Jesus Christians.com

Preferred Language:  English | Espanol | Deutsch | Francois | Po Polsku | Easy English

Justice with Mercy


"Wow, that's intense," said Jeremy.  Reinhard had just finished reading the letter, and we were now talking about what we had just read.  "I mean, it's great the guy repented, and the team forgave him.  And I'm glad he's back working as a volunteer.  But still, a whip?  That's just a bit too extreme for me."

"I disagree.  The idea is brilliant," said Reinhard in his own, blunt way.  "It is a mix of justice and mercy, all led by the Golden Rule.  So excellent, so efficient!" Reinhard was obviously excited by it.

"What a radical way to react to crime," I said without revealing much about my feelings.  "I wonder if it would work here."  The email had ended with a suggestion that members of the community discuss the possibility of trying the same thing that had been tried in Kenya, in Long Beach.  We could hold our own trial for the murder attempt against Reinhard.  It could be a protest against inaction by the police (No charges had been laid and it was now several months since the attack.) as well as a chance at reconciliation with my family.  It was a way for us to express our anger at the crime, but also to show our love for Jared, John, Josh, and Sheila at the same time.

"I don't know," Jeremy said.  "I think I need some time to pray about this.  I mean, I agree with the reasoning behind it, and it sounds like it worked with Nicholas.  But I still can't get my head around the idea of using a whip.  It's just... it's just... I can't."

"I understand, I understand," Reinhard said.  "Dave is asking for feedback, but we don't have to hurry.  We can all pray about it, and look for answers in the Bible.  If we are ready to hear what we don't want to hear, we will find God's will."

We all agreed that what Reinhard was saying made sense, even if we did not all agree on where it might lead.

Because Jesus Christians do not work for money, we were free to stop our "work" anytime we felt God was asking us to.  For the three of us in the Ford camper, that meant a temporary stopwork on distributing books.  That would give us time to focus on finding God's will regarding what to do about the attack in Long Beach.

*     *     *

"Never."  Ross' letter ended abruptly.  It was clear to the rest of us that he had strong feelings about what Dave had suggested.  Everyone in the group had been asked for feedback as a way of finding God's will, through counsel.  Ross, a strict pacifist and member of the group for more than 20 years, had been one of the first people to write back.

"Whipping people is just ridiculous.  I cannot agree to it.  If we are whipping people today, what will it be tomorrow -- chopping off their hands?"  Ross spoke from the heart, not mincing words.  Still, others could see something bleeding through what he wrote.  There was something about the mention of a whip which had caused him to respond in a way that was almost purely emotional.  It left no room for reason.

Though his reaction was the most dramatic, it wasn't just Ross having problems with the concept at the start.  Several members wrote in with reservations about using a whip as a form of punishment... even if it was more merciful than imprisonment for several years... even if the "judge" had to be willing to take the lashes him/herself... and even if the pain would all be gone just minutes after the last lash.  The thought of someone being whipped, and fear of what others would think, was causing members to react irrationally, often objecting to things which weren't even being suggested.

For a while it looked like the Kenyan solution was not going to be tried anywhere else.  But Dave, buoyed up with support from a handful of other members, persisted.

"Dear brothers and sisters," he wrote in reply to the feedback received.  "Like I said from the start, I am open to us not going forward with a mock trial in Long Beach.  But remember, what I was asking for was revelations from God, or sound Christian teachings against going through with it.  So far I have heard neither.  No one seems to have received anything from God in the form of revelations saying not to go ahead, and the reasons against it have all been anything but Christian so far.  Fear of public opinion, dislike of pain, and a desire to do nothing (to be "safe") do not qualify as sound Christian reasons.  I'm going to ask people once again to think and pray about these issues, more seriously this time, as this really is important.  If you have genuine arguments, please share them.  I personally think what we have stumbled across here may be extremely significant in terms of the whole Christian message, and it would be good to get clarity from God on the matter before moving forward.  I look forward to hearing further what people think."

We allowed for a few moments of silence after reading, then shared our thoughts.

"You know," Jeremy said, "I can see now that I was just reacting.  I was being led around by fear of what others would think.  Who cares what people think if it works, and if it is the right thing to do?"  Even as he spoke, Jeremy was becoming a campaigner for the opposite position.  He went on.  "Truth is, this is the most Christian combination of justice and mercy I've ever heard of, apart from the cross of Christ, of course.  I think I'm for it now!"

"Great!" Reinhard said.  "And what about you, Joe?"

I thought about it for a second.  I too had been taken back by the idea of someone (especially a Black person) being whipped, because of the connotations.  Still, I could see that it was a very merciful alternative indeed, compared to what my family deserved.  Asking myself if I would rather take a few lashes from a whip, or serve ten years in prison, helped to clarify that further for me.

"Well, I have to say it's brilliant," I said in response.  "In fact, I'd like to offer to take the lashes.  It's the least I can do, seeing how cowardly I acted when you were being attacked."  I still felt guilty that I hadn't tried to break away from my younger brother and go to Reinhard's aid, during the attack.

Reinhard thanked me for my offer.  "But I don't think the plan was for one person to take all of the lashes," he said.  "You can write to the others, and share what you have just shared with us."

I sent an email to the rest of the group later that day, using the library computer at the university to write from.

As letters continued to go back and forth on the topic, things were becoming clearer.  Jeremy had also offered to take some of the lashes.  He too felt guilt for not having done more to save Reinhard during the attack, even though he had tried hard to draw John away from Reinhard without actually assaulting him.  

Dave and his wife, Cherry, also volunteered to take part in the lashes.  Despite their age, and Cherry's arthritis, they thought it was appropriate that, as co-leaders, they not expect others to do anything they were not prepared to do themselves.

Things were shaping up.  We had four volunteers (one per person for Jared, John, Josh, and Sheila) to each pass judgment on one person, on the understanding that they were prepared to take whatever punishment they handed down.  By this time Fox News 11 had committed to covering the trial.  We all assumed Fox would make the whole thing out to be something sinister and crazy. Still, we felt it was worth the risk if it would get even a little bit of the double-edged message of justice and mercy out to the masses.  Jose-David, who had joined a few months before I did, had volunteered to dish out the lashings.  All was in place for the trial.

Click here to read Part 6 of Joe's Story
"Wow, that's intense," said Jeremy.  Reinhard had just finished reading
the letter, and we were now talking about what we had just read.  "I
mean, it's greaingthat the guy repented, and the group has forgiven him.  
And I'm glad that he's even back working as a volunteer.  But still, a
whip?  That's just a little too intense for me."

"I think it's a brilliant idea," said Reinhard.  "Just think of it -- a
mix of justice and mercy, led by the Golden Rule.  So excellent, so
efficient!" Reinhard exlaimed excitedly.

"Wow, that is pretty radical.  A protest.  I wonder how it will turn
out," I said.  Dave's letter ended with a suggestion that we could try
the same thing that was done in Kenya, in Long Beach.  We could, he
suggested, hold our own trial for the murder attempt against Reinhard
three months earlier.  It could be both a protest against the police's
inaction in prosecuting, as well as a chance at reconciliation with my
family.

"I don't know," said Jeremy.  "I think I'm going to need some time to
pray about it.  I mean, I agree with all of the reasons behind it, and
it is clear that it was a success with the volunteer in Kenya.  But I
still can't get my head around the idea of using a whip.  It's just,
it's just, I can't."

"I understand, I understand," said Reinhard.  "Though Dave is asking for
feedback, we don't have to rush.  We can all take some time to pray
about it, and search the Bible for answers.  As long as we stay open to
hearing what we don't want to hear, I'm sure we will find God's will in
the matter."

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.  I think I would like to take some
time to pray about it, and find God's will on the matter."  Because the
Jesus Christians did not work for money, they were free to stop their
"work" at anytime, if they felt that God was asking them to do something
else.  For the three of us in the small Ford camper, that meant putting
passing out books on hold, at least temporarily, so that we could focus
our attention on finding God's will with regard to what to do in Long Beach.

"Never."  Ross' letter ended abruptly, and it was clear to the rest of
the group that he seemed to be reacting ever so slightly.  Dave had sent
his letter out to everyone in the group, and was asking for feedback as
a way of finding God's will, through counsel.  Ross, a staunch pacifist
and member of the group for more than 20 years, had been one of the
first people to write back.

"Whipping people is just ridiculous.  I'm afraid that I just can't get
my head around it.  If we are whipping people today, what will it be
tomorrow -- chopping off their hands?"  Ross was good about speaking
from the heart, and not mincing words.  However, something about a
whipping was causing him to be involved emotionally as well as
rationally, and that was bleeding through what he wrote.

But it wasn't just Ross that had problems with the concept at the
start.  Member after member wrote in with reservations about using a
whip as a form of punishment... even if it was actually more merciful
than imprisonment for several years, even if the punisher had to be
willing to take the lashes his/herself, and even if the pain would all
be gone less than a minute after the last lash.  The connotation of a
person being whipped, and fear of what other people would think, was
causing members to react in totally irrational ways to things that
weren't even being suggested.  Fear, in fact, was turning them into the
very thing they were fearing.

"Dear brothers and sisters," Dave wrote in reply to the feedback he had
received.  "Like I said from the start, I am open to us not going
forward with a mock trial in Long Beach, for the murder attempt against
Reinhard.  But remember, what I was asking for was revelations from God,
or sound Christian reasons against going through with it.  So far I have
heard neither.  No one seems to have received anything from God in the
form of revelations saying not to go ahead, and the reasons against it
have all been anything but Christian so far.  Fear of public opinion,
dislike of pain, and a lazy desire to not do anything do not qualify as
sound Christian reasons.  I'm going to ask people once again to think
and pray about these issues, seriously, as this really is important.  I
think what we have stumbled across here is something very significant,
and it would be good to get clarity from God on the matter before moving
forward.  I look forward to hearing your further thoughts."

We allowed for a few moments of silence after reading Dave's most recent
letter, and then shared our thoughts.

"You know," Jeremy said, "I think I was just reacting.  Now that I think
about it, I can see that I was being led around by fear, because of my
lack of faith.  Who cares what people think if we go forward with it?  
Who cares if people react to the idea of someone using a whip.  The
facts are, this is the most gracious combination of justice and mercy I
have ever seen in my life, apart from the cross of Christ, and jolly
gee, I think I'm for it now," Jeremy exclaimed.

"Great!" Reinhard said.  "And what about you, Joe?"

I thought about it for a second.  I too was taken aback by the idea of
someone being whipped, because of the connotations, but could also see
that it was a very merciful alternative indeed to what my family really
deserved.  Just asking myself if I would rather receive a few lashes
from a whip, or twenty years imprisonment, helped to clarify that
further for me.

"Well, I think it's a brilliant idea," I said in response.  "In fact,
I'd like to offer to take some of the lashes.  It's the least that I can
do, considering how cowardly I acted when you were being attacked,
Reinhard."  I still felt some guilt about the fact that I did not make
an effort to save Reinhard, while he was being attacked three months prior.

"Well that's good that you can see it that way now, Joe," Reinhard
said.  "But I don't think the plan was for one person to take all of the
lashes.  Maybe you can write to the others, and share with them what you
have just shared with us here."

"Sure," I replied.  I shared my thoughts with the rest of the group
later that day, using the library computer at the university to write from.

The letters continued to go back and forth on the topic, and things were
getting clearer.  Jeremy had decided to take some of the lashes.  He too
felt some guilt for not having done more to save Reinhard during the
attack three months prior, and felt that it would be therapeutic for
him, as well.  Meanwhile, Dave and his wife, Cherry, also volunteered to
take part in the lashes.  Despite their age, and Cherry's arthritis,
they thought it only right that they suffer some of the punishment, as
the leaders.  Otherwise, they argued, critics would say that the leaders
were just getting their followers to do things they were not willing to
do themselves.  But them taking some of the lashes would shatter that
line of reasoning.

Things were shaping up.  We had four volunteers to take punishments for
Jared, John, Josh, and Sheila, and now even Fox News had committed to
covering the trial.  Dave knew that Fox would make the whole thing out
to be something sinister, and evil.  Still, he felt that it was worth
the risk if it would get the message of justice, mercy, and grace out to
the masses.  Jose-David, who had joined only a few months before, had
now volunteered to dish out the lashings, and so all was in place for
the trial.

"She kept trying to cast demons out of me, and rebuking me "in the name
of Jesus"," I told Jeremy and Reinhard after hanging up the phone.  We
were now in Nashville, Tennessee, making our way west to LA from the
east coast.   I had called Sheila to tell her about the trial we were
planning in Long Beach.  I told her that we hoped the trial would be a
way forward in our relationship, explaining that they would have a
chance to both give a defense, and ask questions.  If they were found
guilty, I said, then they would have the option of taking the prescribed
punishment themselves.  But if not, four of us (including myself) would
take it for them, I told her.

Still, Sheila would not budge.  The police were not pressing charges,
and so why should she come and participate in our trial, if the system
was not forcing her to, she thought.  She, along with the others, felt
no remorse for what they had done to Reinhard, and would die a cruel
death before admitting to any wrongdoing.  Still, we left it open for
Sheila and co. to come to attend the trial up until the last day, by
which time it was clear that their only reason for coming if they did
would be to cause trouble.

Meanwhile, the three of us continued to make our way west.  We made a
short detour to stop through Kansas, where we visited with Jeremy's
mother and step-father, and then made a bee-line straight down to LA.  
Finally, we arrived.

"Hey," Dave said.  "Good to see you all again."  Arriving in LA, we all
met up together at a big shopping center parking lot in the center of
Compton.  Dave and the others left their motorhome, parked nearby, to
greet us as we pulled into the lot.  Then we went next door to their
vehicle, to talk and share lunch.

"It would be really cool if you grew your hair into an afro," Dave said
to me.  He was just returning from Kenya with Cherry, and was telling me
about the fact that the guys there all cut their hair short, to look
"smart".  But Dave thought it would be a radical look for a Kenyan to
let his hair grow, naturally.

"Yeah, maybe," I replied.  I told Dave that I had tried to grow an afro
before, but that it took a long time.  But I said I would think about it
if I ever went to Kenya.

We kept up our small talk for a bit longer, and then the talks turned a
bit more serious.  The trial was only about a week or so away, and there
were still a few things that needed to be worked out.  We needed to find
a park, where those involved in the whipping could practice giving and
receiving lashes, and we also needed to find a place to hold the trial at.

"I've found a middle school in Long Beach where we can hold it at,"
Jayme said.  Jayme was Jeremy's older twin brother.  He joined the group
not long after Jeremy did, having stumbled across the group as a result
of his brother's search for Christian communities on the web.

Things moved forward, until the day of the trial had arrived.  We met at
Compton College the morning of, to do our "phantom" two-mile run.  It
was called a phantom run, because the runners all started at different
times, and their times were part of a competition that included people
from other parts of the world.  It was a good way for us to run off some
of our nervous energy before Fox arrived, and to make sure that we were
fully awake and alert before the trial began.

It was a bit risky for us to run at Compton College, though.  Jared used
to work there, and it was quite likely that Jared or one of his friends
would spot us while on campus, and start another attack against us then
and there.  So we tried to be quick, and were in and out in no time.

Then we drove to a park, next to the school where the trial was to be
held.  This was where we were to meet Fox News.  I went inside the
basketball gym and weight room to fill some time before Fox made it to
the park.  Finally, they arrived.

"Hi, I'm Gina."  Gina was the lady from Fox that would be interviewing
us.  She seemed kind, and gave us hope that Fox would do a balanced
report on us.  We later learned that it was a false hope.

Gina had us sit down, where she talked to Reinhard, Jeremy, and me about
the attack on Reinhard.  She also asked us other questions related to
the attack.  Fox filmed while we had these talks, putting mics under our
shirt, and setting the lighting for better TV viewing.

After talking, we went inside the basketball gym at the park, where we
would play a fun game called "Blob" for the cameras.  We knew that it
would make us look a bit cooky, but didn't mind having a laugh at ourselves.

I also shot some baskets with some of the other members of our group, as
Fox wanted to get that on camera.  We had told them that I had been
offered basketball scholarships to some of the best schools in the
country, and so they wanted to see what I could do.  So I pulled out a
few slick tricks and shots to show off for the camera.  I was quite
rusty, having not played in months, but that would just have to do.

After that, we left the park for the school where the trial was to be
held.  Just before we were to leave, though, a few people in the group
saw a few suspicious guys, looking at them strangely.  We would later
find out who these strange people were, albeit a little too late.

"Tick! Tick!"  The lashes had started.  We were all inside the Stevens
Middle School auditiorium
by now, and the trial was underway.  I had called Sheila, to see if she
wanted to give a defense over the phone.  We had decided by this point
that we would not invite them to the trial, because it was clear (and
would get more clear) that they only wanted to cause trouble.  Sheila's
response to me was, "what thou doest, do quickly".  She was quoting what
Jesus said to Judas in the Bible before Judas betrayed Him and the
disciples.  She was calling me Judas.  She was calling me a traitor.

We moved ahead, as it was clear that my family did not even wish to
offer a defense.  Reinhard, Jeremy, and I read out statements about the
attack, and then we were asked questions by other members of the group.  
In the end, a judgment was meted out.

Jared, John, Sheila, and Josh were found guilty of conspiring to murder
Reinhard Zeuner.  Because they did the beating, Jared and John were
given a punishment of 25 lashes of a whip, laughable in comparison to
the beating Reinhard received.  Dave and Jeremy offered to take this
punishment in Jared and John's place.  Dave also gave a short speech
before going to take the lashes, empathizing with Jared's role as a
father and leader.  Still, he made it clear that killing people is
wrong, and something that could not be tolerated.  He then went up to
take his lashes.

Cherry and I offered to take the punishment for Sheila and Josh.  
Someone had thought that it might be good to offer Sheila another option
as punishment apart from lashes from a whip, since she was a woman.  So
we had decided to offer her the choice of 5 lashes, or shaving her head
bald.  Cherry, in Sheila's place, opted for the five lashes.

Finally it came my turn.  Gina asked me why I was doing it.  I told her
that I felt it was the right thing to do.  I walked up the stairs, layed
face down on the "whipping" mat, and took my five lashes as best I
could.  Before I knew it, it was all over.

But something had struck a nerve with Fox.  Before the lashes were
dished out, it was clear that they were bored.  Tim Harrell, the
producer, was sleep as we read out our statements before issuing a
judgment.  The camera men set up their cameras to film straight ahead,
and then started playing with their phones, and talking amongst
themselves.  Gina fiddled with her ipod, and sent text messages via her
phone.  But that all changed as soon as the whippings started.  That got
their full attention.  And as soon as they were finished, Fox was rush
to ask questions.

"Are you trying to embarrass the Johnson family?" Gina asked Dave.

"They embarrassed themselves," Dave replied.  If there was any doubt
about whose side Gina had taken, it was now crystal clear to all there
that it wasn't the Jesus Christians'.  Like any good interviewer, Gina
had done a good job of coming across as neutral until the final event.  
But now that it was all over, she was free to drop her mask, and show
her true colors.

"Do you consider yourself an apostle?" Tim asked Dave.  As the producer,
it was not even Tim's job to ask us questions.  That was Gina's job.  
But seeing the whippings had caused him to get so emotionally involved,
that now he was going above and beyond the call of duty, in order to
interrogate the Jesus Christians.  It was strange that hearing of how
badly Reinhard had been beaten had not managed to rile him up as much as
a few lashes from a whip.

The questions kept coming, and we tried to answer them as best we
could.  Before we knew it, the questions too were finished.  It was time
to go home.

"Quick, open up!" Jayme said while sprinting back into the auditorium.  
Jayme had went outside with Jeremy, to put a few things back into the
camper truck now that the trial was over.  Outside, they saw Jared,
John, and the same guys that they had just seen at the park.  And then
they drew the connection.

"We're staying out here until you come out!" shouted Lamar from outside
the door.  Lamar was one of John's friends, and had come to the trial to
hassle the group, and steal me away if he could.  There were about six
thugs out there with Lamar, along with Jared, and John.  Sheila was
neatly tucked away in her car a few yards down, out of sight.

The shouting continued.  We decided to call the police, as we would need
help from the law if we hoped to even make it out of the building
alive.  After a few minutes, the police finally arrived.

"Open up, LBPD."  Jayme quickly opened the door to let them in, and they
escorted us out of the building.

"I don't even KNOW you," I shouted to Lamar.  I had never seen him
before in my life, and yet he was saying that he helped me growing up.  
He said he used to go to my basketball games in high school, and that I
should leave the Jesus Christians.  How fake, I thought to myself.  He
couldn't honestly expect me to think he was my best friend, when I had
never even met him!
Mail us at:   fold@idl.net.au,    OR write to:    Godstuff Comix,  P.O.Box A678, Sydney South, Australia 1235