The Sins of the Strong

It’s a disturbing scene. Two people in a desperate struggle. The stronger one attacks, the other tries to resist. Terrible damage is done that always disfigures and sometimes destroys. This is what it means to accuse.
Our system and our nature put force in the hand of the accuser. We’ve been raised on tragic stories and it’s easy for us to believe them, easy to believe that anyone might be a secret villain. We root for the underdog, the small person exposing the sins of the strong. We root so hard, we don’t notice the tables turning.

In dark corners, it may be one person’s force against another. But in the bright light of public life – in courtrooms and newspapers, on social media and TV – force is multiplied. The accuser’s voice takes on the cumulative power of everyone he can influence, everyone whose sympathy he can win, everyone who likes him better than his adversary. The accuser may be small, but he is not the underdog. He swings a devastating club, and we – the cheering audience – are that club.

Add to that the fact that accused people do not rouse much sympathy. Even the suggestion of wrongdoing is enough to taint a reputation and when the accused deny their guilt, as the innocent must do, even this tends to make them look guilty.

It is a dangerous and miserable thing to be accused and that’s why the presumption of innocence is so important to a just society – to counter our natural presumption of guilt. It’s an old principle that can be traced from our laws through the English Common Law and ultimately back to the Bible, including passages written by Moses around 1400 BC. “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Deuteronomy 19:15. Cf. Matthew 18:16, John 7:51, John 8:17, 2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19, Hebrews 10:28, Numbers 35:30)
The Biblical law is also concerned about the crime of false accusation. “The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar… then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party.” (Deuteronomy 18:19)

Credible accusations must be taken seriously – examined in search of corroborating evidence and prosecuted if such evidence is found. But some in our country, even some in the church, have called for a new standard in responding to accusations that cannot be proved. Some say that accusers should simply be “believed”, even in the absence of evidence, and those looking to discredit Mr. Kavanaugh are finding this a helpful and timely concept.

But it is not an American concept and certainly not a Christian concept. If people did not lie, we could believe the lone “witness” but then, if people did not lie, there would be no need for witnesses at all.

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