? How can we develop justice and stand for our right to be protected without deteriorating to revenge?

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34 thoughts on “Justice or Revenge?

  1. Thelma Martin

    I continue to read books about children who were abused because I crave knowledge to learn how to help the abused child. I am studying the “teacher” who helped the child. I had foster children in our home who went back to relatives who abused them when they were toddlers. God have mercy. When I ponder whether an abused child who does not choose positive ways to cope with his pain, his heart pain, when I ponder if such a child will be condemned by God; then HE whispers to me, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.” and I am at peace.

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  2. Victoria Mary Miller

    As a former victim advocate at the Sexual Assault Domestic Violence Center here, I saw SO MANY churches cover up the abuse and shame the victims ESPECIALLY the Mennonite and Beachy churches. Even when there was hard evidence the preachers would cover everything up in the Name of Jesus. That to me is blasphemy and God will not just let that slide by. A local Beachy man’s victim who was human trafficked has turned away from God because he said, well if the preachers find out, he’ll just say he has a change of heart. The preachers did find out and cover him. She said she wants nothing to do with a god like that. I don’t either. So much of it is a cult that covers this type of thing up. I have yet to meet a sexual assault survivor in the Menno/Beachy/Amish world who has been treated rightly and the perpetrator has been held accountable. Not one. Not even in my own personal life. And trust me, I’ve met many many of these survivors both in my regular and professional life. It is sick. I will not shut up even though I’ve been threatened by Beachy/Menno preachers. God doesn’t shut up. He will bring justice. Meanwhile may Jesus comfort and hold all the weeping shattered victims of these religious people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sandra Miller

      This is a troubling issue, no doubt….To suggest that no church leader holds the perpetrator responsible is not true either. I personally know of a pastor who was defrocked for life because of his own behaviors…I am seeing now how there are people in leadership who are now taking this issue seriously and holding the perpetrator responsible. In fact, our church pastor told the entire congregation that if any will rape they will be reported to the law.

      Changing the subject: I used to work as a volunteer at a Crises Pregnancy Center. Many years ago I had a client who told me she was molested as a child. Years passed and in time this molester came to her with an apology, asking her to forgive him and what can he do to compensate for the pain he inflicted upon her? This apology was so meaningful to her, it bordered on a sacred moment for her – this reconciliation. She said that now she can look at a group of children playing and can pick out the one that are victims of sexual predators. This testimony blessed me.

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      1. I think as greater awareness is being raised, some in leadership are rising up to the difficult task of purging abuse from our churches. I’m blessed to hear of these examples, because they are still far too few. I wish every person who was molested as a child–and the abusers–could experience the healing and reconciliation that is possible through Jesus’ transforming work.

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  3. Tricia

    We have to be the adults who listen. Who pursue safety for the abused, who protect them from those who see them as used and not as people to be loved, protected, and cared for.

    I think Jesus would have probably told those children who attempted to defend the younger sister, “Neither do I condemn you,” after he confronted those parents with the sin of their own child, and his greater wrong against the young girl. I’m not saying that their actions were right. But in light of the wrong of the adults around them, I cannot find reason to condemn them for the reaction they had. It was, likely, more righteous than the actions of the adults.

    The author wrote, “There are a lot of ways that I could have sought justice rather than revenge in the story I just wrote about. Justice could have been accomplished, but instead revenge did nothing and for years I carried anger. Anger that I didn’t even realize was there.” What I wonder was, did the 17 yr old version even have the ability to seek justice in those ways? Are those ways we can see looking back, or were they there and obvious to that child at that time?

    Victoria Mary Miller said, in an earlier comment, that she had NEVER witnessed an appropriate response by Beachy/Mennonite church leaders. With that in mind, I simply wonder…was the behavior in this narrative *really* the wrong? Or is it the natural result of adult leaders failing to fulfill the calling to care for and protect?

    Anger at injustice is not sinful, or wrong. I wish we understood better in our christian circles that Anger itself is not a sin, but not mastering it is what leads to sin. “Be angry *and sin not*” we are instructed. It doesn’t say, “Do not be angry.”

    If that man never did have to face the consequences for his sin against that girl, anger is not inappropriate. For the sake of the author, I am glad that he or she is able to leave justice up to God. I suspect that God’s justice is based on a far higher and more holy standard than our human justice is. Even if we never see it in or lifetime, I have no doubt that God’s justice will deal with him righteously.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brenda

    A thread running through all of these horrific stories is the failure of those in leadership. Why is there such a lack of courage, lack of discernment and lack of commitment to truth?

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    1. I think it may be because these leaders feel they have a system to protect. To admit that such a thing could happen in the church is too devastating to accept.

      Also, many of us were never taught the skill of spiritual discernment. Dealing with these situations takes a great deal of spiritual sensitivity, and if we have never seen it modeled it’s very hard to know where to even start.

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  5. Ken Nisly

    Because of the Anabaptist stand on non resistance, usually the main focus in these situations is forgiveness itself. If you will just forgive we can move on and we have reached our main goal. There is little effort on putting a wall of protection around the abused and their family and in that have created a haven for the abuser to thrive and hide. The fact that -it would be better for a mill stone hung on the abusers neck ( Jesus words – not mine) is not as important as (well have you forgiven?) true forgiveness is active and calls the abuser to repentance with fruit in their life that shows the evidence of a changed life! Not just because they got caught! The Church of Jesus must provide a place for the abused to heal, be protected and their story believed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brenda

      So if I am hearing it right, in these cases nonresistance is a license to commit spiritual murder. If this is true, it is a brilliant tactic of the enemy of our souls. The abuser never repents, the leaders are accomplices to spiritual murder and the one abused may never see redemption (therefore, dying in bitterness). This is too depressing!
      To the people in the pews, if we let these situations continue unchecked, in the end, nobody will win. Our God is a God who can redeem ruined lives.
      What can we do to help change this before eternity? I ask it assuming the leaders hide what the abuser has done and remember, the abuser is free to roam with our children. The one who was abused and our children need our protection.

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  6. Concerned Grandma

    I’m sorry for the injustice your friend experienced and the hurt n pain that was caused. I can understand your cry for justice but I noticed all the verses you referred to were old testament. God said he will remove our sin from us as far as the east is from the west and he will remember them no more. There’s also a no fishing sign there. You are doing an injustice to this man by bringing up the past with the gory details after he has been washed in the blood of Jesus. If that’s what you want to do you will also reap. God says vengeance belongs to himself. Do you want your dirt hung out for the world to see? I hope you reconsider and remove this post.

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    1. I understand your point that we don’t want to cause unnecessary harm to someone if he/she has repented of his/her sins and made a clean break by the grace of Jesus. In this case, I don’t believe either of the rapists in the story are professing Christians. The story does not mention names–either of the rapists or of the church leaders–because the point of it is to tell of a crying lack of justice in our churches, not to execute revenge on the men who committed the crimes.

      Yes, Christ has fulfilled the law in the Old Testament, but God has not changed and the OT teaches us much about Him. The verse you referred to from Psalm 103:12 (“as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”)is one of my favorites, because it shows the tenderness and forgiveness of God. I don’t discount that verse because it comes from the OT. 😉

      In fact, the NT has much to say about justice, and about sexual purity. Over and over the NT refers to God’s judgment on those who are sexually immoral. This judgment, I believe, will also fall on those who have witnessed the crimes and have done nothing about it. To escape the judgment of God, abusers and the church that hid it must publicly acknowledge and repent of their sin.

      The only reason for us to be defensive is if we have a system to protect. If the Mennonite (or any other denomination) system collapses with the exposure of sin, I’m quite sure it is a system I do not want to be part of. I’m hopeful that as more awareness is raised and as more people tell their stories, people will wake up to what is truly important and seek the righteousness of Christ alone.

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      1. Sandra Miller

        I have become aware that there are Mennonites who do not take seriously the sin of immorality. It is so serious that under the OT law adultery, homosexuality, and beastility were punishable by killing – there was no sacrifice to be done to atone for this sin. This is remarkable when you consider all the sins listed. It should teach us that this is the most egregious sin one can get involved in. Too many people regard it as something no more serious then shoplifting or anything serious: just apologize and go on. Yet, the NT teaches us that let not this sin of immorality be once named among you – how many times is “once”? There is something very horrible about this sin, whether it is forced or consensual and we do well to develop a horror for it. Mennonites have become too lax in this regard.

        God bless you for sharing this…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Mennonites aren’t the only ones who haven’t taken abuse seriously, but somehow it is more shocking because we take a lot of pride in being more right than anyone else. Both the lax approach and the pride are wrong. To address abuse rightly, we will have to shed the pride. You are right, sexual sin has a level of terribleness that other sins do not.

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  7. Concerned Grandma

    I have no system to protect. I’m frustrated with the Beachy/Mennonite system as well though I have never been a part of the Beachy’s. I can understand your desire to expose sin but if you are not part of the problem or the solution then it becomes gossip, and a discerning spirit would see the gory details are inappropriate to be shared anywhere let alone out for the world to see. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Have you any idea what the ministry has to work with? And then people come along and bash not knowing all the facts. I plead with you, please remove this before more people get hurt. I find it very offensive more than helpful. I know leaders are faulty, nevertheless God has given them a position of authority and we err greatly when we come against them. I’m not wanting to be in long dialogue with this. . . . I’m simply asking to please consider others and remove this from your post. It is as wrong and full of sin as the actual account. You will disagree but sin is sin n it’s all deplorable to a Holy God. Thank you.

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      1. Kay

        What ^ she is voicing is a few of the many reasons that cases such as theses are not dealt with. Fear of being taken as unforgiving, fear of coming across as self-rightous, not to mention the fear of messing ‘with the system’.
        If I cut myself and give it time to heal, I will still have a scar. So it is for victims. Even years after the incident there are scars.
        Other victims are afraid of disclosing because they are afraid someone will accuse them of some sort of sin. Even if the victim does have things to reconcile with God never are they the reason for the crime. Their failures do not negate the crime of rape/molestation.
        Others are so intiminated by the ‘power’ of the church they would rather sacrifice their children than insist on justice.
        We as plain people have a long ways to go.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Karen

    What about Matthew 18:15 through 17, and 1st Timothy 5:19 through 21? And Jesus did not sweep sin under the rug, he pointedly confronted it!

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    1. I agree. For the benefit of my readers, I’m going to post the verses Karen referenced here.

      Matthew 18:15-17
      “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

      1 Timothy 5:19-21:
      “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”

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  9. Kathryn Miller

    Thank you for exposing for what the church continues to cover. I find it interesting that “concerned grandma” can’t use her real name and yet wants you to conform in removing this post.
    Journey on, Rosina.

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  10. Jean Zook

    Sandra Miller commented that the pastor said “rape” would be dealt with in the church.
    Can I just add that “rape” is not just the “act” involving sex.

    As a victim of child molestation, I have dealt with flashbacks as an adult. Because of my experience with being molested….which involved being trapped in an out building, or in the back field,….or some other location….with someone who was older & stronger than me, & someone I was somewhat scared of, I developed a “raped” feeling….even though I wasn’t “penetrated” as we consider rape. For me, the rape still happened. I was trapped…I was touched, & forced to touch….I was a victim without a voice.

    I DID forgive my perpetrator, & I saw God do good things in his life. Because it was a family member, it would have added shame to the family name, if we had reported him (a burden that I would not have wanted to bear).

    My parents were not aware it was happening, & I was “bullied” into keeping it quiet. When I begged to not be with this person, I was reprimanded, because my parents didn’t understand. My mom apologized over & over, after she found out, years later.

    It is a wake-up call for me as a parent. Educate my children…listen to what they are saying….& be on guard. Communicate, so there is an open door for my children to feel safe talking about stuff.

    I think each circumstance is different, but I’m grateful for the churches & people who are rising up & doing SOMETHING.. Sometimes it’s a matter of a curious boy, who was never taught anything about hormones, etc… Or was a victim of sexual abuse himself. Still….we live in a day and age that we dare not keep silent. Our children need to be educated….and there needs to be a holy fear instilled in people (young & old). It’s so VERY serious & affects the victim for life. Just because I forgave, & found so much healing, doesn’t mean I never deal with any repercussions.

    Just as I’m writing, the stories in the Bible…Ananias & Saphira….& the story where the earth opened up & swallowed the “bad guys” came to mind. It was Old Testament AND New Testament. Both situations put a holy fear in peoples hearts. Sometimes God showed great mercy with sin. Other times the people were destroyed without mercy.

    “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

    It takes God’s Spirit, to discern in these situations.

    I pray God continues to expose the darkness & bring healing and light & His Life.

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    1. Yes, we MUST listen to our children, even if we think they are wrong, we need to listen and investigate.

      You are right, sexual abuse is not only rape. Also, even where there may have been “consent” for sex, our cultural conditioning is such that it’s still usually rape.

      I’m so sorry for what you experienced as a child! No child deserves that kind of treatment. I’m thankful that God has done his healing work in those painful places.

      Like

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