‘Good Enough’ Justice

If you had a legal problem, where would you go? To see a lawyer probably, and then proceed to court if necessary. If you were the victim of a crime, you would likely go to the police.

How about a visit to your pastor?

The Bible encourages Christians not to take each other to court, but to resolve the dispute within the church (Matthew 18: 15-17, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8). It is widely believed that these verses relate to matters of civil law where one party has been wronged by another and is seeking some kind of compensation from them. Yet pastors in Mozambique and other Sub-Saharan countries find themselves handling an array of legal matters and different conflicts including theft, witchcraft accusations, domestic violence, and child abuse.

The Association of Mozambican Christian Lawyers (AMAC) has completed a report on a research done with Mozambican pastors that considers their experience of conflict and legal disputes. To someone coming from a developed country with a functioning justice system and the rule of law, the results are quite startling. More people are going to pastors for help with legal issues than to courts. 107 pastors were surveyed, and in the previous 12 months they had personally handled:

  • 86 legal disputes relating to children, including cases of physical and sexual abuse
  • 54 cases of domestic violence
  • 46 crimes, of which most were theft

The reason why these injustices were coming to pastors was clear. In Mozambique, access to the law courts is compromised by high costs, corruption, few courts and a lack of human and financial resources. Pastors are trusted by their church and in the wider community, and can provide a confidential, quick and free form of conflict resolution on your doorstep. Typically, the pastors would sit down with the parties involved and attempt some kind of mediation and reconciliation. In the absence of an accessible court system, this type of justice is a pragmatic alternative that could be described as a ‘good enough’ justice.

It is true that pastors lack the skills and knowledge of a legal professional, and most are without basic mediation skills. This is where the lawyers of AMAC can come in. We recently joined the Christian lawyers in Maputo as they hosted a conference for 147 pastors. Andrew Caplen, a Christian lawyer and former President of the Law Society of England and Wales, spoke on access to justice and the rule of law. His wife Lindsay, a Baptist pastor, delivered a message challenging God’s people to live ethically in order to fulfil God’s mission of blessing all nations. AMAC president Mateus Mosse impressed that one of AMAC’s primary roles was to partner with the church regarding justice issues. Dr Carlos Mondlane, the President of the Association of Mozambican Judges, spoke about cultural perceptions of domestic violence and his experience of these cases in court. The findings of AMAC’s research were also presented. Many of the pastors had never before realised that they were dealing with matters of law. An important conversation has started between Christian lawyers and pastors that can help improve access to justice for the poor and vulnerable in Mozambique. Christian ministers may not be lawyers or judges, but to the people facing injustices on a daily basis the justice offered by the pastors they trust within their places of worship is ‘good enough’.

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