Monday, April 01, 2024

Anonymous Asks (296)

“What should I do when falsely accused?”

Accusations have never been easier to spread than in the internet age. They can ruin careers, drive their victims into bankruptcy and affect the lives of family members, friends and associates in extremely unpleasant ways. Even when true, accusations are often hurled willy-nilly and frequently prosecuted with nothing remotely resembling due process or compelling evidence.

When false, you have real worst-case scenario. Good luck proving your innocence.

Some false accusations are even made in good faith. A fellow Christian once accused my father of smoking a pipe while waiting for a city bus. The accusation was ridiculous but there was no doubt the old fellow who made it believed he had witnessed the grossly evil act with his own eyes. Thankfully, nobody took it terribly seriously. Church pews were still full when Dad took the platform the following Sunday. Nevertheless, it serves to illustrate how easily a false accusation can appear out of nowhere and how difficult such gossip is to disprove: it inverts the “innocent until proven guilty” assumptions of the courtroom and invites anybody and everybody to weigh in with their own completely uninformed opinions of the likelihood of the charges being true.

Nothing New Under the Sun

As Christians, it is important to remember false accusations are nothing new. The command not to bear false witness is the ninth of the Ten Commandments. This is not simply a blanket condemnation of telling lies, but a specific rejection of the practice of telling falsehoods that target the reputations or welfare of others. Under the Law of Moses, the false witness received the legal penalty he sought to impose on his neighbor. That probably served as a societal disincentive to widespread false accusations. It’s too bad we don’t practice it today.

During the course of his ministry, the Lord was informally but publicly accused of blasphemy and of being possessed by a demon. Much like the accusations of racism and hate speech so frequently leveled today, the blasphemy accusation could only be sustained by a convenient redefinition of the term, and the accusation of demon possession was so ridiculous the Lord didn’t have to even appeal to the scriptures to quash it. He simply and logically replied that if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. At this point, the Pharisees avoided making formal accusations against him, probably concerned that they wouldn’t be able to make an effective legal case. Nevertheless, they slandered him repeatedly, hoping to destroy the high opinion in which he was held by those who followed him.

False Accusations and the Rule of Law

Unfortunately, the protections against false accusation offered through the Law of Moses depended on righteous judgment and respect for the rule of law. When the Jewish legal authorities actively suborned perjury, the Lord stopped bothering to reply to their accusations. There was no point. Their position was self-refuting. Mark writes that many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. Even with the full support of the high priest and council, the liars they produced to offer evidence against him could not manage to keep their stories straight.

So then, we see that sometimes a response to a false accusation is useful. Other times, not so. A brief, clear reply to the false accusation of demon possession was effective. The frivolousness of the claim was sufficiently obvious to a reasonable third party looking on. Even so, the Pharisees still tried it repeatedly. However, in the case of a formal blasphemy trial where the entire judiciary was stacked against him and determined to flout the rule of law, the Lord did not bother defending himself.

Courtrooms and the Court of Public Opinion

The situation was different when the Jews falsely accused the apostle Paul of defiling the temple. As a Roman citizen, he had the right to appeal to Caesar and he did so, taking advantage of every opportunity along the way to Rome to testify to his faith in public. In the case where a false accusation is leveled formally and there is some hope of an unbiased judge and an even legal playing field, a Christian may find it prudent to use the system to get a hearing for his position.

Far more often, however, today’s false accusers prefer the court of manufactured public opinion to any legal venue, which eliminates both the possibility of legal recourse and the ability to reply to one’s accusers with a reasonable expectation of getting a fair hearing. In such cases, a blunt denial of guilt followed by a complete refusal to engage may be the wisest option. One should never have to prove oneself not guilty of charges for which no evidence is produced.

So then, how a Christian ought to respond to false accusations very much depends on the situation. A long, reasoned defense in front of a rabid mob is not likely to be effective. Their minds are already made up. In a more neutral situation, a clear presentation of the facts may be adequate to convince the judge, but there is no guarantee justice will be done even so.

Suffering as a Christian

Peter writes, “Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.” In other words, make sure the accusation against you is false. He continues, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” Such suffering is “according to God’s will” and provides the falsely accused with the opportunity to “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good”, in so doing being a testimony to the truth of the gospel.

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