When you are treated unfairly

Four suggestions on how to respond when you've been the victim of unjust treatment.

Ferdinand O. Regalado, PhD, is professor of Old Testament studies, Montemorelos University, Nuevo León, México.

Have you been underpaid, treated unfairly, or exploited by those in power? Has your ordination been deferred due to unfounded rumors? Have you been removed from office, or assigned to another line of work, without due process? In brief, were you treated unfairly?

Indeed, pastors may, at times, experience unjust treatment or what they deem as unfair. Either in the church or the ministerial work, where injustices are the least expected, pastors may find themselves victims of injustice either by their own local church board, by colleagues, or even by their local conference.

If you have experienced unfairness, here are a few suggestions on how to respond.

Talking it through

Talk to the person or committee whom you think treated you unfairly. Follow Matthew 18:15. Talk gently and privately. Let them know what happened and how you felt. Engage in a dialogue with the idea of finding an equitable solution. By your talking, doubts may be removed. You may also be able to see things from another perspective and understand the reasons behind the decision. Misinterpretation or negative thoughts about the decision of a committee, for instance, might even be put to rest and go a long way in easing resentment on your part.

Oftentimes we get second-hand information, which can be misquoted and misinterpreted about those who, supposedly, spoke against us; thus, talking to the individuals involved becomes the best way to seek reconciliation.

One time, my wife and I thought that the decision of the committee concerning a situation with her was unfair. I was hesitant to approach and talk to one of the leaders. But I finally took the step, spoke to him, and came away realizing that the seemingly unjust decision was actually right.

Going the extra distance

Do your best to rectify the wrong, to make the unjust decision just. Go the extra distance to work it all out. Talk to the proper authorities if the person or committee that rendered the unfair verdict cannot be persuaded. Your goal is to rectify a wrong, not make the decision suit your own selfish purposes. But if you did everything possible and nothing happened, then give it to God. God has a better plan for you. “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jer. 29:11, NIV). You may not be able to fully understand God’s plans for you, especially when you are still hurting, but trust Him anyway. He has a plan far better than what you can think of or imagine. In one incident, a teacher was transferred to another job without even being consulted—a change she didn’t want. Though she was bitter, the transfer to what seemed to be an undesirable place paved the way to her meeting the man whom, later, she married.

Stopping the cycle

Paul records another important principle in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (NIV). You can stop the cycle of unjust treatment in the church or in society by making sure you act fairly and justly toward others. Change may start with you.

This principle is well illustrated in the life of Nelson Mandela, former political prisoner in South Africa. Right after being released from prison, Mandela—who later became the president of South Africa—sought to end the steady stream of injustices in his country by not retaliating against his former enemies. He paid back the injustices he had experienced by extending the hand of reconciliation and love throughout the former apartheid-ruled South Africa.

Learning from Jesus

Learn from Jesus, who also experienced injustice. Jesus should not have been treated as a criminal and hanged on the cross. But, in spite of the injustice, He did not retaliate. Instead, He entrusted everything into the hands of His Father, the righteous Judge.

Looking to Jesus can provide sufficient comfort to us during our trials. We live in an unjust world and sometimes even in an unjust church. But amidst injustices, we know Someone who can relate to us. We may not get justice in this unfair world now, but we are assured to have it in the end from the One who will execute His fair judgment in favor of those who endured injustice here on earth.

We are sure to find comfort and wisdom in Jesus’ act of entrusting His case into the hands of our Father, for Jesus “did not retaliate when he was insulted. When he suffered, he did not threaten to get even. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly” (1 Pet. 2:23, NLT).

My advice? Go and do likewise.

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Ferdinand O. Regalado, PhD, is professor of Old Testament studies, Montemorelos University, Nuevo León, México.

June 2009

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