Madeleine McCann: The Rush to Judgment

LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, I’VE FOLLOWED the gripping case of 4-year-old Madeleine McCann, who disappeared May 3 of this year in Portugal, where her British family was on vacation.

Police in Portugal have named Madeleine’s parents—Kate and Gerry—as suspects, based on so-far controversial evidence.

I don’t know with certainty whether the parents are guilty or innocent in Madeleine’s disappearance. Neither, at this point, does anyone else. But I do know that I’m appalled by those who seem to be rushing to judgment.

Either outcome would be terrible. If the McCanns are guilty, that they could harm their own child would be tragic and heartbreaking—though unfortunately not unheard-of in this world we live in.

If they are innocent, to have the extra burden of suspicion and accusation added to their grief would, if anything, be just as tragic and heartbreaking.

But what haunts me the most is the terrible rush to judgment before all evidence is in and evaluated.

It’s happened before.

Back in 1980, Seventh-day Adventist pastor Michael Chamberlain and his wife Lindy were vacationing at Ayers Rock in Australia with their three children. Sometime during the night, the Chamberlains said, their two-month-old daughter Azaria was dragged from a tent by a dingo.

Lindy was tried, convicted in 1982 of Azaria’s murder, and sentenced to life in prison. On the basis of new evidence bringing forth reasonable doubt as to her guilt, her conviction was overturned in 1988. The Chamberlains’ story was told in a 1988 movie starring Meryl Streep and Sam Neill entitled A Cry in the Dark. The Chamberlains’ marriage became just one casualty of the enormous stress.

In December of 1996, 6-year-old child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey was found murdered in the basement of her parents’ home in Boulder, Colorado. With contradictory evidence, a grand jury failed to indict the Ramseys. JonBenét’s mother Patsy died of cancer in 2006 at the age of 49.

I’ve had my own experience in life with being judged—and in the minds of some, convicted—of things I’ve not done. Perhaps you have too.

My appeal is that we each try to remember the following:

  • As Christians, especially, we’ve been counseled that generally speaking, it’s best to steer clear of the judging business: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:3.
  • But in some instances, it’s important that we do make a determination. In such cases, may I appeal that we grant to each other at least what the courts of our land provide—no prejudging, hearing out with fairness the evidence of both sides, and reaching a decision based on the weight of clear evidence?
  • Only God truly knows all things. Human judgments are faulty at best. The guilty sometimes go free. The innocent sometimes are convicted. That being true, should we ever rush to a decision? Should we ever reach one before we’ve heard and evaluated all available evidence? And above all, should we ever join the mob of self-appointed judges in the illegitimate “court of public opinion” in trying and convicting anyone even before the true justice system has done its work?
  • Perhaps most to be desired would be that somehow, Christians and the Church hold to an even higher standard of fairness in the application of justice than do the courts of the land. Unfortunately, my own experience tells me that the reverse can too often be true.

We may never know for certain if the McCanns are guilty or innocent. Then again, perhaps we may, if the evidence becomes clear one way or the other. We may also never know about the Chamberlains or the Ramseys.

So until or unless clear evidence or even proof surfaces, let’s do the decent, honorable, and Christian thing: grant the suspected or accused the presumption of innocence.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Ken,

    I found your post through my Google Alert setup. Very good reading, and a very good point. Your blog is very thought provoking … keep up the good work!

    On another note, I wanted to thank you for the link to my blog. I will be happy to reciprocate. You do have quite a complete listing of Adventist blogs on your blogroll! Thanks for putting that together … I will be checking them out today for inclusion on my page as well.

    Take care and God Bless.

    Reply

  2. Posted by David Chalcraft on July 10, 2008 at 11:59 am

    The McCanns were either responsible for killing their daughter with medication or their bare hands or by leaving her alone behind an unlocked door. The decent thing to the McCanns, you say, is to wait until proven guilty. What is the decent thing we can do for Madeleine?

    Reply

  3. The decent thing for both Madeleine and her parents, I’m convinced, is to do as expressed in the post: avoid rushing to judgment and wait instead for the justice process to be completed.

    You have rushed ahead of this process by doing what no prosecutor, judge, or jury has done: indict and convict Madeleine’s parents of killing their daughter. If you have such clear evidence, it should be presented to the courts for their evaluation. If not, your accusations are unmerited and reprehensible.

    Reply

  4. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

    Reply

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