Slouching Towards Salem
The worldwide web is a staging area for mobs. It offers us sound definitions of and warnings about mobs (Wikipedia calls them “individuals in a group to acting together without planned direction…in schools, demonstrations, riots, and general strikes, sporting events, religious gatherings, everyday decision-making, judgment and opinion-forming”), then supplies its users with the greatest forum for mob activity that the world has ever known. In the spirit of true democracy it has granted a voice to everyman, but in doing so, has also accelerated the inevitable collapse of democracy into anarchy. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
Thankfully, the “republic” part of the democratic republic that we call America makes it a place where due process and jurisprudence, while perhaps weakening, remain strong, mitigating the effects of mob justice. A person is still presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and the wheels of justice turn at an appropriately slow pace. These principles are biblical ones. Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15 insist that punishment be meted out only in the face of duly examined and clear public evidence from bona fide witnesses. Nothing else will do. Jesus and Paul further inform us that this idea was not set aside when Christ fulfilled the Law, respectively insisting that due process be exercised in local churches (Matt 18:16) and especially in the case of accusations leveled at the highly vulnerable class of church leaders (1 Tim 5:19). Society affirms such principles not to protect tyrants and elites, but to protect the innocent and to preserve social order.
Sadly, not all in society honor these mores, and when this happens, the greatest casualty is always the deterioration of leadership. The mob routinely lays siege against civil leaders, lawmakers, structures, guilds, and even against whole classes of people against whom the tide of popular opinion has turned. And the mob is never content to oversee the fall of such figures; instead they trample and brutalize with savage glee until their victims are exterminated. Such barbarism lurks in all of us; scarcely anyone is exempted. At one time or another we’ve almost all delighted, openly or secretly, in the spectacular collapse of a political figure, celebrity, organization, or even an ethnic/religious group that we dislike. This is a great evil, and the ubiquity of this evil bodes very ill for society at large.
But an even greater evil occurs when the mob is composed of Christians railing against their own. It grieves me that whole websites exist today surviving chiefly by the wholesale gathering of anonymous accounts and hearsay directed toward the destruction of unpopular and otherwise disenfranchised Christian leaders and groups (all cloaked in a veneer of piety, of course). Such sites are ever popular, but they are not right.
This is NOT to say that “Christian” tyrants and elites who think they stand above the law are to be protected by suppressing credible, public evidence from bona fide witnesses in matters of criminal and other violence. Nor is it to say that we have any right to silence victims and witnesses of such violence. When these injustices occur, we should duly examine the evidence and, having established guilt, mete out swift justice—not crowing our delight, but weeping at the injury done to Christ. But of all the people in the world, we as Christians should also be dismayed and horrified by the prospect of the OTHER injustice–the injustice of a mob poured out upon the innocent, and especially upon innocent leaders. And if we fail to contain this injustice—an injustice upon which the Scriptures are far from silent—we should not be surprised when the mob turns against us in our weakness, as it has so often in the history of the Church.