When is it wrong to press charges against someone?

I have noticed a tendency in some discussions, for people to imply that “Christian forgiveness” requires a Christian to NOT press charges against people who commit criminal acts against them, at least until an attempt is made to come to a resolution in private.

Now, of course, I have seen few people argue this is the case for, say, a total stranger who mugs you at gunpoint, burglarizes your house, etc. But some seem to think that if the offender is a family member, or is a friend, or is part of the same “Church family”, then it is actually immoral to press charges against them, or even sue them in civil court.

The problem I have with this, is that some people think a Christian shouldn’t get the legal system involved even for crimes that would be serious if committed by a stranger, such as rape, child abuse, etc. I am not speaking of Church leaders committing such crimes, I think very few argue crimes at that level should be covered up. I am speaking more about crimes committed by “brothers in Christ”, some people seem to still think those should be handled “in-house”.

In the US most often it is not up to the victim of a crime to “press charges”. It is up to prosecutors to bring charges in a court of law. The victim can cooperate with the prosecution or not which can effect the outcome of a criminal case.

There is a difference between forgiveness and justice. A Christian is called to forgive. This doesn’t mean condoning criminal behavior or victimization. Yes, we must forgive those who harm us, but those who harm us should be held accountable for their behavior.

This is true, perhaps “press charges” is not quite the best way to phrase this. However, many crimes, such as rape or molestation, would not come to the attention of a prosecutor at all, unless it was reported by the victim.

I suppose there can be some scenarios where it is* imprudent to report a crime, say in a Muslim country where a woman who reports rape can wind up jailed herself for adultery if the rape cannot be proved. However, the question is whether it is actually immoral *to report a crime.

How can the prevention of more possible crime be immoral?

By showing a “bitter, unforgiving spirit”. A lot of Christian believe that if you report someone to the police, then you’re not being forgiving enough. Many such people also don’t trust the legal system and think the offender will be punished more than they deserve. We can debate over whether that’s true or not.

But IF such a situation existed, then I think we can argue that it is immoral to turn someone in. For example, if it was near certain that doing so would result in them being beaten up or even killed by the police. While this is rare in most “civilized” countries, sadly that is not the case everywhere.

For example, did the family the starving sharecropper stole from in the story Sounder, really do the right thing by turning him in? He’s locked up for years, and since he is limping when he finally goes home, it seems he was either beaten, or perhaps injured in some accident during his sentence of “hard labor”. Was this really justice? Or should the family have just looked the other way, or had him just pay them back by doing chores for them, for example?

Can you please tell me where you get the idea that Christians distrust the legal system? Reporting a crime is not a sign of a “bitter, unforgiving spirit”. It is our moral duty to report crimes. If a person makes the choice to commit a crime then they need to be prepared to suffer the consequences of the crime. Using a book of fiction to develop a moral stance on all crime is, quite frankly, nonsensical.

Agreed.
This notions that Christians are like sheep, blindly wandering through the world spreading rose petals or else they’re hypocrites is a modernist construct.
That’s how evil is permitted to thrive. Saying Christian people that they are forbidden to speak up because of their faith.
Ridiculous.

Catholic discussions or non-Catholic Christian discussions? The Catholic Church does not teach this.

1 Corinthians 6 speaks against trivial use of the legal system. One’s motive for pressing charges can have bearing on the morality such an action. As with a lot of life, we are not dealing with an action that is intrinsically immoral, or where inaction would be intrinsically immoral.

I know this is a bad situation, but it is one that happens. If a wife slaps her husband, he can legal call the police and press charges. Most of the time this does not happen (thank goodness) and such offenses are over come with love. Now if love also exist among all Christians, some minor offenses among brothers can also be resolved without the law. So it is wise to ask yourself the motivation. Is there really an issue of justice that needs redressing, one that is not best redressed with mercy, or do you press charges out of anger, or the desire for revenge? Also, is there a need for protection for others in society, or yourself, that can be accomplished through the legal system? Again, 1 Corinthians is worth reading to understand a Christian background for this answer.

One final thought; sometimes we can even go beyond what justice demands for ourselves, and even our own safety. Though it is not required, we can take the path of heroic virtue in some cases, as our own saints have shown us.

Excuse me, but I think that’s nuts.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with cooperating with justice to see to it that crimes are stopped, and that criminals are prosecuted.

Drawing the line of thinking outlined in this quote to its logical conclusion, Christians should not in any way be involved in any aspect of the legal system—from being cops to attorneys to judges to lawmakers—since they might somehow negatively impact the lives of other Christians. Such a position would be a terrible perversion of the virtue of forgiveness or of mercy.

On the other hand, pressing legitimate charges against someone strictly out of malice could be a sinful act, I would think. But I can tell that this is an area of moral theology I’m not remotely qualified to give the proper nuances to.

are you asking this question for yourself - from a personal standpoint or are you curious? it would be wrong to press charges if they are false charges.

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