The Unfairly Treated: What Do We Do?

Proverbs 31:8-10 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  There’s a little phrase in that passage that we must not gloss over…judge fairly.  Now, I know the Bible teaches us to judge not, so what kind of judging is this when we’re told to judge fairly.  Here it is…be discerning, be wise in determining who is poor and who is needy.  Look closely at who the destitute are and perhaps why certain groups of people cannot defend themselves.

For example, there are admittedly those who have been imprisoned unfairly…they have no defense.  When my dad was in his final year of life and was in a nursing home, there was a man named Tony, an aide, who befriended my dad.  He treated him with utmost respect and dignity.  He served my dad well.  Tony even spoke at my dad’s memorial service, saluted my dad and paid homage to him.  We love Tony.  Unfortunately, a year or so after my dad died, Tony got into a little trouble with the law and was incarcerated.

My husband and I visited Tony at a local jail and found out that his release was not going to happen in a timely fashion even though Tony was accused of domestic violence but was never convicted or found guilty.  The story is long and complicated but the short version is that Tony stayed imprisoned for over a year because he had very little help, legally or financially, for representing him and expediting his case.  We did what we could to help, but it wasn’t enough.  Tony finally left jail a broken man with very little chance for a successful reentry into society.

There are systemic barriers that need to be broken for incarcerated individuals to resume a normal life…if they have a felony conviction (threshold is $300 in the state of Florida) they are denied the right to vote, denied education grants to go back to school; they’re often barred from public housing; sometimes they can’t even get a job interview.

So what can the church do to help?    Do we have a responsibility to advocate for the underdog?  Let’s go back to what Scripture teaches.  “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…speak up and defend the rights of the poor and needy.” And that is the very least we should be doing.