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Allegations Donít Always Equal Facts comment (0)

August 21, 2014

By Bob Terry

Allegations Donít Always Equal Facts

It was more than 20 years ago. The crisis in the Roman Catholic Church over sex abuse of children by priests had not surfaced and there wasn’t a string of stories about Baptist staff members abusing children either. 

That is why the charge captured such public attention. A Baptist pastor in a suburban church outside a metropolitan area was arrested and charged with child sexual abuse. According to the county district attorney the pastor had abused a child who attended the church’s day-care ministry. The district attorney said the child had described what happened to her and identified who did it. 

The charges against the Baptist pastor made statewide news in those days. The metropolitan-paper-ran a front-page story along with a less than flattering picture of the pastor being arrested. The story was on the TV news. The photographers had been tipped off about the arrest and were waiting at the church the morning the police arrived to make the arrest. 

Public opinion

Needless to say the Baptist community was shocked. The day-care leaders said the abuse could not have happened. Children were not left alone in private places where such things could take place, they said. The pastor vehemently denied the charge and fellow pastors who knew him could not believe it could be true. Some of us who gathered at the church one Monday morning to pray for the child, the pastor, the church, the name of Baptist and more were scoffed at by news media. 

In the court of public opinion the pastor was guilty. The church was picketed by various groups on Sunday mornings. Parents removed their children from the day care. Many people left the church but a core group stood by the pastor through the whole process. 

It took more than two years for the case to work its way through the judicial process. In the end, the pastor was exonerated of all charges. The county attorney was officially reprimanded for the way he handled the case. It seems he had political ambitions that caused him to mishandle the case from the beginning including the way he led the child to give the answers he wanted. 

But the damage was done. The church never got over the negative publicity. The pastor’s ministry was ruined in the area. Too many people had assumed if allegations were made, the one charged had to be guilty. After all, where there is smoke there is fire, some might say. The idea of innocent until proven guilty might work in the courtroom, but it doesn’t seem to work on the street corner. 

Free speech is one of the cherished liberties Americans enjoy. Balancing that liberty with responsibility for what is said is not always so highly valued. Too often it seems someone practices the right to say something without considering the results it might have on another. 

Few societies are more litigious that present-day America. One can bring lawsuits ad nauseum. Sometimes they are referred to as nuisance lawsuits. Still if a claim is made, some assume it is true. 

And as much as we trust and support our legal system, mistakes are occasionally made there as well.

That is why it is important to remember that allegations or claims do not equal facts. When someone says something about someone else, that does not make it true. When one reads a lawsuit claiming someone acted in a particular way that does not make it true. Even when someone is charged with a crime, that person is entitled to reasonable doubt until the judicial process has been completed. 

An old proverb declares patience is a virtue. It certainly is where allegations are concerned.

Time will show the veracity of allegations. The allegations may be proven true. They could be proven false. Time might even uncover misguided motives of the one making the charge as it did about the county district attorney in the story above. Either way, practicing patience is better than leaping to fallacious conclusions.

Occasionally people speak in anger or hurt. Allegations fly based on vision clouded by emotion or pain. Only when emotions cool and reason returns can the possible errors of judgment be recognized. Unfortunately like with my pastor friend in the story, it is too late. The damage has been done to someone or to some ministry. 

Recent Baptist history reminds us that allegations do not always equal facts. Baptists have passed through a season when allegations were loosely and widely thrown in a lot of directions. Many proved true and changes were made. Some proved unfounded but the harm done by the charges was irreversible. People lost their ministries because some people believed the lies told about them. 

As Christians we should never forget the account of Genesis 3 where Satan made false accusations about God. The Bible recounts how Satan accused God of not telling Adam and Eve the truth, of not having their best interest at heart. The first couple believed the allegations and disobeyed God’s command with disastrous results. 

God’s love for all

But the charges were false. Over the years God demonstrated His love for Adam and Eve and all humankind. Ultimately that love led Jesus to Calvary’s cross where He paid the price for the sins of the world. Satan’s allegations could not have been farther from the truth. 

How unwise the first couple was to believe the allegations made by Satan. And how unwise we sometimes are when we believe the charges and claims made against others. We all would do well to remember that allegations don’t always equal facts no matter who makes them. 

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