Protections for the Accuser

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We have been talking about the rights of the accused in matters of justice. But in the tangled web of human experience, in many cases the accuser can rapidly become the accused. Then what do we do?

The first thing to do, especially for all internet observers, is to maintain a heart check, a heart check that will keep partisan interests out of it. When someone accuses someone else, and someone else makes a counter-accusation back, the thing I must not do is take up sides based on other partisan considerations. Suppose a paedobaptist accuses a baptist minister of embezzlement. I am not to lean in the direction of the accuser because of our shared exegesis on the covenant. Take this a step further. Suppose an accusation is made against someone who is my personal adversary, someone I believe has wronged me in the past. I get word, say, that a parishioner has accused Joe Morecraft of something nefarious. If my response were, “How sad. It was just a matter of time,” I would be wronging Joe in a grievous way. Keeping partisan interests out of it is a protection of both accuser and accused. It prevents me from being a participant in a seller’s market — ready to believe some dirt for other reasons.

Coming to the rights of the accuser particularly, let me set down a few principles. For our purposes here, I am assuming an accuser of established authority. If the accuser is in authority, then we don’t have to worry much about their rights. The Sanhedrin accused Jesus, and at least as far as human judgment was concerned, they did not have to worry about retaliation. He was the lamb led to slaughter. (Of course, I am leaving out of consideration here the days of vengeance that fell in 70 A.D.)

So, if we like what an accuser under authority is doing, we call him a whistleblower. If we don’t like it, we call him a treacherous sneak. But we shouldn’t call him anything until we know.

The first principle is that any accuser who is going to bring charges against those in authority over him, who could (if they wished) retaliate against him, must do his homework. We have already said this in the interests of justice. But an accuser in this position should have sheer self-interest in mind as well. If his evidence is compelling, then he should have it marshalled so that any who read it are compelled to acknowledge that he is speaking the truth. And here, all the principles we have referred to so far (two and three witnesses, non-anonymous witnesses on the record, and so on) are principles that protect the accuser. If they are absent, then everyone who looks at his charges can legitimately say, “This guy is a flake,” and dismiss him. If these principles are absent, then absolutely anyone could make the same charges as well, whether they are true or false. So if his evidence is slipshod, then the accuser either has a martyr complex, or he is trying to try the case with sound-bytes in the rumor mill. He doesn’t want his evidence sifted, he just wants bits of it to make it into the papers.

The second principle here is to remember that tyrannical establishments are not omniscient. However much they believe themselves to be godlike, they are not. This means that they cannot control every detail of what happens. For fallen creatures, bearing false witness is a task that no one is really up to. The false witnesses who were mustered against Jesus could not agree with one another, and everyone could see that they were conflicting witnesses. That kangaroo court was fumbling around, and did not have its act together, which is why the high priest decided to stake everything on the words Jesus Himself said. The same thing happened when the apostle Paul was being accused before the Roman authorities in the latter part of Acts. All Paul had to do was point out that assertions by the authorities and proofs from the authorities were two different things. “Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me” (Acts 24:13).

In short, being a stickler for the rules of evidence is a much greater protection for the true underdog than it is for those who are in authority. And when purported underdogs are yelling that such rules of evidence are simply supports for tyranny, they are giving their game away. A true underdog knows who his true friends are.

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