By Rev. O.L. Johnson
Before putting pen to paper, I felt this topic of discussion may not be a popular one because it may collide with the current political and emotional climate in today’s society.
In spite of the risk, we’re going to push through and address our law of the land. But first, let me begin with a confession; I am not an attorney, neither have I attended law school.
My only claim is 20 years of service to the citizens of Los Angeles as a field cop before retirement. Before unleashing my classmates and me on the unsuspecting citizens of L.A., the Police Department put us through three months of criminal law training before we hit the streets.
In those classes, we were taught the basics to keep us honest so no one would be incarcerated for being overzealous in enforcing the law. It was emphatically impressed upon us that we were not judge, jury or executioner when only an accusation of a criminal act is evident. Accusations by themselves, we were taught, are not evidence of guilt without corroborating facts.
That was the law of the land then and it remains the law of the land today. Our Constitution guarantees an accused person protection from the tendency to rush to judgment in emotionally charged situations involving multiple accusations of criminal activity. That’s the idea behind the principles of the presumption of innocence, due process and equal protection of the law.
But recent current events have convinced me that in some cases we have kicked constitutional protections to the curb and replaced courts of competent jurisdiction with courts of public opinion. As a result, reputations and lives are being ruined by mere accusations without corroborative evidence of guilt. I wonder what God thinks of this change of direction?
I suspect he has a few things to say on this issue because in my research I found out that our system of laws is based on English common law which in turn has its roots in the laws of God we find in scripture. So let’s check out the word to discover where God addresses the legal principles we are concerned about.
Laws pertaining to the legal system appear very early among God’s people. In discussing the level of evidence required to impose the death penalty for murder, God says in Numbers 35:30 that he “shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.” We find this same sentiment in Deuteronomy 17:6.
And here is God’s law respecting lesser crimes, found in Deuteronomy 19:15, “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.”
In my humble opinion, those passages clearly verify the principles of due process, the presumption of innocence, and the corroborative evidence requirement. Mere accusations alone just won’t do. OK, I hear you.
This is Old Testament, but what about the New Testament? A good question, that deserves an answer. Both Jesus and Paul addressed those issues in the same way. See their remarks in Matthew 18:16, 2Corinthians 13:1, 1Timothy 5:19 and Hebrews 10:28.
The law did not change with the coming of the New Covenant. We’re still bound by the law of the land. It’s unfortunate that some ignore it, and in so doing have in effect ignored the laws of God. Smart? I think not.
Rev. O.L. Johnson, a retired LAPD lieutenant, is an associate pastor in his home church. Greater New Zion Baptist, 501 W. 80th St. in Los Angeles.
Pastor’s Corner is a religious column that looks at the relevancy of scripture in life today. The column will appear monthly in The Wave and on its website, www.wavepublication.com.