Listening to a Prosecutor

“My goal in my office, one of my goals, is to try to teach prosecutors to be compassionate,” states Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts. If the tone and the stories that Roberts told to the Pastoral Care in Crisis Situations class at Lexington Theological Seminary is any indication, one of the strategies he uses is modeling. Through his described actions he sees the good in people, the Christ in them, and strives to bring it forth and like God in Judges despite the sins he sees, Roberts has compassion for the sinner.

Early in his talk with the class, Roberts talked about the risk of prosecutors, police officers, and pastors becoming jaded in dealing with many people. The result is the condition of sin-fatigue in which it is easy to focus on a punitive approach to crimes. The Lord in Judges 10 seems to have a touch of this fatigue with the Israelites, who have, despite all that God has done for them, turned their backs on God and worshiped other gods,

And the LORD said to the Israelites, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, oppressed you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. Yet you have abandoned me and worshiped other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” (Judges 10: 11-14 NRSV)

The exasperation that God displays with the Israelites seems to be similar to the attitude described by Roberts among some prosecutors who simply take a “lock ‘em up” approach in dealing with non-violent crimes.

An example of restorative justice is Prosecutor Robert’s story of the young man who was shooting marbles through the plate glass window of an elderly couple’s home on a semi-regular basis. Roberts tracked down the young man, eventually finding out that the older man had apparently been gruff with the young man as a child and so the young man was now punishing him for this slight. Rather than simply locking up the college student, who had no previous record, he was placed in the Diversion program. The prosecutor, like God in Judges 10: 15-16, displayed compassion,

And the Israelites said to the LORD, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you; but deliver us this day!” So they put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the LORD; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer. (Judges 10: 15-16 NRSV)

In the Diversion program the offender makes reparations to the victim, participates in some form of community service and, if another crime is not committed, the offender’s record is expunged. In the case of the marble-shooting offender, he was required to visit homes in the neighborhood, including the home of the victims, tell residents what he had done, apologize, and offer to do yard work, painting, or some other form of service to each of the residents for six months. The result of Roberts’ compassionate act of seeing Christ in this young man is that he and the victims reconciled. Photos of the now adult offender, his wife, and child now are displayed in the victim’s home.

The compassionate justice of Larry Roberts is not blind nor would it be effective if it were. God is not blind to the sins of the Israelites when he “can no longer bear to see them suffer” (Judges 10: 16a NRSV) but he moves toward reconciliation. In the case of human beings, like Roberts, we cannot always reach reconciliation like God does because of our human imperfection, but like Roberts we can strive to see the Christ in everyone.

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