Do Americans still believe the adage that someone is innocent until proven guilty? Would you believe it was God’s idea?
When Job’s life was in turmoil, his friends assumed he had done wrong and was being divinely punished. Many allegations were made against his character, though each was incorrect. The book ends with God chastising Job’s friends for their rush to judgment.
Even as wild allegations were made against Jesus, the legal expert Nicodemus spoke: “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing (John 7:51)?”
Presumption of innocence is one thing, evidence is another – and also important to God. When Israel was a new nation, learning how to pursue its own course after years of slavery, Moses instructed them in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.
It is more than a legal document; Deuteronomy is God’s primer on how to have a free society. God teaches the Hebrews how to treat one another, how to buy, sell, and trade fairly, how to own property and respect the property of others. God even teaches on areas of hygiene and diet.
God also instructs the nation in jurisprudence. Conflict is bound to happen whenever people live together. Deuteronomy 19 talks about anger, assault, and disputes over property lines. How is society to determine who is right or wrong? Evidence.
“One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses…. The judges must make a thorough investigation… (Deuteronomy 19:15, 18).” In divine wisdom, God determined the need for two witnesses rather than one to aid the discovery of truth.
This extra witness alleviates “he said / she said” and mitigates against one party lying. Of course, two false witnesses can still conspire to lie, but the odds of getting a fair hearing are better with multiple eyewitness accounts. Still, it doesn’t always work. When wicked Queen Jezebel determined to take Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21, she did so by recruiting two “scoundrels” to perjure themselves.
Even at Jesus’ trial, the Sanhedrin heard “evidence” from multiple witnesses. Matthew’s Gospel tells us this was “false testimony” and that many of the witnesses who came forward disagreed in their statements. But Jesus’ enemies eventually found two “witnesses” making the same accusation, and the Sanhedrin had what they were looking for – a charge of blasphemy.
So there’s nothing magic about having more than one witness, but it is a safeguard to help arrive at the truth.
The point is that allegations of wrong-doing are not enough. Evidence is needed from multiple sources. And until the evidence is produced and judges are satisfied, the accused is presumed innocent.
As I write this, Brett Kavanaugh is “on trial” for allegations from high school. Christine Blasey Ford has alleged sexual assault at a high school party some thirty years before. An FBI report on their investigation is being reviewed by committees today. These are certainly serious charges that need to be examined. Witnesses should be called and oaths given. We Americans want the truth.
But there must be more than an allegation. Evidence, not gender or political affiliation should determine the outcome. Some argue that the seriousness of the allegation is enough…or that the cost of Dr. Blasey Ford coming forward is proof of her veracity. Others shout that because Dr. Blasey Ford is a Democrat she can’t be believed. Compelling arguments…but supposition…allegation…not evidence.
American jurisprudence is built on the foundation stone of “innocent until proven guilty”…not innocent until alleged. We need facts.
But in our social-media driven world of soundbites and Tweets, the allegation itself is often enough to destroy a person’s life and career. Often, our minds are made up before a witness takes the stand.
In Denton, an award-winning teacher was recently accused of “stalking behavior.” The Denton Record Chronicle reports no criminal charges have been filed and she has not lost her Texas teaching certificate. Still, the journalist includes “helpful” information like statistics of inappropriate teacher-student relationships in Texas, the fact that these are second-degree felonies, and the news that there’s a move in Texas to increase these penalties (though no criminal charges have been filed).
Also somehow relevant is the fact that the teacher didn’t talk to DRC reporters, referring them instead to her out-of-town attorney, and the fact that the teacher’s husband committed suicide the year before.
An inappropriate teacher-student relationship is a serious allegation…so is attempted rape. With serious allegations like these, it’s hard not to rush to judgment and think “Guilty until proven innocent!” That word “alleged” is perhaps the most invisible, overlooked word in the English language.
I don’t know about Judge Kavanaugh…or Ms. Arispe. Guilt or innocence in these cases is not the point. The point is that we stop rushing to judgment based on tabloid gossip simply because an allegation has been made. “The judges must make a thorough investigation… (Deuteronomy 19:18)” and let the evidence lead where it may.