The faithful couple served sacrificially for years at their church. They don’t know how the rumors started, or even what they were about. They just sensed that gossip about them was going on behind their backs.
Friends began to distance themselves –not just friends at this church, but in the whole church network of which it was a part. Turns out, a church leader had said some things which cast a shadow of suspicion on this couple.
Years later, they still can’t make it go away.
Another couple developed a thriving ministry in their church. Again, a church leader sowed seeds of suspicion about them among the congregation.
Trust was broken. Reputations were tarnished. People pulled away.
I think of these situations when I hear the testimonies of victims of sexual and spiritual abuse bravely coming forward and sharing what they’ve endured.
I’m so grateful to be living in a day and age when God is cleaning house in this area. It’s finally becoming safe to speak up.
We’re finally beginning to listen to the stories instead of silencing victims and protecting the powerful.
Praise God for that. Praise him for being not only a God of mercy, but of justice as well.
Having said that, in the midst of all this shaking, I’m concerned we could create another kind of victim.
Some might be tempted to jump on the bandwagon and point the finger of accusation, not at an actual perpetrator, but at an innocent person.
Why would anyone accuse a person who isn’t guilty?
Maybe it’s jealousy. Maybe there’s an unresolved issue driving a vengeful spirit.
Maybe it’s the need for attention, or addiction to crisis. Maybe it’s an old wound which has grown into an ugly prejudice (i.e., all men … fill in the blank).
The human heart is a tricky thing.
I’m mindful of a Bible story which illustrates how reverse victimhood can happen.
When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce young Joseph, he resisted and finally fled. Humiliated, she lied to Potiphar and claimed Joseph had raped her. Joseph landed in prison (Genesis 39).
Victims wear different faces.
So here’s why unjustly accusing the innocent is a terrible thing to do:
1. It discredits the testimony of real victims.
More and more courageous individuals are coming forward and publicly sharing what happened to them. If false claims are made, it becomes harder to know whom to believe.
Truth sheds light and makes things clear; lies cast a shadow and bring confusion. It’s not fair to real victims when those with twisted motives make claims that aren’t true.
This works both ways. When a pastor is accused of abuse and then denies it, yet later it turns out he was lying, this makes things more difficult for not only the victims, but other pastors who may be unjustly accused.
We will be less inclined to trust their claims to innocence, even if they’re telling the truth.
2. When a reputation is damaged, you can never fix it.
Once a person has been accused of something, doubt has a way of lingering in everyone’s mind. We can’t tarnish someone’s character and then simply say we’re sorry.
It’s too late. We’ve done irreparable damage.
Imagine a scenario where a pastor pours his heart and soul into caring for his flock. Along comes a woman who is bitter toward men.
She accuses the pastor of inappropriate advances.
Even if the he is utterly innocent, this woman’s selfish behavior has the power to smear him forever –and perhaps even end his ministry.
As we listen to the stories victims tell, let’s keep in mind victims don’t all look the same.