Christianity’s Evidence-Based Approach to Sexual Abuse Accusations Against Moore, Weinstein, Matthews
This wave of exposure (and yes, hysteria) about sexual misconduct among leaders is a tremendous opportunity for us. The Biblical tradition breaks from much of the ancient world by introducing an evidentiary approach to accusation rather than a mimetic one. The pagan world used imitation (mimesis) to justify accusations. If you could stir the crowd up enough to imitate your accusation against some outsider, you could form unanimity minus one (as Rene Girard put it and my friend Gil Baillie taught me). It was like a wave or a flood or a fire. The flood itself was taken as proof that the wanderer or deformed person or foreigner was really a demonic evil-doer. And the fact that after he or she died people felt better was also taken as a vindication of the whole frenzied process of accusation and murder.
The Torah slowed all of that down. Two or three witnesses were required. The witnesses were required to fully bear the burden of their status as accusers by being the first to cast the stones (a legal protection of the victim which Jesus invokes as a strategy in defense of the woman accused of adultery), something much tougher to do if you know you are lying. The Bible also adds consequences for false accusations. Furthermore, it counts all witnesses equally. Female witnesses count as much as male (something I seem to remember the Quran does not do). There is no provision which says that the witnesses must be Israelites or that an Israelite witness counts more than that of a foreigner, which undermines the dynamics of tribalism and identity politics.
The New Testament invokes this principle at several points, extending the standard for criminal sanctions (such as capital punishment) to apply to excommunication.
How such principles apply to other situations which are not matters of physical execution or spiritual execution (excommunication) is an interesting exercise which may be of help to us and to the world. I think it is important to also point out that the Bible implies rather different procedures when it comes to people who are seeking power whether temporal or eternal. I’m not aware of any instances in which the Bible invokes the 2 witnesses standard when it comes to someone who is seeking an office or authority. In those cases, the standard seems to be something more like public reputation.
If we Christians want to live up to our origins, we will be both a city of refuge for the false accused and a city of refuge for the genuinely victimized. We will be a magnet for people who are telling the truth, who will know of us as a place where evidence is weighed. False accusers and false deniers will want to avoid us because we will be known as searchers for the truth, plumbers of testimony, weighers of all the relevant details. Liars will want nothing to do with us. That, and not tribalism, identity politics and hysteria are our historical heritage.