Frequently in the media there are apparent wrongs like the recent Treyvon Martin case  (or, before that, the Casey Anthony case ). Not that the temptation for vigilante justice is anything new. In one of Abraham Lincoln’s first speeches, the Lyceum Address , was devoted in large part to condemning vigilante justice. Being a person of similarly Whiggish principles, including a horror at rash and instant judgment and a desire for evidence-based reasoning rather than knee-jerk emotionalism, I share the concerns of Abraham Lincoln for the rise of vigilante sentiments that I see in modern society, and view it as bother dangerous and heretical.
It is my intention today to comment on a particular Biblical law, and as is my fashion, apply it to our own situation and examine how our own action may lead us to violate this law because of our own blind adoption of the corrupt views of our culture. It is noteworthy that the Bible strongly condemns vigilante justice, and it is important that we ourselves understand why. Exodus 23:2 reads: “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice.”
The Bible is stern against vigilante justice and mob rule. There are very strict evidentiary and judicial principles that govern biblical trials. There is to be no bias either for or against the poor or rich, but rather a concern for fair testimony (see Exodus 23:3, for example), and harsh condemnation of bribery (see Exodus 23:7, for example). Moreover, there was a very strict requirement that cases be based on multiple witnesses with very harsh judgment for those who were false witnesses (see Deuteronomy 19:15-21).
The Bible takes justice very seriously. Judgment is not a matter for people whipped up emotionally by overinflated rhetoric, but rather a matter for a sober examination of the evidence, including eyewitness testimony, before coming to a judgment. Let us not deceive ourselves into assuming that simply because we closely follow and trust a given television or internet source of news that we are getting any kind of genuine knowledge of the facts in a given dispute. All too often we choose sources of news that already reflect our own personal biases, and then we uncritically accept the judgments of those sources as the truth when in reality it is greatly (if not completely) interpretation. We ought to remain humble in the face of our ignorance of the facts, rather than presume to know more than we do, given the biased source of most of our raw material for judgments.
Determining the truth is often a matter that takes time and deliberation. Even where our beliefs and opinions may be right, it is very easy to be wrong in the way we express or judge because we may lack a sufficiently complete picture. Even worse, the uncritical way we often accept the biases of our trusted sources (and the equally uncritical way we reject those sources we do not trust because of the perspectives and biases which we can easily see in them, without sifting and weighing the evidence fairly) leads us very quickly into faulty and rushed actions as a result of our misguided opinions built on foundations of quicksand and not on the rock of truth.
Mobs are not the sort of groups of people that can be trusted to make sound decisions. Mobs in general are motivated by exceptionally fierce but often exceptionally mistaken emotional reasoning. They tend to view people and situations in too great a black and white way, making honest mistakes appear in the most sinister light, and ignoring the culpability that exists from those they consider victims and martyrs. And their ferocious certainty in the veracity of their (often misguided) judgments makes them immune to facts and evidence, which they dismiss out of hand because it does not correspond to their own biased and warped reasoning.
In order to make proper judgments we must be critical but also just. We must recognize our own biases and personal tendencies, be attentive to the way in which the information we receive from others contains specific biases and perspectives, but not be so critical that we dismiss the truth that is contained in such accounts simply because it has a bias or a perspective that we are not sympathetic with. We must also be humble in the face of the fact that we simply don’t know the full story and ought not to pretend to know the whole story, which gives us a greatly misguided confidence in our very fallible judgments.
Likewise, we who claim a believe in divine justice ought not to be so quick to condemn others on such flimsy grounds as the gossip and rumor and slander that makes up the majority of our sources of information. If we believe in a God that does know all and that will right wrongs, we ought not to be so ferociously hostile to what we view of as miscarriages of justice, especially because even our own very fallen justice system depends largely on jurors who have a solemn charge to convict only when belief in the guilt of a suspect is beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard to meet, and one that many jurors seem not to take as seriously as they should.
We therefore ought not to be quick to condemn, especially when we know ourselves and our own actions to have been slandered and taken out of context and given all sorts of fallacious and nasty motives attached to it. Those of us who have been accused maliciously of deeds ought to know that others as well can be slandered as well, and therefore to gather information in a fair matter, apportioning blame in a fair fashion, and not being quick to join in a lynch mob to harm those who may in fact be innocent, or at least not as guilty as we believe them to be. After all, if we slander or condemn the innocent, because we have taken insufficient attention to actually getting as much of the whole truth about a situation as possible, we become evildoers ourselves and come under the judgment of both God and man. Let us therefore strive to be just judges, and to recognize that our fallible judgments may place us under condemnation if we are unwary.