“What? Yet another one?”
When I first saw the video of a woman arguing with a Safe Distancing Ambassador for not wearing a mask, I couldn’t help thinking, Here we go again, another person refusing to wear a mask and putting all of us at risk. And she still dared to argue!
Not surprisingly, the video quickly made its rounds on social media this week, along with the expected criticism heaped onto the woman.
What was surprising, however, was the speed at which someone managed to dig up her name and background. The criticism began to get personal.
This was when I began to feel a little uncomfortable. Much as I was aggrieved—as I’m sure many people were—to hear about people breaching the rules and putting others at risk, I couldn’t help but wonder: What if she had a mental condition that explained her unusual behaviour and she could not be fully responsible for her actions? Was it necessary to name her publicly? Was this getting a little too personal?
Later, some messages began to circulate about the woman having a mental condition. I don’t know if they were accurate or not. According to the latest reports, the case is being investigated by police. Until more facts are revealed, however, I felt this: Perhaps we shouldn’t be quick to judge until we know the truth.
Last week, my colleague had posed a similar question about confronting racist behaviour in public. She had asked: What if a person had a mental condition? What should we do then?
We feel strongly whenever we hear of people breaking the rules blatantly and unrepentantly. Such actions seem to deserve the “name and shame” approach. But when we’re not sure about the true story behind people’s actions, I do wonder: Are we being too quick to judge?
True justice means giving a person what he or she deserves—no more, no less. That means the guilty should not be spared—and the innocent should not be punished. Most of society and the legal system today hold to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”.
But the Bible has many reminders for us to think about. For example:
You shall not do injustice in judgment;
you shall not show partiality to the poor
nor give preference to the great,
but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.
(Leviticus 19:15 NASB)
Acquitting the guilty
and condemning the innocent
—the LORD detests them both.
(Proverbs 17:15 NIV)
Have nothing to do with a false charge
and do not put an innocent
or honest person to death,
for I will not acquit the guilty.
(Exodus 23:7 NIV)
Just as the courts make clear when someone is merely being charged with a crime, and when someone is actually deemed guilty (or is acquitted), I believe we need to draw a line somewhere when circulating or commenting on reports we read.
It is only natural to want to circulate reports that raise our concern, frustration, or anger. But if a person turns out to be innocent, then I wonder: Would we have inadvertently added to the unfair judgment that this person received online or in public?
If a person were really guilty, then it is only right that he or she be punished according to the law. In such cases, the court may also deem it fit to release the names of the guilty publicly.
But if a person turns out to be innocent (because he or she was not fully responsible for her actions), then naming and shaming is not the right way.
So what can we Christians do? While we cannot stop others from forwarding and commenting on reports, I believe I can do my part by not adding to the fray. Holding back from forwarding messages will ensure there is one less message in the system, one less source of circulation and speculation.
Perhaps we should not be too quick to judge, lest we be found guilty of injustice.
And, maybe we can even try to introduce a message of reason into our chat groups, by suggesting that we hold back on our judgment and speculation until we know more about a case.
In this world of confusion and moral murkiness, may we be the light of God’s mercy and righteousness.
Lord, help me to bring a measure of
Your righteousness to my circle of family and friends.
Give me the wisdom and discernment
to respond to news reports and social media messages
in a manner that pleases You, and
help me to be Your salt and light in the community.