“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”Exodus 20:16
In our post-Christian times, bearing false witness is becoming all too commonplace – and the cost is very high. Let’s take a look at some examples:
A few years ago, in Minnesota, Joe and Mary Doe (not their real names) suddenly found themselves in a terrifying dilemma. One day, police officers arrived at their door and announced that Joe had been accused of child molestation. Worse, he was accused of molesting his own two-year-old daughter. The police carted off the Doe’s two small children and a long, costly, legal battle ensued.
The young couple was flabbergasted. How could this happen? As the story unfolded, the Does found out that a neighbor had phoned a child abuse hotline because she had seen Joe’s 2-year old daughter sitting on his lap trying to undo his shirt button—something probably every father who has ever lived has experienced. She interpreted it is child molestation and turned Joe in.
Upon investigation, the police found no culpability in Joe, and no charges were brought. Eventually, the couple’s children were returned—but the legal costs bankrupted them, and they lost their home as a result. The emotional stress had been enormous.
All this pain and suffering was the result of a false accusation made via a child abuse hotline.
A young woman who worked as a receptionist for a well-respected professional man learned one day that her husband had been killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. As the mother of two young children, she was devastated. Long a strong Christian, she couldn’t understand how God would allow such a thing to happen.
She quit her job and moved to the mid-West to live with her own parents for a while to get over the hurt and work things through. At some point, she met a man there, whom she eventually married. After marriage, they moved back to Los Angeles where she reestablished contact with her former employer and his wife. Because of financial problems, she had to take another job, so the man and his wife offered to take care of the two children on a part-time basis to help her out.
After a short while, our good Samaritans began to suspect the new stepfather of child molestation. The evidence seemed quite solid. They expressed their concern to the young mother. She reported their fears to her husband who then decided that the best defense is offence. The new husband filed a molestation charge against the man who had sought only to do a good deed.
The result was a long, ugly, costly, court battle in which the professional man was eventually cleared of all charges. The emotional stress levied on this good Christian man was enormous. His reputation suffered, and it was very hard for him and his wife to keep from becoming angry and bitter about what had been done to them.
Again, we see the bitter fruit of false witness.
Here’s a third example: In a nice suburban neighborhood, there lived a young Mormon couple who had two children—both of whom they home-schooled. One day the children saw a peacock in their yard. They wanted to get a closer look, so they kept following it, hoping it would eventually slow down so they could examine its gorgeous colors. The peacock ran into the yard of a particularly nasty neighbor—a woman with a chip on her shoulder as big as all outdoors. The women saw the children in her yard and immediately called the police. She informed them that the children were “out running around the neighborhood” when they “should be in school.” The police arrived and interrogated the parents about their children. In addition, they went all around the neighborhood interviewing neighbors to see if a case could be made against them.
The situation was both embarrassing and incredibly stressful. The police informed the couple that if their children were determined to be truants, they could be taken from them and placed in foster homes. Because of the false accusation of one mean-spirited person, this young family soon found itself putting the house up for sale and putting as much distance between themselves and that terrible experience as they could. Because of that single, malicious phone call, their whole lives had been thrown into upheaval.
The Bitter Fruit of False Witness
Thousands of people have suffered in this country because of the false witness of others. Even if they are found innocent of all charges, they have still financial loss, loss of reputation, and, in many cases, loss of health as a result of the stress involved.
False witness has become a lifestyle for some. In 1992, the last year for which we have statistics, 1,227,223 Americans were falsely accused of child abuse1.
Virtually anyone who has any contact with children—parents, grandparents, schoolteachers, social workers, scoutmasters, doctors, and dentists—is at risk of false accusation. Yet, according to those who have studied the charges, most are baseless. According to Richard Wexler, author of Wounded Innocents, no more than 13 of every 100 such charges turn out to have any merit.
According to the American Trial Lawyers Association, about half of all divorce cases involving children include allegations of child abuse. Most of these allegations turn out to be false.
The very fact that such charges are so frequently filed has created a climate of paranoia around children. This, in turn, has resulted in draconian measures to “protect” children. For example, in San Mateo County (CA), all volunteers and employees of community groups that have any contact with children must be fingerprinted and must submit to criminal background checks2.
In Colorado, a pending law would require all parents to allow government social workers to inspect their homes for potential child abuse problems. No search warrants would be required, and social workers could enter homes at will. The law is called “The Children’s Welfare Act.”
As a result of proliferating false witness, parental rights, the right to privacy, and other rights and freedoms are being eroded. Burgeoning Big Brother government is using this and other pretexts, to invade the sanctity of the American home. What used to be termed “illegal search and seizure” is now being legalized and “normalized.”
Who Benefits? Or, “Follow the Money”
Like everything else in American life, if you follow the money and the power you eventually find out what’s going on.
The money flows to attorneys, to child abuse counselors and to social workers3. Government agencies at all levels gain ever more power and control over a wider range of American life. Of course with the growth of laws and the agencies to enforce them comes an increase in taxes to fund them. Ultimately, all kinds of people benefit from the false witness industry—expect those who are falsely accused.
Our Role as Christians
As Christians, we must be very certain that we never participate in any act of false witness. At the same time, we must realize we are more likely than not to be the focus of such accusations. In this once-Christian nation, anti-Christian feeling is mounting. Christians have become targets.
You must be certain that you are never guilty of anything that could be construed to be child abuse. If you discipline your children in public, you could find yourself being accused. (In about 80% of all cases where children are separated from their parents, excessive punishment is alleged.)
If your child has any bruises, illnesses, or emotional upsets, those can be construed to be symptoms of abuse by those who are paranoid about such things. If people start asking questions about these things, consider them a threat.
Anytime you are alone with a child who is not your own, you make yourself vulnerable to charges. Try to avoid any situation that gives the appearance of potential child abuse.
If authorities interview your children for suspected abuse, be certain every interview session is video—or audio taped. Be sure to stay in close contact with your lawyer.
America the Changing
America is changing. It is moving slowly, incrementally, subtly, in the direction of a socialist police state. The Constitution lies in tatters and civil rights are being eroded piecemeal every day. It is no longer a plus to list “Christian” on your resume. The children of the leftist 60s have taken over the reigns of government, and are now becoming the new Establishment throughout the country. At every level of American life, government, education, the press & media, entertainment, the trend is away from biblical values and toward pragmatic, cold-blooded, materialism or rank paganism.
In our time, just about any societal problem—real or imagined—can be used as a pretext for a government power grab. Look, for example, at what has been taking place under the “Wetlands Act,” and under the pretext of protecting the environment. Environmental issues, popular in the 60s and 70s are making a comeback. Why? Because they are a way for government to grab land, power, jurisdiction and funding. (I recently read that government now owns up to 28% of all the land in the U.S.)
False accusations about child abuse are a way for myriad interests to grab power, money and control in the lives of anyone so accused. Malicious people, intent on destroying other people’s lives, can use any pretext to force others into costly legal battles. In some cases, the accused, though cleared, never recover from the financial devastation wreaked by legal costs.
Ministries Brought Down
We have also seen viable Christian ministries brought to nothing through malicious “third party” reporting. We know of one ministry that has been entangled in a long and costly legal battle with a government agency because of an allegedly false report filed with that agency by a spiteful relative of the president. For four long years, with no end in sight, the meager resources of that ministry have been drained off in legal fees and debt retirement. The impact of that ministry has been totally neutralized by its struggle for survival.
False Witness Epidemic
Malicious third party reporting shows up in every walk of life. We have seen businesses destroyed because competitors have falsely accused their leaders of racial or sexual discrimination. We have heard of accusations of “stealing intellectual property” that resulted in lawsuits that destroyed the already-thin margins of some companies. We know of a substantial computer company that was falsely accused, entered into a long and costly legal battle, which it won, only to go broke because it has used up all its funds defending itself.
False witness has become a weapon of competition. It has become a way of getting revenge in bitter divorce cases. It has become a means for employees to get back at employers—and vice versa. It has become a way to get rid of unwanted neighbors and to expand government power. Most of all, it has become another way to fill the already bulging coffers of law firms.
The average person in today’s America lives in a very precarious financial position. It takes little to ruin him or her. A single, frivolous lawsuit can do it. The same is true for many small to mid-sized businesses. Legal fees are a growing cost of doing business.
The false witness industry is a symptom of the burgeoning evil that characterizes our times. Ravi Zacharias writes, “Can we appeal to our collective conscience while a few still remain who realize there must be fences in life, else predators, with unrestrained and insatiable passions, will break down every wall of protection and relentlessly plunder everything we treasure?”4
As Judeo-Christian values continue to be leached out of our culture by the acids of creeping secularism and paganism, we find ourselves confronted with growing evil on every side. False witness is but one indicator. At some point, God’s people will have to reassert themselves to the point where they again have an impact on the cultural landscape. Zacharias puts it this way:
“As the face of evil becomes more hideous and ruthless, the face of the future becomes more fearsome and dreaded. Yet for the gospel message this may be the most significant moment in history, for the message of Christ provides the only supernatural hope of a changed heart and life.”5
The apostle Paul warned prophetically, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith…speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…” (1Ti 4:1,2 excerpts).
Those who accuse others falsely, bringing about heartache, stress and financial crisis in the lives of the accused, do so without conscience. As a culture, we are no longer “one nation under God.” We have become one pluralistic nation under multiple gods to the exclusion of the true God. With the dismissal of God from our culture comes the exit of his moral and ethical standards. Ethical monotheism is giving place to unethical pluralism.
The way to stop the false witness industry in its tracks would be to end the payoff. It would impose upon false witnesses all of the damage they had done to their victims. This principle is firmly established in Biblical law:
“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. If any false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make diligent inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil person from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you” (Dt 19:15-20).
In our time, false witness has become a great evil. It must be recognized as such. It must be fought. If it is not resisted, it will grow worse and do ever more damage. The writer of Ecclesiastes put it this way:
“Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” (Ecc 8:11).
Evil people will do whatever they can get away with. God has not called his people to be doormats. We do have the right to defend ourselves. Christians must not remain passive in the face of evil. Just as we are to “resist” the devil, we must also resist evil people who seek to take advantage of us. When the rights of villains exceed the rights of victims, it’s time for the tide to turn. Society is what we have all, collectively, made it. What we have made it is not looking good!
A Word of Qualification
We have spoken here of the deleterious effects of false witness—but what if the witness is true? Child molestation, employee abuse, spousal abuse, employer abuse, racism, sexism, and other forms of unjust discrimination, are also great evils in our culture. When they really do occur, they too should be prosecuted. Children, in our society, should be safe wherever they go. All adults have the collective responsibility to protect society’s children—whether their own or other’s. No child should ever feel threatened in the presence of an adult.
We are our brother’s keepers. Evil is present in our culture on a grand scale. Why? Because we have permitted it to grow like yeast in our midst. We have for example, in the Los Angeles area, permitted 150,000 gang members to control whole neighborhoods through threat and intimidation. Now the problem is utterly unmanageable. We have permitted organized crime to corrupt our judges, our politicians, our police, and our business people. Now we live with the results.
We have rendered our borders porous—now we live with the tide of illegal immigrants, drugs, terrorists, and spies that such policies result in. There’s a principle at work here: be prepared to live with whatever you feed! If we feed the false witness industry, we’ll always have to live with it. The same is true of any evil. In Proverbs we read:
“Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but such as keep the law contend with them” (Pr 28:4).
If we do not contend with evil, it will grow unopposed.
1. Department of Health and Human Services figures
2. Wake-Up Call America, May/June 1997, p. 24
3. In California, a therapist who files a complaint can begin getting funds from Victim Witness Funding. For each complaint, he or she can get up to $46,000.
4. Deliver Us From Evil, p. 21
5. ibid. p. 172
[Brian Knowles is completing two books: The Book of Repentance; Because There Was No Shepherd.]