Crime is a social concept based upon social structure (organization of society) and social norms (ideas, customs, habits, attitudes of people). As such, crime is considered to be an offense against society. This concept of crime as an offense against society evolved from English tradition.
Common law was an offense against the country that, as such, was to be prosecuted by the King. It was based on custom and tradition as interpreted by the judges. It was not written down in a code that one could easily consult; rather it took its form from the collected opinions of English judges who actually created law when they ruled on specific cases. As new situations arose and more opinions were formed, the common law grew.
Criminal law defines forbidden offenses against society – by formalizing the common law – and specifies conditions for enforcing and punishing offenders.
Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.
To summarize, beginning in the 1400s, the English, and later the Americans, defined crime by:
- the dominant morality expressed in society – the common law;
- the rules articulated by the most powerful members in society; and
- the sense of threat perceived by the most dominant, powerful members of society.
And they dealt with such crime through a criminal justice system which
- defines crime by identifying the boundaries between right and wrong, moral and immoral, legal and illegal;
- patrols and enforces such boundaries;
- judges those who fail to honor the boundaries; and
- punishes those who have been judged guilty of a crime.
Categories of Colonial Law1. Crimes involving sexual acts. Any sexual act other than traditional intercourse between man and wife was a crime in all colonies. Sex-related crimes were the most frequent of all criminal offenses during the first 100 years of colonization – between 10 – 22% of all court business. Most common were �fornication before marriage;� bearing illegitimate children; and beastiality. Sex crimes remained on the books in the 18th Century but were prosecuted less often – except for fornication which was prosecuted not because extramarital sex was immoral, but mainly because of the �practical considerations� of colonial society – adultery threatened family integrity and created the possibility of private violence/disorder; fornication among servants that resulted in childbirth left the new mother less valuable as a servant and society was left to support a bastard.
2. Crimes perceived as socially harmful misconduct. Almost any act that contributed to public and personal disorder was considered a crime – drunkenness, blasphemy, lying, idleness, Sabbath violations. Suchvictimless crimes appear more often in 17th Century court records than any other except sex-related crimes. Sabbath violations among the most prevalent crimes during both 17th and 18th centuries.
3. Crimes against the person – both criminal (dealing with public wrongs which involves social harm and violates the norms of the community) and civil (dealing with private conflicts with violate relationships between individuals). According to recent historical examinations of surviving court records in most of the colonies, the most common crimes against the person were slander -approximately 17% of all court business in all colonies; assault – approximately 6% of all court business; homocide – almost always directed at servants and slaves, or related to domestic and inter-familial disputes; and witchcraft.
In the South, crimes against the person were punished the least of any other category. Citizens of substance often felt it was their duty to defend themselves, their property, their family, or their honor against any real or imagined threat. Often, when given a clear choice between observing the law or defending their honor – they choose to defend their honor. These lawbreakers were treated with dignity and respect. Juries were reluctant to convict a man of murder or assault if he had committed the crime to defend his honor – and action that was, at best, loosely defined. Often, those convicted of assault were fined less than a dollar.
4. Crimes against property. Crimes against property were rare – petty theft was uncommon and grand theft almost never occurred. Why? Stealing property violated both the sanctity of private property and the code of honor that included a strong sense of economic morality. People convicted of crimes against property received the most serious punishment which was designed to deter other would-be offenders and shame the culprit in the eyes of the community.
In the 18th Century, crimes against property increased as towns became bigger with more diversity and wealth. Designating crimes became a way to protect property during the 18th Century. For instance, in Virginia, hogs were a vital part of a family�s economy – more valuable than sheep. Its laws made stealing hogs a more serious crime than stealing sheep. In the late 18th Century, this changed even more. Crimes against property increased, and in so doing, the concept of crime as a product of sin was challenged by a new social concept – crime was the product of idleness.
The Bible contains so many verses that address greed and oppression of the poor that I will not analyze them all, but I will relate as many of them as possible to modern-day scenarios. I have divided these verses by subject and will begin with a brief analysis of immigration. I will then follow with an examination of every verse that addresses greed, greed of the poor, interest, oppression, God’s judgment of the oppressors, and taxes.
Exodus 22:21, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Context: Included in a listing of various laws.
Exodus 23:9, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:33-34, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Deuteronomy 17:17, “And he [the king of Israel] must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.”
Context: God provides guidelines for future kings of Israel.
Analysis: Even the king of Israel was to avoid materialism.
Proverbs 23:4, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist.”
Exodus 22:25, “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.”
Leviticus 25:36-37, “Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit.”
Exodus 22: 22-24, “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.”
Context: Various laws are listed in this section on Exodus.
Analysis: Why are widows and orphans so special? Because, along with aliens, they had no inheritance in the land. In Israel, men inherited land from their fathers as they became adults (they did not have to wait for their fathers to die like we do today). As women reached adulthood, they left their fathers’ lands to live on their husbands’ lands. On these lands, people grew their food and built their homes with the resources of the land. So this inheritance of land gave young Israelite families what they needed to survive. It’s quite different from our society in which young people venture out on their own lacking both food and shelter and having to earn enough money to obtain it.
Widows, orphans, and aliens, however, could not share in Israel’s inheritance, and therefore, lacked proper food and shelter. That’s why God so frequently calls the Israelites to look out for their interests.
Exodus 23:8, “You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.”
God’s Judgment of the Oppressors
Isaiah 3:14-15, “The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of His people: ‘It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?’ says the Lord God of hosts.”
Similarly, in Jesus’ day the Pharisees and Sadducees were feuding religious parties. The Sadducees held only the first five books of the Bible to be the word of God and denied belief in the afterlife, while the Pharisees believed in the entire Old Testament and in the afterlife, too. Jesus also believed in the entire Old Testament and the afterlife. So did He support the Pharisees? No, He didn’t! In Matthew 16:6, “Jesus said to them [His disciples], ‘Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’” He went on to explain that He opposed not their “yeast,” but their teachings.
Despite the fact that Jesus had more beliefs in common with the Pharisees than He did the Sadducees, He opposed both sides, because both sides opposed God’s will. To support either party would have been the equivalent of supporting that party’s oppression of others and its promotion of man-made religious teachings over those of the Bible. Jesus protected His disciples from making the mistake of believing that one of two opposing parties must align with righteousness.
The way I see it, Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican (but Satan is a Libertarian). The Democrats sin by promoting individual freedom to the point where we do what we want with our bodies at the expense of and to the neglect of others, while the Republicans sin by promoting individual freedom to the point where we do what we want with our money at the expense of and to the neglect of others.
I don’t mean to say that we sin by belonging to either the Democrats or the Republicans, or by supporting capitalism or socialism. But I do mean to stress that we must not let these establishments teach us right and wrong. For us Christians, right and wrong must come from the Bible alone. God’s teachings must take precedence over those of our political parties, social groups, and even our nation. Those who claimed Jesus’ name during His ministry and the days of the early church did so because they believed Jesus’ teachings, and they obeyed His teachings above all else. Today many Christians call upon His name, but promote and obey teachings contrary to His, such as the promotion of the interests of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor. If we don’t believe and obey Jesus’ teachings (and the Old Testament teachings He supported), then we really don’t believe in Him.
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