Innocent Until Accused?

I know that what I am about to share with you could be taken the wrong way. Therefore, I am going to do everything I can to keep that from happening. Please read the following bullet points.

  • Sexual misconduct is a sin, but it’s also a disqualifier for ministry leadership.
  • Sexual misconduct, particularly assault, but not exclusively, is a crime which should not be tolerated.
  • Any sexual misconduct that is reported should immediately be turned over to the proper authorities. Nothing is to be handled internally.
  • All accusations of sexual misconduct should be taken seriously and investigated.
  • Alleged victims should be treated with compassion and respect.
  • Sexual assault, especially by a trusted leader or mentor, is monstrous and deserving of punishment to the fullest extent of the law.

Next, I would like to remind you that my family and I have had to endure the pain of sexual misconduct and abuse. We have personal experience with the legal and judicial process, also. Even more, I carry with me the guilt of having not seen the red flags early enough and the shame of having believed the denials and lies of a sexual predator.

So, my point is this: Don’t get on a podium and preach to me about this subject, especially when I say what I’m about to say; I know of which I speak.

Accusations are not proof of guilt. Denials are not proof of innocence. Therefore, when it comes to accusations of sexual misconduct, the accused deserves to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. That’s not only constitutional; it’s biblical.

Unfortunately, especially for those in ministry, accusations are about as damaging and destructive as a conviction. Because of how our legal system works, it is possible for a good defense attorney to get an actual offender cleared of all charges. Therefore, though technically innocent (or “not guilty”), it is feasible for the accused to still be guilty, though not punished. The result is perpetual suspicion that the accused is guilty, regardless the evidence.

Let me be honest, I believe once a sexual predator, always a sexual predator. I didn’t used to believe that, but my opinions changed several years ago. Therefore, if you’ve ever been convicted of a sex crime, don’t ever expect to come to a church I pastor and think you’re going to be treated the same as everyone else. It doesn’t matter if you’ve repented; I can’t take the risk with my sheep. But what do I do with those who’ve been accused, yet never convicted?

This all came to the forefront this week when news that the Guidestone report on the investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Board was released. In it are damning allegations of sexual misconduct, even assault, by not only individuals on the board, but also evidence that misconduct in local churches by pastors was covered up.

So, what we now have are major influential ministries and ministers in the Southern Baptist Convention having to step down from their respective positions, see their incomes taken away, and be forced to live with the ever-present stain of disqualification, guilty or not. This is where I have a huge problem.

Tragically, this conundrum affects both parties involved. The victims often find it difficult to be believed and often have their character destroyed in trial by the defense. Those who are accused are often considered too risky to keep around and therefore lose everything in the process of proving their innocence. All the while, those of us on the outside rarely receive enough credible information to make an informed decision and we’re often the products of our own biases (i.e., “always believe the woman,” or “it’s always political”).

As hard as it may be, the fact is that we need to remember a fundamental doctrine in our system of law – everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It is NOT the other way around. Although the accusations may be disgusting and horrible, we are not guilty of them until proven. We cannot continue to allow the accusation of sin be the conviction of sin.

By the way, it’s pronounced “uh-salt,” NOT “uh-sult.”

4 Comments

Filed under abuse, current events, ministry, wisdom

4 responses to “Innocent Until Accused?

  1. Hmm, well of course I believe we’re innocent unto proven guilty. People should always be presumed innocent in court and not suffer consequences in any area of life due to accusations alone.

    That said, when it comes to sexual abuse, I think we need to be really proactive, we have to assume no one is innocent. So we try to avoid creating situations where abuse can occur. So don’t isolate kids, teach them they can speak up, and try not leave them alone with one person.

    And grown people need to have boundaries, too. There are a lot of people I really trust, but I’m still not going to be alone and isolated with them for long periods of time. And, I wouldn’t want to put them in that position either.

    • In the same token though you can’t assume they are guilty. Nor should you treat someone as guilty without cause. And an accusation is NOT cause.

      • Except perhaps our whole mindset really needs to shift, so we stop thinking people are innocent and good, until proven otherwise? In the olden days we had a better understanding that everyone has the potential to do bad things, so we actively worked to put protections in place and prevent issues. You make sure you always have at least two people doing kid’s church. You don’t go to some man’s hotel room, alone at 2 in the morning. You avoid creating any situations that could give rise to allegations, false or true.

        It’s also really aggravating that our primary concern is always the potential suffering of the accused, “being forced to live with the ever-present stain of disqualification, guilty or not.” Why is there no empathy at all for those who have been victimized and suffered, not just victimized by an individual, but victimized by their leadership’s refusal to do anything about it? Children especially, who are abused, are forever stamped with that, “disqualification, guilty or not.” That’s an identity they often wear for life and our first priority is often just, “So how can we protect this person’s ministry?”

      • No, I don’t think the mindset needs to shift.

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