Mae—not her real name—was my client. She was a Black, twenty-something in the vice grip of a crack addiction. She worked in the even riskier business of prostitution to fund her compulsion. I represented her in front of a judge who was particularly hard on prostitutes, routinely maxing out their jail time. He threw the book at them to teach them a lesson, and protect them from getting killed in the street.
Mae got killed in the street about a year after I last saw her in court.
I learned that fact as I read the paper over the shoulder of a cop one morning. This man, short and portly, with a close crew-cut and wireframe glasses often worked undercover, engaging prostitutes—and, in my opinion, entrapping girls like Mae—to gain an arrest.
“Good,” he barked gruffly. “I’m glad.” I looked at Mae’s mugshot in the paper. She was so small and thin, and I was incredulous at his cruelty. What he said next stunned me: “She won’t be around to victimize anyone anymore.”
For a split-second I tried to imagine a transaction between Mae and a sleazy guy cheating on his wife for $20, as Mae somehow victimizing him.
Not everyone with a Billy club, or who stands in the bully pulpit, or has professional authority discerns aright the value of humanity. A corrupt “conscience” leads to perverted justice. Yet, the courageous exercise of God-given conscience sets us on a path to reconciliation. A Christian’s exercise of conscience—what I believe to be the inner influence of the Holy Spirit—needs to be revealed now, in all its nuance. While refusing to dictate that others follow our lead, by following the Spirit we create an atmosphere that recognizes the value of each in God’s creation.
Many issues before us now—whether the issues of national identity, destiny and power, racial and gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and religious freedom—have created a national season of introspection. The most satisfying corrective action is the demand for accountability following revelations of sexual misconduct and harassment.
When real conscience works, I believe:
It is not complicit.
In this context, I challenge those who body shame others, or make crude, appearance-based comments. I don’t find the sex-worker underground fascinating, or think pole-dancing is a great way to get exercise. Pornographic images in the hands of consensual adults, some argue, hurts no one, but we know that downline somewhere someone is struggling, or victim to a sex or porn addiction gone rogue. I won’t be a part of it.
A corrupt “conscience” leads to perverted justice
Steps in for the vulnerable.
A Huffington Post 2013 survey found that as many as 21% of the adults polled knew of a co-worker who was being sexually harassed. Most, 61%, couldn’t find their way to intervening for that co-worker. Maybe that will change now as we prime our hearing for the faintest “No!” We’ll hear her amidst the slime of Hollywood’s smarmy moguls, indulgent music industry icons, the influential and the powerful. We discern her cries even against the stalwart Christians who betray their God with their own actions. We hear her cries burrowed under the weight of family secrets. Conscience demands an intervention.
Halts the abuse, even when it’s untimely and inconvenient.
I don’t blush when I hear that consensual backseat engagements or 1 a.m. rendezvous end when someone changes her mind and shuts things down. An awakening of conscience—God’s voice staking His claim in His beloved—may not always be convenient.
As Paul acknowledged, “[I]t is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”(Philippians 2:13). Alas, the prodigal son’s height of indulgence led him to the depth of degradation, but it was there that his conscience kicked in (Luke 15:17-20). The glint of the Holy Spirit influenced him to call it quits, turn around, and set out for home.
Results in critical examination.
As in Mae’s case, one should be able to determine the difference between a victim and a victimizer, at the very least. It requires one to be more than a “superficial analyst,” in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Letter from a Birmingham Jail). What led to the current crisis? What is its context, and who are the players involved?
Relatedly, conscience seeks to restore the person to a sense of wholeness. Unfortunately, while large sums of money can redress wrongs, they do little to unring a bell. Real acts of conscience seek to repay and restore.
Let us prime and protect our consciences to face and fight issues that detract from God’s image in His creation.