Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Is "Innocent until Proven Guilty" a thing of the past?

Imagine you’ve been wrongly accused of sexual misconduct. A 13-year-old tells their parents about engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct and they point the finger at you – unjustly. The parents go to the minister of your congregation. You are called on the carpet. You, of course, vehemently deny any such wrongdoing. The minister questions the child regarding the details. He establishes a time and place of the supposed incident. You have no alibi for that time.

What should happen next? You tell me. Pick the response below that you feel is, not only proper, but scriptural. Remember that it is YOU who has been unjustly accused:

  1. The minister tells you that, in the absence of any evidence, the accusation will be disregarded. Perhaps he further tells you to be especially careful to never be alone with a child so as to prevent any allegations in the future.
  2. The minister calls the police.
  3. The minister tells the parents to call the police.
  4. The minister tells the parents that they may call the police, but they need to be aware that the Bible warns against false accusations the same way that it warns against sexual misconduct.
 Suppose the child gets together with friends and they conspire to make several false accusations against you. They still have no evidence since you did not do what you are being accused of.

  1. Should the minister now take disciplinary action against you because there are multiple accusations?
  2. Should the minister now call the police?
  3. Should the minister now urge the parents to call the police?
  4. Should the minister still remind the parents about the gravity of making false accusations?
 Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that all, or even a majority of, accusations of sexual misconduct are false. The stories coming out about Charlie Rose, Al Franken and others right now bear that out. According to some studies, false accusations of rape are rare - possibly fewer than 10%, though I suspect that number may be higher when deep pockets are involved. 

But if false accusations were unheard of, there wouldn't be guidelines about them in the Bible. You can see where this is going. “Innocent until proven guilty” has long been a fundamental principle under the law, because most legal systems are based on Bible principles. When we are unjustly accused we want that principle to be followed in our case.

Unfortunately, when we hear that someone else had an accusation made against them but no disciplinary action was taken, we tend to believe the case was mishandled. Especially if the accused turns out later to be guilty. Especially if there were children involved.

It’s called “20-20 hindsight;” it’s called being a “Monday-morning-quarterback,” named for water-cooler discussions on Monday about the previous day’s football games.

In a case in California involving a former Jehovah’s Witness, a man is suing to obtain Jehovah’s Witnesses confidential records – not just those pertaining to his case, but ALL confidential records of ALL accusations.

If you think that’s a good idea, you need to re-read the example at the top of this column. If you were falsely accused, and an elder in a Jehovah’s Witness congregation heard the accusation, do you want your name and that accusation to become public knowledge? If you are a Catholic, how would you feel about your priest being forced to violate the sanctity of the confessional? 

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