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.

Injustice and Empathy

Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor have posted a very good statement about the Sovereign Grace lawsuit here. I appreciated it very much.

The issue — among thoughtful Christians — should never be whether or not justice should be done. That should be a given. What should we seek out, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God? (Micah 6:8)

The issue is that we do not know what the just response is until after a fair and just trial. Just sentences do not fall out of the sky — they proceed from just trials. And in order to have a just trial, it must be managed and conducted by just men, men who hate bribes, men who have a backbone, men who know the law.

If a man is accused of child molestation, a horrendous crime, and charges are made and the evidence is being gathered, then patience is absolutely necessary. If a judge is ruled by the spirit of Prov. 18:17, and he is proceeding with all deliberation, and then he finds himself accused of covering up misdeeds, or enabling such crimes, or being soft on molestation, simply because he did not move straight to the sentencing, then we know that the spirit of injustice is on the loose.