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Letter to the Editor: Pastor Weighs in on Rush to Judgment

When headlines are dramatic and police make statements that sound solid, this man wants us to all stop, think and act from a community perspective to enjoy "the most basic communal trust."

What if, after all…?

I’ve been pondering the recent public case in El Segundo initially reported on September 11, 2012 as “Girls Soccer Coach Arrested on Lewd Acts with a Minor.” While I do know this man, I wrote the following thoughts prior to any contact with him since these dramatic headlines broke out. I am writing this not because my knowing this man leads me to any certainty of the facts…but because it calls forth a basic regard for the facts…a basic regard which strikes at a challenge we all must consider.

What has been presented is that a 15-year-old girl “reported having engaged in sexual acts with him.” So the police set up having her contact him by expressing a need for his help and requesting to meet at a public place. He was arrested upon arrival. Within hours the police seemed confident of his guilt and so their investigation was focused on finding “more victims.” Based upon the confidence by the police, the headlines broke forth with a public contempt which reflected the same clear sense that this was the discovery of a sexual predator.

After all, the police moved and spoke with clear confidence that this was a case of stopping a man who likely leads a life “manipulating” young girls into sexual relationships. After all, the immediate headlines skipped the words “alleged” often enough to suggest that this is far from a case of simply one teenage girl’s personal account. We should assume that corroborating and substantiating evidence is what set such accusations and arrest in motion. After all, the relationship is presented as involving a girl whose only relationship is participation on a soccer team this man coaches. Therefore it’s clear that what is really at hand can best be interpreted as a predatory involvement with coaching, teaching, and church programs. It would seem clear that any private contact itself could only have such inappropriate motives. The discovery of his having so many friends on FaceBook was given as a sounding alarm. After all, the immediate headlines declared “lewd conduct” and “engaging in sexual activity” with him. That is clear enough. Based on such statements, we can only assume this is not about some nuanced exchange… but rather that which can be regarded as clearly sexual in nature. After all, the immediate goal has been declared that of finding “more victims”…not alleged victims… so it has been established that she is a victim. And after all, on the radio I heard what I recall as the police Lieutenant say that this perpetrator “set up this meeting” with this girl. That seems clear enough. It may not always be wrong to meet a troubled youth asking for help…especially in a public place….but this is clearly someone pursuing a youth with no other relational connection, and therefore no other possible relational motive, other than sex. 

There seems to be no lack of clarity here. Not by the police. Not in the media. And not in the public mind. This man’s professional and public life is over. It was over the first moment that such clarity was presented to the public.

After all…this is the one crime that unites nearly everyone in the deepest disdain. Many have already called this man the worst of filth…the vilest of creatures…and one who should be locked away for life. One website focused on “Tainted Teachers” already posted his eligibility for their “Teachers Hall of Shame.”

Do we still share a value for honoring one another as “innocent until proven guilty?” That’s a value we seem to feel is best set aside for this type of crime. Apparently we already know these types of predators and can fill in the facts. After all, the police wouldn’t allow a man’s life to be destroyed by their declarations if they didn’t have all the facts …so neither should we.

As time now allows the truth to unfold…there is one question that might be worth keeping in mind. What if, after all, we were wrong? What if what unfolds is not the discovery of the sexual predator we already judged and sentenced in the court of our social assessment? More importantly, what if the “clarity” that everyone seems to have joined… was never there? Would it matter?

What if, after all, it comes out that in fact this man had no pattern of initiating private contact with this girl …which would be an enormous and easy enough fact to settle? What if, after all, this man wasn’t pursuing any youth… which would be an enormous and easy enough fact to settle? What if, after all, it comes out that there never was anything inappropriate with having a lot of friends on Facebook? What if, after all, the nature of the relationship with this 15-year-old girl was not simply that of his being a soccer coach or any other public relationship?  What if, after all, what was described as being “engaged in sexual acts” was actually a single disputed touch? What if, after all, it comes out that he didn’t “set up” a meeting with this girl…but rather the police had her do all the initiating and he only agreed to meet after several cries for help…and only at this most public of places? What if, after all, it comes out that nothing else comes forward?

For all our pride in being protectors, would we even care about what happened to this member of our community? Would we care about his loss of livelihood? Would we care about the significance of his service to the community being lost in our momentary pleasure for judgment? Would we care about his wife…and how she may never again be able to enjoy seeing the eyes of her fellow community members? Would we care about their children…how their inner worlds have been changed forever…and their social worlds have lost trust in the mouths of police and other adults? Would we care enough to actually say we are sorry to these lives for how our public opinion destroyed them? Would we consider whether our rushing ahead of facts had really served to care for a 15-year-old girl’s own process of discernment of various matters? Would we care about justice still being related to truth?

I don’t raise these questions out of knowing all the facts about this case. I raise them because of something far more general that I believe effects us all. It seems to me that we are more excited by the drama of possibility than we are with the truth. We get more excited by the accusations of initial headlines than the actual facts which later get buried because they are not as exciting after all. We give ourselves to fears more than facts… sensationalism more than substance.

What is the cost? We lose the most basic regard for one another that defines us as a community. Our quality of community depends upon a reasonable trust …and such trust requires that we will not sell our concerns for facts for the sake of fear. The humorous statement “Don’t bother me with the facts”… brings an echo that reverberates within us all. The facts require time and the willingness to live with uncertainty for a season. The facts require suspending the emotional satisfaction of declaring our judgment. Yet what holds us together is our willingness to be bothered by the facts.

I honestly do not presume to know the truth that will unfold in this particular case. But let’s not wait to confront our rush to certainty. I do not expect the police to publicly question the nature of their initial judgment. I do not expect the media to publicly question the nature of their headlines. It is we who must check ourselves if we want to enjoy the most basic communal trust. For after all, it is only “after all” that we should presume clarity…. not before it.

Brad Bailey
Pastor, Westside Vineyard Christian Fellowship

  • Related: Girls Soccer Coach Arrested on Suspicion of Lewd Acts With Minor

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