I Shot the Sheriff . . .

“Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s” (Dt. 1:17)

In an earlier post, on injustice and empathy, a point rose deep in the comments which needs to be bumped to the top.

The point that was raised concerned a possible double standard when it comes to one of “our guys,” someone like C.J. Mahaney, and someone outside our tribe — I know it is au courant to say “tribe” these days, and I am nothing if not au courant — like Joe Paterno and the Penn State scandal. We need to use equal weights and measures (Matt. 7:1). We need to have one standard for all, not one standard of justice for those we know, and another standard of justice for those at a distance. I agree with this point completely.

“Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 20:10).

This means that if Joe Paterno needs to take the hit simply because he was the head of the organization at the time, that is an understandable principle — but it would apply equally to C.J. Mahaney. But if you want to follow the slower process outlined in the statement issued by Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, and D.A. Carson — as I would urge — then that same judicious spirit should govern us as we are considering scandals like the one at Penn State. We should have equal weights and measures for Sovereign Grace and Penn State.

Does this principle mean that we Christians were being inconsistent when we weighed in on on the Gosnell trial before it was done? Was that an instance of pronouncing sentence before the trial was over? Not at all. The Gosnell situation isn’t comparable because of the nature of the case — Gosnell was a murderer on the basis of his defense. He was a late term abortionist, something that no one denied. There is no injustice in seeing this before the trial. We can assume guilt of some significant magnitude when the defense is, “I shot the sheriff, but I did not shoot the deputy.”

When the defense is “you have the wrong man entirely,” we need to be careful to avoid all punditry altogether. Wait until the jury comes back into the courtroom, and then we can talk about it. But when the defense is “I swear I thought she was 18,” or “when I shot Smith, I thought I was shooting Murphy,” or “we couldn’t have been robbing the house on Poplar because we were robbing the house on Elm at the time,” we don’t need to be so cautious. We need to reserve judgment, not on everything, but rather on the facts that are under dispute. And any thoughtful Christian should have been able to tell us about the condition of Gosnell’s soul by looking at the ads he had in the yellow pages.

But the basic principle here is an important one — even-handedness — and applies whether we are talking about our friends or our enemies.

  • Jonathan

    So in all cases where someone denies the crime itself, then you’ll consider them innocent until proven guilty? Even if they’re a Muslim or a Democrat?

  • Willis

    When Bob Marley shot the sheriff, he swears it was in self defense. So….let’s not jump to any conclusions there either.

  • Douglas Wilson


    Right, that’s the principle. Of course, this admits of degrees, as when you show there is enough reason to obtain a warrant, or when a judge denies bail. But even here there should be accountability in the courts, etc. And I don’t believe that pleading the fifth should be taken as a proxy plea for “guilty,” as many have assumed in the Lerner case.

    Willis, okay, good point. I forgot about that line.

  • http://benjaminotero.com Ben Otero

    I’ve been reading up and thinking through this situation. The troubling thing, at least in terms of the responses, is that they have neglected to mention several known facts. What role, if any, should the arrest and conviction of David Adams play in our assessment and the recent arrest of Nathaniel Morales, about whom one SGM pastor admitted to knowing about a past that including being a sex offender?

    I am most definitely not of the “Watchers” ilk that seem to be more proponents of ready, fire, aim but there have already been arrests and at least one conviction in the past abuse cases and that has nary been mentioned by any well known Reformed writers. If all one were to go by were well known Reformed bloggers they would think that there is nothing to these allegations at all when in fact that there is proven fact that abuse took place but what is up for debate is whether or not there was a concerted effort to hush victims or prevent them from reporting.

    In our thinking and assessing this situation, should we take into account the conviction of Dave Adams and arrest of Nathaniel Morales? And why do you think those facts have been left out by many who have written about the situation? Again, I’m not looking for CJ’s head on a pike but I also find the silence on some known and established facts in the case to be disturbing. I don’t want to believe it is intentional but the more I read the harder it is.

  • http://aborrowedflame.com AndrewF

    I really do get the desire to stand beside a long-time trusted friend. But I think it should be possible for TGC leaders, for example, to be able to say “we believe you are innocent, we trust you, we stand behind you” and at the same time say “but these are serious and sustained allegations which need clearing up, and to be ‘above reproach’ you ought to step down from ministry until it is”.

    I have to confess, I’m disappointed by a number of men who I otherwise, greatly admire.