How to Respond Properly to Scandalous Accusations
Scandalous events in the political arena and in the entertainment world have become so frequent that we have come to expect them. What we have not gotten comfortable with is scandal, or the allegation of scandal, in Christian circles. Recently several incidents of alleged moral turpitude have grabbed headlines. The ones I’ve heard about include Catholics, Contemporary Church, Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists. There may be others but these are the ones with which I have acquaintance. If you listen to some people, you would think that none but Independent Baptists have been affected. That certainly is not the case. In every such case, no matter who is accused, it is heart-rending and brings a deep measure of hurt with it. In some instances, the reactions to the accusation or sinful scandal are very ill-advised and even sinful themselves. The fact that someone else has done wrong, even if they have wronged us, does not license us to go crazy in our dealing with it.
(1) We Live in a Volatile Time!
The high profile cases of sexual abuse from Hollywood to Washington and a lot of places in between has unleashed a barrage of accusations against literally dozens of people. It has brought a new level of awareness to the victimization especially of women and children. Reports of date rape drugs, demanding sexual favors to secure jobs or promotions and other abusive behavior has been on the increase in the news a lot in recent months. The volatility this creates in a society is enormous. Suspicion runs high. Trust is diminished. The hurt cuts deep. The victims are forever impacted by what was done to them. Sometimes the perpetrators get away with their despicable actions, but usually they do not. Once in a while someone is falsely accused and that adds another dimension of complication to the whole messy situation. But whatever the situation—this is a time of great volatility.
(2) Anytime Allegations Are Made, Action Must Be Taken.
If the allegations are criminal in nature as in the case of sex with a minor, it is imperative that law enforcement be called immediately. That is not only the right thing to do, it is the law of the land. If the accused person is in a position to continue the abuse or if they are where they can put pressure on the accuser, all of that potential must be removed immediately. The alleged victim must be protected and frankly the person accused must be shielded until the allegations are investigated. Two things must be avoided in dealing with a situation in which accusations are made. First, accusations must not be ignored. The matter must be taken seriously and dealt with immediately. Second, there must be no effort to cover up the incident. Even the appearance of a cover up will bring even more trouble to your doorstep. This does not mean that you should broadcast it to the whole world but you must not sweep it under the rug.
(3) Allegations Do Not Constitute Guilt!
Whether the accused is innocent or guilty will need to be determined by the authorities, but an accusation does not equate to guilt and should not be considered synonymous with guilt. Often the accused is deemed guilty by the public at large simply because of an accusation. I suspect that if you were the accused you would want the opportunity to defend yourself and clear your name. Don’t misread me on this. Allegations must be taken seriously. They must be dealt with in an appropriate setting and in a timely manner with full attention given to the charges being leveled. But remember—allegations, although serious, are still only accusations. At the outset they are just allegations and should not be construed as guilt until guilt has been established.
(4) Investigation Should Be Done By Investigators.
If the allegation against the accused is criminal in nature, then law enforcement must be called immediately. If the accusation involves alleged sex with children or other sex related crimes a church cannot take it upon itself to handle the situation. If the accusation is financially related, say as in a case of alleged embezzlement, you cannot just handle the matter with an internal investigation. It may be painful for the accused and the accuser, but such charges must be investigated and the investigations must be done by the investigators.
(5) When Crimes Are Alleged, the Court of Public Opinion Is Not the Place to Try the Case.
Once you have done your due diligence (called the law, etc.), let the investigators do their job. Sit tight and don’t become unhinged. Give the process time to work. Once the guilt of the accused has been officially established, there will be ample time for you to speak publicly about it. In the early stages of any situation where an employee is dismissed or placed on leave, a simple announcement that a situation has developed and that it is being handled may need to be made. You are well advised to limit your comments until the case has been decided by the powers that be. What you think you know today may be proven wrong tomorrow. Besides, in any such case, the law provides a basic presumption of innocence. An accused person is entitled to that until they are proven guilty. It is best for the accused and the accuser alike if the court of public opinion does not try to decide or discuss the merits of the case.
(6) Public Comments Should Be Measured and Judicious.
With huge issues at stake it is always in order to exercise caution in what we say and how we say it. Unfortunately, that is not the way things play out in many instances. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media venues offer an easy platform from which much can be said with very little accountability. The Bible does say in I Timothy 5:19-20, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” Study that carefully. The “rebuke” it authorizes is obviously to be done after the “sin” is established. Clearly the sin should be established “before two or three witnesses.” A setting of “rebuke before all” seems to me to be within the context of the Christian community. To construe it as a license to hang the dirty laundry out for the world to see and hear would be stretching it beyond the intent of the passage. “That others may fear” seems to me to be a reference to “other” pastors and Christian leaders.
(7) Cover-up Is Never the Answer!
Over the years there have been hundreds of cases of scandal. In some cases, the situation has developed into a total cover-up. Fortunately, that only happens in only a minority of cases. In the huge majority of cases, the guilty person gets fired and their ministry gets shelved. There is also an extensive list of men serving prison time for both sexual crimes and financial crimes. There may have been a time when “cover-up” was more common. Some people seem to think so, but that day, if it ever existed, has long since passed. In more than fifty years of ministry it has never been my policy nor has ever been my practice to “give a pass” to anyone. We have made every effort every time there has been an incident to be both scriptural and legal in how we handle things. But in case you think smothering the facts to protect an offender is right, you better think again. That is not the way to do things.
We are all saddened (or should be) when a brother or a sister in the faith is caught up in sin. If crimes have been alleged, we must report it promptly to the authorities and cooperate fully with them. Accusers should always be taken seriously and given whatever help is needed by a victim. Allegations must be addressed without fail, but the accused should not be judged guilty without substantive evidence. All cases of accusation are laden with hurt and heartache. Real people with real hurts have real needs. In our efforts to help the accuser and the accused we too sometimes get hurt. That’s just a part of the ministry. We can’t shield ourselves from the realities of the tragic situations. Honesty and integrity are the backbone and the bedrock of all that we do. However, sad the day, whatever the day may bring and whoever is involved, as Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians, we must step up, bear the load and do our best to do right. As events unfold before us, let’s be prayerful with our words, let’s be scriptural in our actions, let’s be Christian in our attitudes, let’s be firm in our resolve, let’s be gentle in our dealings with others, let’s remember our testimony before a lost world and let’s not lose heart in the process. May God bless you with wisdom and discernment on this good day as you face the world and serve the Saviour.