Douglas Wilson’s Letter From Moscow (On Criminal Justice)

False Witness

Douglas Wilson
Blog & Mablog

INTRODUCTION:

For Christians who want to be biblically grounded, the sin and crime of bearing false witness is a very big deal. It is serious for two great reasons. The first is that it is a violation of God’s holy law, which reflects His character. It was by means of this particular evil; technique that the Lord Jesus was railroaded, and so all Christians who love Jesus should hate the kind of lies that took Him to the cross. The first reason is therefore love of God.

The second reason is that the tables of the law are connected, and we cannot love God whom we have not seen without loving our neighbor, whom we have seen (1 John 4:20). But who is my neighbor? as the fellow once asked. Your neighbor is of course the one who might be falsely convicted on the basis of a lie—and this really is a grievous evil.

But our neighbor is also the person who really has been violated, but who has difficulty getting people to believe her story. Genuine victims are abused by the one who abused them directly, but they are also abused by those liars who make every genuine accusation more difficult. And the problem here is not the responsible officials who suspend judgment until the investigation of a reported crime is complete. That is what Scripture requires of them. The problem is made worse by the liars who have corrupted the system. Victims who effectively cannot come forward are the victims of the perpetrators who violated them in the first instance, and in the second they are also victims of those who traffic in deceit.

WITNESSES OF WHAT?

In order to function as biblical witnesses, the witnesses must be testifying to their knowledge of the same event. If a man says he saw me robbing a bank in Des Moines, and another man says he saw me robbing a bank in Portland, this is not sufficient to convict. Going back to what I argued yesterday, that is certainly sufficient to open an investigation, and to ask me questions about where I was on those days, but it is not sufficient to convict.

“One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (Deut. 19:15).

Jesus appeals to this standard when He teaches us how to deal with disputes within the church.

“But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16).

Because He is arguing from the law, it should be obvious that the person obeying this is taking witnesses who can testify to the original offense. He is not taking them along merely to testify to the confrontation. If you accuse a man of slandering you, and he denies it, and so you round up a couple of buddies to go with you to watch him deny it a second time, you are establishing nothing. Well, you have established that you have a couple of buddies, but they are adding nothing to our knowledge of what originally happened.

When a person is confronted, depending on the responses, you might be able to establish the need for further questions, or more investigation, but gathering two or three witnesses to watch an innocent man deny any wrongdoing is not honoring this principle. “False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not” (Ps. 35:11).

The principle is independent corroboration, distinct lines of evidence, regarding the same event. Those distinct lines need not be eyewitnesses—the principle can be served through the use of surveillance cameras, DNA evidence, fingerprints, and so on. But the principle is never served when you convict on the basis of one person’s word for it alone.

Now let us say that a guy has worked at ten different places, and at each place there have been at least three complaints of sexual harassment filed against him. Does that count for nothing? No and yes. It counts for nothing if you are looking for a conviction on that basis, but it counts for a lot if you are looking for an indictment. Let us just say that the chances are outstanding that if you picked any one of those places, and did a real investigation there, the whole story would come tumbling out. But you have to drill down in pursuit of the truth. If truth is what you care about, and if you really care about it, you will likely have your two and three witnesses.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS ISSUE:

Statistics in this area are notoriously slippery, but a standard estimate is that false accusations of sexual harassment/rape runs about 3-5%. How you reckon the boundaries of these things is difficult—is it complete innocence, wrong guy, or a consensual relationship gone sour, or total guilt—but let’s take that figure and run with it for a minute. Out of a thousand convictions, we could be talking about 50 men in jail for something they didn’t do. Fifty men in Pharaoh’s jail alongside Joseph. You good with that?

Now someone might counter that he would prefer that to the travesty of 100 guilty men walking scot-free. But we acknowledge that the world is a fallen place, and that screwed up things happen. Given that reality, which we acknowledge and lament, it is still God who established a mandatory legal bias in favor of the accused. This is His law. Humanistic law (being diabolical) loves to favor the accuser. The devil is a born prosecutor (Rev. 12:10). The Lord Jesus is the defense attorney (1 John 2:1).

Those Christians who have adopted the judicial theories of identity politics are those who are willing to pronounce publicly on a person’s guilt or innocence without knowing the first thing about the case in question. To challenge this way of proceeding is NOT to side with the perpetrator over the victim. It is to side with Western civilization over the barbarians. This contemporary Alinskyite contempt for due process is cultural Marxism, pure and simple, and it is frankly sub-pagan. The ancient Romans did not live up to their standard of justice, that is true, but at least they knew what it was. We can see this in how Festus explained the problem of Paul that he had inherited to King Agrippa.

“It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him” (Acts 25:16).

It is one thing just to type I believe you on Twitter when a woman tells her story. Having done that, would you allow yourself to be selected for the jury in that case? Are you qualified for jury duty? Would you change your default settings if you found out it was a white woman making an accusation against a black man?

HOW THE LORD WAS MURDERED:

Given the fact that Jesus was murdered this way, you would think that more Christians would be wary of the possibility of false witness.

“Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death. But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses” (Matt. 26:59-60).

We can see that the witnesses required by biblical law had to be talking about the same event, seeking to back up the same charge, because Mark records that the witnesses against Christ were contradictory. If two people testify that a man did the same thing in two separate instances—different dates, different towns, different times—it would be difficult to get their stories to conflict.

“For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together. And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. But neither so did their witness agree together” (Mark 14:56–59).

Again, separate witnesses to two instances of the same kind of crime may certainly help to establish an indictment, and give encouragement to the investigation.

The same ungodly tactic was used on Stephen.

“And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law” (Acts 6:13).

THE LAW OF GOD:

What does the law of God warn us about repeatedly? How are we cautioned to think?

This is a big sin. It is one of the Ten Commandments. And it is not included in the Decalogue because it might happen every 25 years or so.

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Ex. 20:16); Dt. 5:20).

False witness, being an assault on the integrity of the whole society, is the one crime where a person could be executed for attempted murder.

“And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you” (Deut. 19:18–19).

God hates it. It is one of the things He abominates.

“These six things doth the Lord hate: Yea, seven are an abomination unto him . . . A false witness that speaketh lies, And he that soweth discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16, 19).

Behaving this way is the domain of the wicked. Do not live with them there.

“Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness” (Ex. 23:1).

Being willing to lie contrasts sharply with the way the righteous speak.

“He that speaketh truth sheweth forth righteousness: But a false witness deceit” (Prov. 12:17; 14:5).

God brings the false witness into judgment. God sees it all, and He will reveal it all. The liar will not escape; he will perish.

“A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall not escape” (Prov. 19:5).

“A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall perish” (Prov. 19:9).

“A false witness shall perish: But the man that heareth speaketh constantly” (Prov. 21:28).

“And I will come near to you to judgment; And I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, Saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:5).

False witness is a truly destructive sin.

“A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow” (Prov. 25:18).

It is the native language of unregenerate man. It is the native language of an unconverted generation, such as ours is.

“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19;  19:18).

False witnesses frequently parade their compassion—they boast of believing the victim—but they do this obviously not caring who the victim actually is. For all their vaunted compassion, they are characterized by cruelty.

“Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: For false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty” (Ps. 27:12).

Refusal to have anything to do with false witness is what New Testament love looks like.

“For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Rom. 13:9).

CASH IT OUT:

Now please notice that I made it all the way to this point without mentioning the name of Roy Moore once. I did that for a reason. Everything cited above from Scripture will stand forever sure, whether or not every man on earth is proved a liar. God’s Word is the one place where you could not possibly find false witness. “The words of the Lord are pure words: As silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Ps. 12:6).

These women have asserted that Roy Moore engaged in various kinds of sexual misbehavior with them. Either they are lying or he is. There is no middle position. If they are lying, then all the judgments written above applies to them. If he is lying, then he is the one bearing false witness, and all the judgments above apply to him.

If they are lying, and God brings that truth to light (as I suspect He will), then I will be most glad that I took this stand, and wrote the way I did. I declined to follow the stampede in a rush to judgment.

“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment” (Ex. 23:2).

But is it the same going the other way? If he is lying, and God brings the truth to light (as I suspect He will), then I will be just as glad. We did not convict him prematurely, and did not guiltily trample God’s law in order to get at the guilty. So we need not fret at any delay. The judgment that falls on him will be entirely sufficient and most severe.

In the meantime, before we know for a fact who is lying, biblical law requires us to maintain the presumption of innocence for the accused. This is not a difficult concept.

Last comment. I say that I suspect that the truth will out. Why? Well, this seems to me to be a season in history when all such secrets are being shouted from the housetops. Who do you think will be exposed tomorrow?

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