May we not remain silent at the cry of the oppressed but instead jump into the river of justice and be part of the streams of righteousness.
I find myself in the waiting room of a court house, not those grand buildings you might see on TV but a 1970s brick building with painted breeze-block walls on the inside. The windows are high up on the wall and have that mottled effect meaning it’s hard to know what time of day it is. Its oppressive look seems to set the tone of the day to come. We’re lucky that there’s a private room available so we can speak normally, often the waiting rooms are big with one way in and one way out. I’m there, in the cold room in the knowledge that a woman who has suffered years of abuse is now experiencing the trauma all over again just the other side of the wall. I’m unable to find the words to speak to God, my heavenly father, the one we read will protect us and give us all we need. Words from Amos 5 going round and round my head ‘But, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ (v.24) Praying fervently that justice will be seen and experienced.
‘But, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’
— Amos 5:24 —
The door opens and my friend sits down, I’m struck by her physical presence, she seems to have shrunk, her eyes withdrawn and her body shaking. I look to the barrister and solicitor who have been standing with her, fighting her corner and they too look shocked, amazed at what they have just witnessed. Her mouth begins to open and in between gasps for breath, I hear her heart breaking all over again. My heart begins to race as the anger and injustice threatens to boil up from inside. The frustration that while today has been an extreme version, our justice system is often the cause of an unjust programme of events where victims come face to face with their trauma all over again.
The UK prides itself on its justice system, and yet survivors and professionals express the courts are used as a means of continuing the abuse by a perpetrator through various means whether it be the financial cost, the ability to control being in the same place time and time again or hearing the woman once more justify the actions she has taken. (1)
After those words from Amos had come to mind I went back and began reading the whole book. In there, we read about the consequence of injustice in the courts. ‘They (Israel) sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, they trample on the heads of the poor and deny justice to the oppressed.’ (2:7) Sat the other side of the wall it feels like an enemy has overrun the land. Land that is supposed to be about justice and righteousness instead feels like one of death and pain and suffering. The strongholds and fortresses that have been built over years of abuse for protection and safety, torn down at the command of someone in power.
As Amos goes on to lament, I also sit, in the pain, lamenting over the evil that is currently being experienced and seen. 5:13 says ‘the prudent man keeps quiet in such times for the times are evil.’ But should we be prudent right now? Surely we should be convicted to be bold and courageous in our response, not in the sight of religious festivals or in the noise of songs, but through fighting for justice, living justly until justice is seen rolling like a river with such a forceful current it will wipe away the enemies who have overrun the land and torn down the strongholds and fortresses.
And this has to start with listening. Really listening to those whose pain and trauma is real. If we fail to listen and then act, our complacency becomes complicit. There is no option to ignore, because in doing so we become part of the abuse, part of the injustice.
‘Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts, perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy.’
— Amos 5:15 —
Lerone Bennett Jr in 1928 said ‘an educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.’ (2) A bit earlier in Amos chapter 5 we read ‘Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts, perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy.’ Within the church, what will our response be? Will we be revolutionaries or oppressors? Amos was speaking to the people of Israel, those whom God chose to be a light in the darkness, the revolutionaries, but they had chosen instead to be the oppressors. I recognise I am indulging in some biblical interpretation here, and possibly forcing an ancient cultural experience onto a present day reality. Ellen Davis wrote ‘From this book (Job) above all others in scripture, we learn that the person in pain is a theologian of unique authority.’
Sitting with a woman whose pain and trauma are physically visible after calling out to God fervently for justice to be seen and seemingly being ignored brings me to a place of humility. The offering of comforting words is absent, not even in a formation stage in my mind. And so I sit. I’m present. I choose to remain in the pain, not retreating to a place of false certainty. It’s there, in that stillness I visualise those opening words from Amos, ‘The Lord roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem’. May we not remain silent at the cry of the oppressed but instead jump into the river of justice and be part of the streams of righteousness.
We're grateful to Emma Scott for this guest blog.
We want to see a network of churches that do not tolerate abuse, but instead provide a safe refuge for survivors, nurture them back to health and demonstrate God’s deep love for them. Abuse robs men, women and children of their identity, security and value. We want to give it back. Get in touch if you'd like to find out how your church can help.
Write to your MP
There are many good things about the Domestic Abuse Bill, but a number of charities are calling for change. Whilst the Bill has gone through the House of Commons, it's not too late to write to your MP. SafeLives offer some helpful guidance on how our justice system can better support women, which you might like to raise with your MP.
We're particuarly concerned for women that can't get access to the help and support they so desperately need because of their immigration status. Use our template to let them know that something must be done to better protect migrant women.
1 – Safer Lives’ Evidence to the Pre-Legislative committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, April 2019
2 - @eachpeachpearrose on Instagram 29/9/2020