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The Church and the Presumption of Innocence

The Kavanaugh hearings that, thankfully, just wrapped up, really divided America. In today’s world, that is not unusual. What is unusual is the division within the church over these external circumstances.

I understand why this is happening. While our country is experiencing the purging of #MeToo, the church is undergoing it’s own purge with #ChurchToo. The problem is that, for far too long, many churches have covered up for abusers within the church. I would surmise that a lot of these issues pertain to one of a couple reasons.

The church wants to avoid a scandal. So instead of reporting abuse to the local authorities, they want to keep things in house. They go into PR mode and don’t want to rock the boat. So they make the abused feel like they aren’t supposed to go to the police, but handle things in house. They improperly apply Matthew 18 to say that if a crime is committed against you, you still have to follow the steps of church discipline. This gives the church the chance to control the situation and keep things in house. This should not be happening. Never should a church demand that an abused person has to confront their abuser personally before escalating things. If a crime was committed against the church, such as vandalism, the pastor would immediately call the police. But when a woman in the church is raped, they want to implement church discipline. This is a warped understanding of God’s Word.

The other reason that many churches protect abusers is that they can’t believe that “so-and-so” would do something as despicable as this. So they not only presume his innocence, but presume her guilt in lying and making up the story. This is also unbiblical and wrong. Proverbs 24:24 says, “Whoever says to the wicked, ‘You are in the right,’ will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations.” So what’s the right answer?

Well, let’s take a look at Scripture to see what God wants. When God established the laws for Israel, he established a presumption of innocence. For example, in Deuteronomy 16:18-20, God established the court system for the nation of Israel.

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

These judges were to rule the nation of Israel justly, showing no partiality.

Deuteronomy 19:15 establishes the presumption of innocence: “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.”

Numbers 35:30 states, “If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the evidence of witnesses. But no personal shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.”

Deuteronomy 17:6 reiterates the need for multiple witnesses: “On the evidence of two witness or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.”

Why does God require multiple witnesses? Because of this presumption of innocence until proven guilty. It’s a safeguard designed to protect the innocent and ensure that only the guilty are successfully prosecuted and punished.

In Genesis 39, we see an example of a claim of rape against a man that was not only uncorroborated, but blatantly false. Joseph didn’t have the presumption of innocence, and was thrown into prison for years for a crime that he didn’t commit.

In the Gospels, we see another example of Someone convicted on false claims. That would be Jesus. Many accusations were hurled at him. Instead of a presumption of innocence, He was wrongly condemned on a presumption of guilt. Thankfully, this was all used by God for His purposes. But the point still stands.

In the Constitution of the United States, our Founding Fathers have taken that presumption of innocence and wrote it into the fabric of our nation. The 6th Amendment is designed to make sure that anyone who is accused of a crime has the right to a fair trial and to defend himself before an impartial jury. This idea of innocent until proven guilty is an important standard that we can’t compromise on.

However, it’s important that we, as the church, don’t become like the Pharisees, becoming so focused on the letter of the law that we miss the intent. We have to remember that in the Old Testament, there was no such thing as DNA testing; there were no detectives, no dusting for fingerprints; there wasn’t the investigative strategies that our law enforcement implements today. So they had to rely on the testimony of multiple witnesses to convict someone.

Today, we have so many different ways to gather evidence. We’ve also learned that memory can be manipulated and changed. So, while the multiple witnesses that corroborate a story can be vital to convict someone, we need to remember that the testimony of two or three witnesses should include physical evidence and proof as those witnesses, not just spoken testimony from an eye witness. DNA testing, fingerprints, video recordings, etc. are all forms of witnesses that should be accepted by the church as corroboration to a sin or a crime being committed.

When it comes to Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, there was no corroboration. There was an accusation that lacked all forms of corroboration. Does that mean that what Dr Ford accused him of doing didn’t happen? No. It is possible that she was telling the truth. We need to remember that just because there’s no evidence to support a claim, it doesn’t mean that the claim is automatically false. It’s just unprovable. But because of the presumption of innocence we cannot, and should not, convict someone without corroboration.

There were many within the church claiming that we need to believe all women who claim that they were abused. I would agree with that statement, initially. If someone comes to you sharing that she was abused, my first reaction would be to believe her and make sure that she is protected from the alleged abuser. But in order to convict someone, it has to be corroborated. I’m not willing to ruin someone’s life over an uncorroborated accusation. But I also want to remember that just because a claim is uncorroborated, it doesn’t mean that it for sure didn’t happen.

This puts us in a tough position as Christians. How do we protect the abused, all while presuming innocence on the part of the accused? We need to remember that these are not mutually exclusive perspectives.

One area that the church really needs to improve on is encouraging anyone who claims to be abused in any way to go to the police immediately. If a crime is committed, we need to allow local law enforcement to do their job. However, what has happened is that we presume innocence so much that we discourage women from reporting their experience to the police. Then 36 years pass, and when she finally has the courage to come forward with her experience, there’s no corroborating evidence, and then she’s potentially ridiculed and having to relive her traumatic experience all over again… and all for nothing because there's corroboration to convict the alleged abuser.

However, if we support women who say that they’ve been abused, and create a culture that encourages them to report it to the police right away, there’s more than likely evidence that can be used to prosecute and convict the abuser. But time is of the essence. We need to have a culture of accountability within the church, as well as a culture of support for victims. This is the best way to handle these types of claims. Report it to the police. Not only will this protect the victim, but it will keep the abuser from abusing future potential victims, as well. I can’t reiterate this enough: If someone comes to you and says that they’ve been abused, whether sexually or physically, encourage them to go straight to the police, and provide support and encouragement throughout the whole process. This is the culture we need within the church. Sadly, it’s sorely lacking. So now, let’s do something about it!

#Kavanaugh #SupremeCourt #ChurchToo #MeToo #Abuse #Matthew18 #PresumptionofInnocence #BrettKavanaugh #JeffDornik #Victims