So yesterday I had a conversation with my daughter-in-law about this, and then later in the day a friend in another state wrote me with the same basic question. Taking this for a sign, or perhaps an omen, or possibly a portent, I decided to take a swing at the topic here.
Given the same basic outline of events concerning Roy Moore, what would it take for me to abandon support for him? What would it take for me to encourage others to do the same? I have been emphasizing the basic rules of justice, but how are those rules to be handled in a situation like this one? What would a reasonable case against Moore look like in this circumstance? What would constitute the kind of evidence I would think we should pay attention to?
If I can’t answer basic questions like that, then it certainly looks like my commitment to due process is merely a form of partisan foot-dragging.
So then. We are not in a courtroom, but the processes that govern a judicious courtroom should be processes we can apply, mutatis mutandis, to this. And the first principle is that you have to admit evidence in stages. There is the evidence you require in order to indict someone, and there is the higher level of evidence you require in order to convict someone. The evidence for indictment is simply enough evidence to continue with the investigation. You have enough to hold a trial. You have the right to continue to ask questions. I believe that the evidence presented thus far against Roy Moore most certainly reaches that level. It would not be appropriate simply to dismiss the allegations out of hand.
The next thing is basic. You need to have a bailiff who is capable of “clearing the courtroom.” How do you conduct a trial when every participant is an interested party? This is a hotly contested, very important, crucial to the future of Very Important Things election. So if I were in charge of this thing, if people would listen to me, I would do everything I could to move the investigation out of the political realm. If Moore is not elected, the point is moot—the lynching worked. And by calling it a lynching, I do not mean that Moore had to be innocent. Lynching parties often succeeded in hanging guilty men; they didn’t get it wrong every time. But the process is still ungodly and wicked.
But if Moore is elected, I would ask the governor of Alabama, to appoint a commission to investigate the whole affair and to deliver a report in a year. It would not be a criminal investigation because of the statute of limitations. It would simply be an investigation in the public interest. And I would appoint men and women to the commission who would be capable of serving a jurors, if this were a trial. As things stand now, every witness and every investigator and every juror is an interested party. How would you like to conduct an “impartial” investigation when every person involved was related to the accused, or stood to make 100K if the accused were convicted? When you are dealing with things like this, you have to get it out of the realm where feelings run high.
And if you don’t believe that feelings are running high, just look at the accusations I have received for simply wanting to take this carefully. “Make sure you are hanging an actual child molester” is taken as tantamount to “Child molesters should be given a pension for life, along with chocolate treats.” But I take it as a badge of honor to be vilified by people who should never be allowed within one hundred yards of a jury room.I take it as a badge of honor to be vilified by people who should never be allowed within one hundred yards of a jury room.
Never forget the fact that Roy Moore is the kind of man who had multiple enemies in both political parties, and he had those enemies prior to any word being spoken about these allegations. If you don’t take that into account, you are a babe, as they say, in the woods.
But, you might say, wanting to adjudicate this in a calm room is unrealistic. Suppose the thousands of people involved in this do not agree to stop yelling, and do not agree to allow a judicious investigative process. Is there anything a conscientious individual could look for in the meantime—prior to the election—that would warrant changing our minds? Yes, there is. Would it be possible for me to change my mind about Moore in the middle of this particular scrum? Yes, there is.
As things now stand, I am not willing to simply convict on the basis of what the accusers say, for the reasons outlined above. I am willing to indict on the basis of what they say. In addition, I am willing to change my mind based on the words of the one accused. File these under confession (and oblique confession) and contradiction (to known facts).
Sure, open confession would do it. But since that is unlikely in the extreme in this situation, what good does that do? But I am also leaving room for oblique confession. “I never met that woman before in my life, and besides, her mother said it was okay.” If someone says that people don’t do that kind of thing, my response would be that Al Franken just provided us with a textbook case of it the other day. He did not openly and honestly confess anything, but his words certainly convicted him. If Moore did anything like that, I would certainly be willing to change my mind.
By contradiction to known facts, I do not mean the accused contradicting the accusers. That is baked into any he said/she said situation. I mean the accused contradicting known or verifiable facts—e.g. saying that he never went to that town, and someone produces a flyer for the event where he gave a speech in that town. Once I know that the accused is telling me falsehoods about the circumstances, I consider it increasingly likely that the falsehoods run deeper than that. One demonstrated lie is sufficient to impeach the witness, even if the witness is the accused.
These two criteria return us to the need for a well-run courtroom. I do not mean gotcha variants of these things. I mean the real thing. A real investigative reporter—not a hack and not a partisan—could distinguish himself by carefully documenting the pros and cons of each side, weighing the evidence, giving due consideration to judicious arguments on both sides. And you can identity a partisan hack by his avowed position that there are absolutely no judicious arguments on the other side. “Which is why we have to act now.” Here is an assignment for you. Go online and try to find an objective account of this mess, where the arguments for both sides are treated with respect, in parallel columns. Good luck.
One last comment. It cannot be denied that we live in a time when our culture believes, and many Christian leaders unfortunately echo it, that it is our duty to simply say I believe you to any woman who accuses any man. No investigation necessary. This is a false, pernicious, and wicked lie. But we also live in a generation, catechized as it has been by porn, where genuine abuse between the sexes is by no means unusual, and where powerful leaders know how to circle the wagons to protect their own. Many of the accusations are true. But to refuse to sort them out is not to fight the corruption, but in fact it is to surrender to it.
True Christian courage is the kind that is willing to stand up to any mob that wants to bypass due process. And true Christian courage is also willing to stand up to any entrenched power-brokers who want to carve out sexual perks for their martinets. But in doing this, the Spirit must provide the courage, and the Scriptures must provide the definitions of justice.