Doug Wilson on the “Biblical Criteria” for Judging Roy Moore

I don’t want to give controversial pastor and author Doug Wilson more attention than he merits, troll that he is, but I was struck by how he ended a blog post about the allegations against Roy Moore last month:

[I]f anybody suggests that I am defending Moore because he is “my guy” for the Senate, this would be false. I am defending him because he is the accused. But I do know the world is a sordid place, and I do not know the judge personally. I therefore acknowledge that there is a possibility that the charges are true.

[I]f he confesses that they are true, or if they are shown by biblical criteria to be true, then I am here and now promising a future blog post on the subject.

Okay, first, this “I am defending him because he is the accused” line is fascinating. We talk a lot about the importance of believing victims. Given Wilson’s history of defending students at his college and seminary against allegations of child sexual abuse, it should not be surprising that his de facto response is to defend the accused. What is perhaps more surprising is that he’s willing to state that so openly.

Next, what exactly are the “biblical criteria” Wilson refers to? Wilson states that he will believe the allegations against Moore if: (a) Moore confesses that they are true; or, (b) they are “shown by biblical criteria to be true.” What does it take, for Wilson, for something to be shown to be true “by biblical criteria”?

Earlier in his post, Wilson quoted several Bible verses:

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17, ESV). “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established” (Deut. 19:15, ESV). “You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice” (Ex. 23:2, ESV).

This is such a mixture of good and the easily twisted here.

Despite quoting these verses, Wilson makes it clear in his article that the evidence the Washington Post compiled against Moore does not meet the “biblical criteria” he proposes to follow. This is odd, because the Post interviewed more than 30 people. They had many more than one witness. This leads me to suspect that Wilson may mean that there needs to be more than one witness of the crime itself. What would this mean for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, where the crime typically takes place in private?

Additionally, does this mean that crimes without any witnesses can never be tried? That is certainly not how American courts operate today. Forensic evidence can put someone on the scene, or match a bullet to a gun. And then there is DNA evidence. Forensic evidence can be more reliable than witness testimony, as the human memory is fallible and people can mistake what they saw. (Forensics, of course, is itself subject to human error, whether accidental or intentional.) And what about security cameras?

If Wilson is serious about following “biblical criteria,” he ought to go all the way. There is a passage in Numbers 5 that deals with what to do if there is an accuser but no witnesses:

11 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, 13 and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, 14 if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself, 15 the man shall then bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity.

16 ‘Then the priest shall bring her near and have her stand before the Lord, 17 and the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. 18 The priest shall then have the woman stand before the Lord and let the hair of the woman’s head go loose, and place the grain offering of memorial in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse. 19 The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse; 20 if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you” 21 (then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman), “the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people by the Lord’s making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell; 22 and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.”

Of course, this passage is specific to allegations of adultery.

The reality is that Wilson is being selective in choosing his “biblical criteria.” Despite the fact two of the allegations against Wilson involve sexual assault, Wilson does not invoke the “biblical criteria” for handling sexual assault cases laid out in Deuteronomy 22:

23 “If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you.

25 “But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. 26 But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. 27 When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.

28 “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.

Of course, one of Moore’s accusers alleges that he sexually molested her but did not rape her; the other alleges that he sexually assaulted her and attempted to rape her, but that she resisted and he let her go. Still, one would think that when addressing allegations of sexual assault, anyone appealing to “biblical criteria” for judging the case should at least mention Deuteronomy 22.

All of this has me thinking about conservative furor about sharia law. How is Wilson’s insistence on using “biblical criteria” any different, though, from Islamic communities’ preference for sharia law? Both cases involve appealing to historical-religious legal system that codified sexism and relied heavily on capital punishment as a deterrent.

Certainly, Wilson does not demand that Moore be tried according to his “biblical criteria” rather than the nation’s legal code. His statement seemed rather to indicate that he personally would not be persuaded of Moore’s guilt until the allegations against him met a set of criteria Wilson had cobbled together (with seemingly little internal consistency) from various parts of the Bible.

Growing up, I heard a lot about the “freedom” we have in Christianity—that Christ sets us free from sin, that Christ is the great liberator. To the extent that those who ascribe to Christianity turn a blind eye to victims and de facto side with those accused of rape or of preying on young girls, however, this was false advertising.

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