Charges, Convictions, And The Ninth Commandment

In the last few weeks the Reformed-ish world has been rocked by allegations against two ministers, one very visible, very well known and the other with somewhat famous name but relatively well known. In the first case, this minister, Tullian Tchividjian, has confessed to committing multiple counts of adultery and has been removed from his office by his presbytery. In recent weeks, however, he has spoken in a non-denominational church, appeared on a website for “ex-pastors” and is reported to have a new book in the works. There have also been new, detailed accusations against him by other women. These accusations have included some documentation that lends credibility to the charges but they have not yet been adjudicated by any ecclesiastical or civil court. The session of Willow Creek Church, from Tchividjian was fired has issued a statement in support of those who have come forward and calling him to desist from any kind of vocational ministry.

Rather, inasmuch as he is truly repentant and in accordance with his membership vows, we would urge him to immediately return to his church of membership, submit to its leadership, and pursue healing and renewal through repentance in the context of his local church to the glory of God and for the good of the broader Church and her witness to the world.

The wisdom and righteousness of this instruction from his session is self-evident.

Only days ago news broke that another pastor, Tom Chantry, has been indicted, in Arizona, on charges of molesting a child two decades ago. He is not actively serving his Wisconsin congregation pending the outcome of the trial.

In both cases we have obligations to the victims and alleged victims as well as to those against whom allegations have been made. These are somewhat different cases. In the first, we know that there has been a pattern of infidelity and deception. The allegations fit the pattern that has already been acknowledged. Nevertheless, there have yet to be ecclesiastical charges or a trial. Until then we cannot know with certainty the truth of the new charges.

In the second case, there has been no acknowledged or even charged pattern of abuse or misconduct. The charges may be true—the authorities believe they have enough evidence to go to trial and, given the limited resources in a prosecutor’s office, that fact has some weight. Nevertheless, prosecutors do err. Further, I am old enough to remember cases in the 1980s and 90s where child abuse was falsely alleged and the lives of innocent people were ruined. Nevertheless, we have a duty to the alleged victims to see to their well-being in any event. In any event, whether the charges are true or false, counseling and special pastoral care are in order.

What we may not do, however, is to confuse charges or an indictment with a conviction. These are two different things.An indictment means that a prosecutor has enough evidence to go to trial. A trial presents the opportunity for the prosecution and the defense to make their cases from the facts and from the law. A conviction means that the prosecution has made its case, met its burden of proof and that a judge or a jury has agreed with them. An indictment is only the beginning of a long process.

There is a class of advocates for victims, whose work I have admired, who have taken it upon themselves to act as prosecutor, judge, and jury and who have convicted both men in what can only be described as internet mob justice. These cases illustrate both the power of the internet as a medium by which victims and potential victims can call attention to their plight and get help but also the dark side of the internet where charges and indictments instantly become convictions. In this regard, the mob is quite like the so-called “Pizzagate” matter. Add Speculation to conspiracy theories, which are impervious to evidence, to the internet mob and before long someone is firing rounds into a business. In other words, innocent people can get hurt.

Every adult must have some rudimentary knowledge of the civil court system either from jury duty or perhaps only from television crime dramas. For those not familiar with confessional Reformed/Presbyterian polity, there are detailed processes established to adjudicate charges and to protect the rights of both the accused and the accuser. We have assemblies and courts of original jurisdiction and multiple assemblies and courts to hear appeals.

There five remedies for these impulses and ways to prevent (more) innocent people from getting hurt.

  1. Care. Make sure that victims of abuse and potential victims are receiving all the care they need. That must be done immediately. We have a biblical obligation to look out for the little ones (figuratively and literally), whom Christ has entrusted to us. Remember, in the heat of internet combat there are real lives, real people at stake whatever the outcome of any civil or ecclesiastical trials.
  2. Seek justice. In the second case the civil authorities have made an arrest (in July) and have announced an indictment. The judicial process is underway. Mr. Chantry has an attorney and the state shall have to meet its  burden of proof. In the Tchividjian case, it is imperative that these charges be addressed by the courts of the church. Since he is no longer a minister, these charges should be addressed by his session. If they are true, he should be placed under the appropriate discipline. After all, it is not as if our Lord has not told us exactly how to proceed. We have relatively detailed instructions in Matthew 18. We also have the example in 1 Corinthians 5. Contrary to the case that was argued to me by one advocate for the victims, there is not a shred of evidence in Scripture to suggest that Matthew 18 is intended only for minor offenses but that 1 Corinthians 5 teaches that the charged must be excommunicated immediately, without due process. That is utterly contrary to the language and intent (spirit) of the law of God and of these two passages. I only mention this interpretation in case this is a view that is being taught to or by victim’s advocates. Two wrongs not make a right. We may be certain that were these advocates charged with  offenses they would want all the protections that due process affords, namely counsel, a right to face one’s accuser, a full hearing of the relevant facts, and a right to persuade jurors or a judge of the right interpretation of the facts and the law. It is essential for both the accused and the alleged victims that justice be done. Upon a conviction, the victim is vindicated and the sins or crimes of the accused properly addressed. Upon acquittal, the righteousness of the accused is upheld and false charges are repudiated. There is, even if only upon appeal, some resolution.
  3. Wait. Civil and ecclesiastical justice takes time. Just as it takes months or even years for a civil process to come to completion so it is in ecclesiastical procedures and often for the same reasons. Indeed, ecclesiastical bodies have fewer financial resources and so fewer people must do even more work. Further, this is a fallen world. It is hard to find the truth. We all must face what Van Til called the noetic (intellectual) effects of sin. People (both the accused and alleged victims) lie. Documents are unclear. Memories are fuzzy. Laws are ill-considered or contradictory. Judges have bad days. Juries make mistakes. Prosecutors err. Defense attorneys fail. There are countless obstacles that ecclesiastical and civil justice must overcome. Nevertheless, the Lord has instituted procedures. He has not instituted, nor has he promised, instant or perfect justice in this world. Indeed, the psalms are replete with lamentations about why the unrighteous seem to get away with their crimes in this life. Karma is a myth. Of course, justice will come, for both victims and impenitent, unbelieving perpetrators either in this life or the next.
  4. Pray. Those of us on the outside of the civil and ecclesiastical bodies properly involved in these matters do not know all the facts. Most of us do not know the alleged (or real) victims or the alleged perpetrators. However much fun idle speculation and internet mob justice might seem, it is neither godly (see below) nor wise. God does know, however, all the facts. He has known them from all eternity. He is perfectly wise and perfectly just. This is just the instance in which we should pray, “Your will be done.” God works through civil and ecclesiastical processes. Let us pray that happens in these cases.
  5. Observe the ninth commandment. God’s moral law has 10 words or commandments. On the internet, however, the ninth commandment, takes quite a beating—as do the others. The substance of the ninth commandment is to tell the truth. Indeed, the ninth commandment is intended, in the first instance, for judicial procedures. It applies well beyond civil and ecclesiastical trials, however. It applies to the internet. I have addressed that application repeatedly in this space. See the resources linked below. It is sufficient here to urge those who are concerned for the victims, and the alleged victims, as they should be, to observe the ninth commandment. They are not more righteous than God. Their concern for the well-being of victims and potential victims does not excuse them from the obligations of the ninth commandment. It says: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Like it or not Tchividjian and Chantry are our neighbors. We explain it thus:

    112. What does the ninth Commandment require.

    That I bear false witness against no one, wrest no one’s words, be no backbiter or slanderer, join in condemning no one unheard or rashly; but that on pain of God’s heavy wrath, I avoid all lying and deceit as the very works of the devil; and that in matters of judgment and justice and in all other affairs I love, speak honestly and confess the truth; also in so far as I can defend and promote my neighbor’s good name.

    I am well aware that some seek to hide their crimes and sins behind the ninth commandment. During the Federal Vision controversy both self-described Federal Visionists and their defenders invoked the ninth commandment repeatedly to quell theological criticism. Such is an abuse of the ninth commandment. Public sermons, articles, and books, are proper subjects for public criticism. The ninth commandment, however, applies specifically to these cases when it forbids condemning people “unheard” or “rashly.” These two men have yet to be given an opportunity to make their case. To condemn them, in these cases, before they have been heard and their cases properly adjudicated is a classic violation of the ninth commandment.

    That is God’s holy, immutable law. The good news is that Christ obeyed and died for liars and slanderers just as he graciously saves adulterers and abusers for the sake of Christ through faith alone. We must repent of our slander just as adulterers and abusers must repent of their sins. We must all turn to Christ in true faith and consequently walk in a manner worthy of the Christian calling and bear fruit in every good work (Col 1:10).

RESOURCES

27 comments

  1. To anticipate an objection:

    Yes, I am aware of other cases of abuse where the procedure has been completed. Yes, it seems evident that confessional Protestant churches need to take a close look at themselves to see what they can do to prevent cases (e.g., Patrick Edouard, Pella IA) where ministers abuse their trust with adults and cases where ministers or other church employees abuse their trust with children. Our local congregation has instituted a background check for everyone who works with children. They also receive basic training. Sin is pervasive and the church is not immune.

    Further, we have an obligation to defend and protect potential and actual victims. This post should not be misconstrued to signal indifference to the plight of victims. Christ loves and died for his figurative and literal little ones. Ministers, elders, deacons, and the rest of the adults in the visible church are charged with their protection. When we find cases of abuse, whether in the ministry or in the congregation, we have a duty to report those things to the civil authorities for investigation.

    There will be more forthcoming on these issues.

    • One reader commented on Scripture that this post seemed to him to encourage victims, potential victims, and families to be silent.

      Let me be clear: This is not my intent at all.

      When civil authorities have filed charges (e.g., made an indictment) in such a cae it is proper to notify affected people (e.g., congregations) so that they can take whatever actions are prudent. Wisdom, justice for the accused and for alleged victims, and compassion for possible victims are not mutually exclusive. We need to seek all three.

      More on this later.

    • Brent Detwiler has posted a history of the Chantry matter. It is helpful in some respects and less helpful in others. There are details and chronology that help fill in the picture and that support the process of notifying possible victims in multiple congregations. This is essential.

      This history is a good reminder of the limitations of ecclesiastical authority and the need to recognize that we live in two spheres simultaneously. We have a duty, as Detwiler observes, to report civil crimes to civil authorities.

  2. “Their concern for the well-being of victims and potential victims does excuse them from the obligations of the ninth commandment.”

    I think you intended to type, “does not excuse them…”

  3. Really appreciate this. Best response to this kind of situation that I think I’ve seen anywhere on the internet.

  4. “During the Federal Vision controversy both self-described Federal Visionists and their defenders invoked the ninth commandment repeatedly to quell theological criticism. Such is an abuse of the ninth commandment. Public sermons, articles, and books, are proper subjects for public criticism. The ninth commandment, however, applies specifically to these cases when it forbids condemning people “unheard” or “rashly.” These two men have yet to be given an opportunity to make their case.”

    A very important distinction, and a very balanced approach in applying the ninth commandment to these respective situations. Thank you, Dr. Clark. If only cooler, more patient heads, like yours, prevailed on the internet. And, if only the purveyors of internet mob justice without due process would realize how their (often well-intentioned) zeal for victim’s rights may actually end up promoting genuine injustice.

  5. You stated, “There is a class of advocates for victims, whose work I have admired, who have taken it upon themselves to act as prosecutor, judge, and jury and who have convicted both men in what can only be described as internet mob justice. ”

    I am confused by this. It seems to say you admire a group who acts as judge, jury and prosecutor and I’m certain you do not. What am I missing, here?

    Thank you for an alternative response and encouragement toward a Biblical attitude in these cases.

    I do find it interesting, the rapid morphing of reactions and responses depending on who is involved in these things.

    • Alex,

      Good organizations can err. That doesn’t discredit everything they have done.

      Please note the tense of the verb: “I have admired.”

      I wrote this to challenge those whom I have admired to do better. Obviously, I am not an admirer of the behaviors I am criticizing.

  6. “In this regard, the mob is quite like the so-called “Pizzagate” matter. Add Speculation to conspiracy theories, which are impervious to evidence, to the internet mob and before long someone is firing rounds into a business. In other words, innocent people can get hurt.”

    You are badly in error here:
    http://www.unz.com/article/pizzagate/

  7. Some thoughts in no particular order:

    Per the local news reports, Chantry is charged with five separate counts of molestation of two minors, and three additional counts of aggravated assault of three minors, in separate states, for a total of eight charges. With every charge beyond one, the likelihood of the outlier situation of a false accusation decreases exponentially. I in no way think you meant to misstate the reported facts intentionally, but they do matter significantly.

    Anyone who has experienced sexual assault of some kind (as I have, along with many friends and several relatives) will tell you that the memories are decidedly *not* fuzzy. We don’t struggle to remember; we struggle to forget. And per above, if the testimonies were in any way fuzzy or inconsistent, that in itself is usually where indictments don’t happen.

    As for the relationship between civil and ecclesiastical authorities and their timelines and requirements, I’m struggling to understand why church processes want to follow the lead and timing of secular/civil ones. I cannot tell you how grateful I was when our pastors announced immediate excommunication of a member after he was arrested on charges of molestation of a child in our congregation, had been out on bail, and then violated the church’s terms to which he had agreed for permission to continue attending church. They didn’t wait for a trial. They had the testimony of the family (which is what lead to their immediate reporting to police the same day) and his confession. They had the evidence of his violation of terms for attendance. He was immediately excommunicated and forbidden to be on church property. The trial, conviction and sentencing happened in time. But our pastors felt no compunction to wait for the less than swift actions of the civil authorities to do what was right for the sake of the congregation, the victims, and the perpetrator, before God. And we were grateful.

    We of course must submit to civil authorities, but it seems like to often we forget that those same authorities are themselves subordinate to God’s supreme authority. Where we have freedom, there is no reason not to pursue the truth and justice on His terms, even as we must also follow the courts.

    • Rachel,

      Thank you for this.

      I am genuinely sorry for your suffering and for all who have suffered abuse.

      I have never, until this episode, heard of “immediate excommunication.” In Reformed polity, we have no such procedure. Everyone is has the right to an ecclesiastical trial on the basis of Matthew 18. Paul’s injunction to the Corinthians should not be set against Matthew 18, as if it represents an entirely distinct procedure.

      I do not think that the church must necessarily wait for civil authorities, at least not in every case. Where there is a civil procedure, however, it would seem wise to wait for the disposition before proceeding. Should civil authorities not proceed, the church may still pursue discipline.

      In general terms, I see civil and ecclesiastical authorities operating on parallel tracks.

    • If a man has confessed to a crime, it escapes me why it’s wise to wait for civil proceedings before proceeding with church discipline. He may confess to the church a crime that he has actually committed, but then later be advised by his attorney to plead not guilty. Some legal glitch, a statute of limitations problem, a lack preponderance of evidence, or corruption in the court system may mean the jury will declare a man not guilty of a crime he has actually committed. This happens, sadly, with regularity. Our court system (when it’s not corrupt) is the best that has been devised by the mind of man, but a church that has received an admission of guilt in a crime (which happens occasionally in the hopes that a show of repentance will gain quick forgiveness) has no Scriptural basis to feel obligated to wait for legal proceedings before taking action as a church.

  8. In reply to Todd Wilhelm’s latest, I left the following comment:

    Todd,

    In this post you have significantly misrepresented my position, in part, because you do not understand or perhaps because we do not agree about the relationship between process and justice. I am emphasizing the importance of following both civil and ecclesiastical judicial processes in order to enable victims to speak out and achieve justice.

    My application of the 9th commandment is not intended to silence victims. It is, however, intended to caution all of us to tell the truth (what we actually know) and especially in the matter of civil and ecclesiastical justice. That cannot be a bad thing.

    We may disagree about how to achieve justice for victims but we do not disagree that Christians must seek justice for victims. I trust that we both agree that Christians are obligated to tell the truth about one another, to protect the reputation of others. In this case, you have (perhaps unintentionally, in your zeal to seek justice for victims) violated the 9th commandment by saying that I am seeking to silence victims. I am not. You may think that my application of the 9th commandment may have that effect but I am not seeking to silence victims. I am encouraging victims and their advocates to use those procedures, both civil and ecclesiastical, established by our Lord.

    For what it’s worth, I believe with all my heart that the Lord himself established both civil courts and churchly assemblies. Those who have been sexually (or e.g., by violence) abused in the church should pursue justice (as appropriate) through the criminal justice system. The church also has a role here. Offenders also should have been prosecuted ecclesiastically. In both spheres (secular and sacred) there should be investigations and trials.

    My argument in the Chantry case is not that victims should not come forward. It is EXACTLY the opposite. They should come forward! They should pursue justice in the secular courts. All I ask is that well-meaning victim advocates refrain from convicting the accused before there has been an investigation and a trial. Already I have seen charges of a “cover up” and the like. Again, if there is evidence of such, take it to the civil and ecclesiastical authorities.

    I am not arguing that the church is infallible. Far from it! We all know, however, that the civil courts are not infallible either. One great problem is that many American evangelical congregations either have no process (no court system, no courts of appeals) or they are not used. In a rightly ordered church, there are courts (assemblies) of original jurisdiction and courts of appeals. There are procedures for investigation, trial, and conviction.

    I imagine that this sounds odd to many American evangelicals but in my tradition, we have followed this pattern for most of 500 years (with varying degrees of success). So the question has never been whether victims should pursue justice nor has it been whether Christians should advocate for them. The questions are:

    1. Where (in the civil and ecclesiastical courts) not on blogs
    2. How (using the divinely instituted procedures, not trying people in the absence of an investigation)
    3. When (during the process, which takes time)

    Thanks for your zeal for victims. They do need advocates but to achieve true justice, both victims and advocates must pursue it through those institutions (the civil and ecclesiastical courts) established by our Lord.

    To anticipate an objection: I am not counseling victims to go to the church in lieu of the criminal justice system. The ecclesiastical procedure may have to wait until the secular system has done its work but there are cases where, e.g., the secular statute of limitations has expired, where the church may yet act even when the civil authorities can no longer do so. The church needs to recognize when one of its members has committed a sin or a crime against another and the church needs to speak too for the sake of the member directly injured, for the sake of the other members, and even for the sake of the offender, who needs to repent and believe for the sake of his immortal soul.

    To silence the church in these matters will not help either victims or the accused or the guilty.

  9. It is sinful human nature to protect how ones bread is buttered, to protect ones own life work and vocation, circles and ethos therein. To boot if one can claim holiness to said work or “I have been placed in this office by God” or ” I am doing God’s work” it indeed can easily be used as a conversation killer or a kind of Protestant Sacerdotalism/ infalibility.
    A healthy Biblical perspective on the Visible Vs. Invisible Church and understanding which is most important will only help provide wisdom in matters like this.

    Thanks for the open discussion, Dr. Clark. To that end I believe this PCA pastor’s blog post below, from 1 year ago is relevant. The church will error, it’s officers will error and they will sin. The original beauty of Protestant theology and the priesthood of all believers allows the flock to respectfully speak up to church officers, even remove them from office. For they are only men.

    Dr. Clark,

    What are your thoughts of the practice by many NAPARC churches who appoint officers in life long positions in the officer of elder once the congregation votes them in?
    Still others have a kind of rotation system/ a re- vote of confidence every 4 years or so.
    I prefer the re-vote, lest we create unwittingly an entrenched bureaucracy and the kind of protestant sacerdotalism I referenced earlier.
    Which do you prefer?

    In Christ alone,
    E. Burns

    ……………………………………………..
    Published: Wednesday, 28 January 2015 21:23. By PCA Pastor
    Dear Church Family,

    I am convinced that one of the major problems in evangelicalism today is a low ecclesiology. Ecclesiology simply means the study of the doctrine of the church. To have a low ecclesiology means to not hold the visible church in high esteem – to think of the visible church (the gathering of the saints, corporate worship, the ordinary means of grace, membership and ordination, church discipline and the like) as being not that important in one’s Christian life. In contrast, to have a high ecclesiology would be to value the importance, and to esteem the work, of the visible church.

    The Visible and Invisible Church
    I’m speaking here of the visible church. Many Christians think of the invisible church as being very important. To be mystically united to Christ by faith is very important and essential for salvation. In fact, a person may not be said to be saved or regenerate, unless he or she is a member of the invisible church. If this distinction and language sounds a bit confusing, perhaps it will help to have some definitions. The first two paragraphs of chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession give definitions of the visible and invisible church:

    WCF 25.1 The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.

    WCF 25.2 The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

    Simply put, we may say that the invisible church includes all of those who were, are, or will be regenerate (the Confession uses the word ‘elect’). Another way to speak of this invisible church is to say that it includes all true believers. The visible church includes all those who say they trust in Christ and also includes their children. Another way to speak of this visible church is to say that it includes all those who are on the church role. The confession seeks to use precise and biblical language, while I’m trying to simplify for clarity, but hopefully you get the point.

    The Importance of the Visible Church

    As you can hopefully tell from the language of the confession, the Westminster Divines had a decidedly high ecclesiology. I’ve found that a good way to test whether or not someone has a high ecclesiology (what they believe about the importance of the visible church) is to ask a question that try to ask of every candidate who comes before presbytery for ordination: “What do you think about this statement: The visible church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”

    This question really strikes at the heart of what one believes about the importance of the visible church, whether or not they have a high ecclesiology. For, as the confession here teaches (and Jesus and the Apostles taught), the visible church is the institution through which God ordinarily confers salvation. The Great Commission to make disciples by baptizing and teaching Christ’s commands is given to the visible church (Matthew 28:18-20), preachers are sent to preach the gospel by the church (10:15), the sacraments are administered in and by the church (Acts 2:41-42; Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34), church discipline and the corporate sanctification of God’s people takes place in the church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Corinthians 2:5-10).

    The Greater Importance of the Invisible Church

    More could be said and I could go on; however, as one who professes to have a high ecclesiology, I wish at this point to say how my high regard for the visible church was arrested and challenged this week. Being a baptized member of the visible church is important, but it of far greater importance that one be a member of the invisible church!

    This point was struck home to me with particular impact this week as I’ve been preparing for the sermon this coming Sunday. The text for our sermon is from John 1:19-34. John the Baptist testifies before some Jews who come as a delegation from Jerusalem as to the nature of his ministry – why he is preaching and baptizing. He says that he is voice crying in the wilderness (John 1:23) and that he baptizes in order that Jesus might be manifested (or revealed) to Israel (John 1:31).

    And then, in order to clearly delineate between his outward and temporary ministry and the inward and eternal ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist makes the point: I baptize with water, but Jesus who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He baptizes in the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).

    Conclusion

    This is a great reminder (and sometimes a point of correction) for those of us who have a high ecclesiology, who value the work and worship of the visible church. It is good and proper and biblical to make much of the visible church. But it is far better, and far more important, to make much of the invisible church – to make much of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

    Outside of the visible church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation, but outside of the invisible church there is no possibility of salvation whatsoever. For man baptizes in water, but God our Savior “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7).

    The Lord be with you!

    – Pastor Peter M. Dietsch. PCA Midland Texas

  10. “Nevertheless, there have yet to be ecclesiastical charges or a trial. Until then we cannot know with certainty the truth of the new charges.” In many cases, especially when there is obfuscation of justice, the public cannot ever know the certainty of the truth of the charges. A wise tack seems to be to make information public as it is available. This can serve to reduce the conspiracies of silence and power engaged in by some in church leadership as well as civil leadership. This is why a free press was so important in the founding of this nation.

    I’ve followed the Tchividjian issue on Spiritual Sounding Board and the Chantry issue on A Cry for Justice, primarily because I have a number of women in my life who have been victims of either domestic abuse or sexual abuse. I’m very well aware of how churches, Christian organizations, and entire denominations work to cover up the scandals of adultery and abuse. The fact that for years Chantry’s denomination has squelched information about allegations against him is telling.

    You’ve charged internet watch bloggers with acting as “prosecutor, judge, and jury” who have “convicted both men.” This is a ludicrous claim. For one thing, people who have no legal authority to prosecute, judge, or convict a man do not do so simply by discussing the situation. And there are defamation laws for a reason. The writers at SSB, for example, speak with care and caution, as credible journalists would, ever conscious of the potential of an accusation of defamation. To discuss allegations publicly is NOT to prosecute or judge or convict. It is simply to have a public discussion of allegations. As we do that, as long as we don’t lie about anyone in the process, none of us can be validly accused of breaking the 9th commandment.

    When you silence the advocates, you often silence the victims along with them–for example, some of Tullian Tchividjian’s (alleged) victims of clergy sexual abuse have been talking to Julie Anne at SSB for months, knowing that when they were ready to speak, her blog was a safe place to do so. If those of us who “don’t have all the facts” (I have to say, I am so tired of that accusation, because not a single human being on this planet has all the facts about anything)–if we refuse to say anything, we are in effect turning our backs on those who need support and help. Not all of us are called to advocate, but some of us are, and those of us who are, if we do it with grace and truth, don’t need to fear the ninth commandment. Instead we can can speak in the spirit of Proverbs 31:9. “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.”

    • Rebecca,

      Let me address two things here.

      In the Chantry case we do not yet know what the facts are and there has been no admission of guilt. So the condition you assume in your previous comment does not apply here. Yes, in case one admits guilt then the church might (depending on the circumstances) proceed with discipline. On the other hand, I’ve been in dialogue with a number of victim-advocates who seem to be saying that the visible church has no role whatsoever in the process and that discipline is not appropriate. So, the messages are confusing for this outsider.

      Second, I observe this mob-mentality on the web. Here’s one evidence. There is a repeated pattern among victim-advocates to downplay “innocent until proved guilty” in the case where sexual abuse has been charged. This is special pleading. Here is another: I see them saying that the ninth commandment does not really apply in these cases. Again, this strikes me as special pleading, which the Oxford American Dictionary defines thus:

      argument in which the speaker deliberately ignores aspects that are unfavorable to their point of view.
      • appeals to give a particular interest group special treatment: we heard his special pleading for his constituency.

      The second sentence seems particularly apt here.

      Once again, I am not seeking to silence anyone. I have repeatedly urged those with evidence to take it to civil/secular authorities for investigation. One blogger has alleged a cover up. If he has actual evidence of such, he is morally bound (and perhaps legally, I do not know) to take it to the authorities. Urging people to speak up appropriately is not silencing them. Urging caution in public speech, in view of the ninth commandment, is silencing no one.

      I understand what it is to be silenced. My welfare and safety have been threatened for speaking out about the Federal Vision controversy and on other matters. That is an attempt to silence. Asking people to go through the process, to wait for the process, before pronouncing guilt is not an attempt to silence.

    • You’ve said that the ones with information should go to legal and ecclesiastical authorities, making it evident that you believe this is the only place they should speak, indicating that you appear to want to silence public discourse. Certainly if anyone is bearing false witness, they’re breaking the ninth commandment. The question then is are these advocates really bearing false witness: are they claiming to be witnesses to things that are false. If they’re actually telling the truth, then it doesn’t matter whether or not the church or legal authorities have made a ruling–they are not bearing false witness.

      Just as an observation, “innocent until proven guilty” is for our court systems. For one who has been victimized, he or she knows that the perpetrator is guilty the entire time the court proceedings are taking place, and still knows it even if the jury finds the perpetrator “not guilty.” For a husband of an abuse survivor who watches his wife awake from a nightmare to be in a childlike state, full of fear of her perpetrator, he has seen enough evidence to know that the perpetrator is guilty, without any court system. This also applies to professional counselors, family members, and even friends who know victims and survivors well enough over a long enough period to be convinced of the truth of their testimony, witnessing flashbacks, nightmares, pictures they drew as children, dissociative states, and other trauma responses. When they have seen what they have seen, though “innocent until proven guilty” still holds true in the court system, there is nothing in God’s Word requiring these people to take that neutral stance. They are “witnesses” to the truth of the matter. When people speak on social media, you give the impression of thinking they can’t really know what they’re talking about until the church and/or court systems have made a ruling. But this is far from the case.

      You mention special pleading as “appeals to give a particular interest group special treatment.” There may be some who have said it’s fine to violate the ninth commandment when talking about victims and perpetrators, and there are certainly some who are careless, but the bloggers you reference, in my experience, are not among them. The only “special treatment” these advocates are asking for, from what I can see, is that facts not be hidden away, that the light of truth shine, that wolves not be allowed to devour sheep, and that the powerful not be allowed to once again silence the powerless. Proclamation and response (public discourse), is one of the ways God has ordained for this to be accomplished, in the spirit of the Word, which urges us to plead the cause of the poor and needy. It is not only to the court systems and to the ecclesiastical boards that we plead it. We plead it to God’s people, wherever they may be.

    • Rebecca,

      The question is whether the Internet is the appropriate place to find fact, judge, & condemn.

      Does not your reply substantiate my concern about the application of the ninth commandment? If I am understanding you correctly, you seem to be suggesting that there is no connection between “innocent until proven guilty” and the ninth commandment.

      Here is what the Reformed churches confess regarding the ninth commandment:

      Q. 112. What is required in the ninth commandment?

      A. That I bear false witness against no man, nor falsify any man’s words; that I be no backbiter, nor slanderer; that I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly, or unheard; but that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit, as the proper works of the devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God; likewise, that in judgment and all other dealings I love the truth, speak it uprightly and confess it; also that I defend and promote, as much as I am able, the honor and good character of my neighbour.

      It seems to me that there is a good bit of condemning unheard and rashly going on in some of these cases.

  11. I agree that violation of the ninth commandment is wrong–I believe that wasn’t in question. And you’re correct, I believe the essential legal structure and procedure of the court system in order to assure a person of a fair and constitutional trial are not necessarily connected to what God and witnesses know to be true. If a man has actually committed a crime, then he is guilty before God, even if the jury says “not guilty.”

    I also believe that the internet can be good place to learn facts, just as a newspaper or a book from the library or a documentary on television can be a good place to learn facts. (I’m assuming you’ve learned facts on the internet.) In each case it’s incumbent on the reader/viewer to weigh the reliability of the author/producer and the evidence from other sources, among other things, in drawing conclusions.

    • Rebecca,

      The principle of “innocent until proved guilty” grows out of the historic Christian view of the 9th commandment, as reflected in the Heidelberg Catechism.

      This principle means that the accused gets the benefit of the doubt, even if it seems to us like an open and shut case. I don’t see how we can set up a separate, parallel system either in the church or in the secular courts, whereby those accused of sexual assault operate on the principle of “guilty until proved innocent” without fundamentally damaging justice.

      I’m not saying that one cannot form a private opinion based upon what one infers from what claims may in in the pubic but until the accused has had an opportunity to defend himself, until the facts have come out, must we not refrain from passing judgment on him? I’m not saying that we cannot disagree with a jury (e.g., the O J Simpson case) but deciding before we’ve heard both sides is the definition of prejudice. I understand that those who work regularly with victims feel as if they cannot wait to render judgement but I am asking them to wait to pronounce judgement publicly.

      Sometimes courts fail. In that case, where the church has an interest, I think she is entitled to her own process. I think we agree on this.

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