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Moving on from the Kavanaugh case with malice toward none

Americans need to be able to wrestle with complicated situations in a nonpartisan way instead of being pressured into false choices.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn in before testifying during the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Tom Williams/Pool Image via AP)

(RNS) — Regardless of where you stand on the Justice Brett Kavanaugh situation, we all desperately need to agree on this one thing: We can’t let this spectacle ever happen again.

Americans need to be able to wrestle with complicated situations in a nonpartisan way. We simply can’t be pressured into false choices and extreme swings of the pendulum.

Two things can be true at the same time:

There are countless victims of sexual assault in this country. It’s a very serious and unfortunately all too common reality today. Women deserve better and we must do everything we can to prevent such wickedness.

There also needs to be a thorough examination of evidence, handled in a fair and nonpartisan manner, that gives due process to those accused. 

If either of these important truths is not accepted, we risk several dangerous consequences. If victims of sexual assault aren’t given the time of day and allowed to share their stories in a way that encourages them to step forward, we discourage others from coming out of the shadows and shining a light on this evil that plagues our society.

Every American regardless of political situation must unite to ensure sexual assault is obliterated from our homes and our workplaces. As a pastor I hear stories from many in my congregation, and I’m very familiar with the pain and heartache this causes both women and men. In recent years, a plethora of horrendous accounts of violence, abuse, rape and sexual misconduct have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that sexual assault is a dark reality that has run rampant throughout our country.

An activist opposed to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh holds an umbrella on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2018. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

On behalf of my own daughters, and son, I for one am incredibly grateful for the many who have stepped forward to share their stories and help us find a way to overcome.

Likewise, if we don’t deal with the accused fairly, we run the risk of drifting into lawlessness, consumed by passions and emotions for sincerely held beliefs about this cultural issue — and the victims will be innocent people with their lives destroyed forever.

As Sen. Susan Collins just recently cautioned, “When passions are most inflamed, fairness is most in jeopardy.”

Emily Yoffe, a contributing editor at The Atlantic and a sexual assault survivor, said it is crucially important to handle allegations and each case on the individual merits.

“I have yet to talk to an accused student, even one who was eventually cleared, whose life wasn’t profoundly damaged; every one has told me that at some point he considered suicide,” she wrote recently.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of handling allegations of sexual assault seriously. If we truly care about combating this issue, we have to be above reproach in every effort to do so.

And that means separating claims of assault from politics. We cannot believe someone is guilty of assault because that person is a political enemy. We cannot assume someone is innocent because that person is a political ally.

I want my wife, my daughters, my son and my grandchildren to be defended by a just society if they are ever a victim, and I want them to be fairly treated if they are ever accused of any wrongdoing. I suspect all of us, regardless of gender, race, religion or political persuasion, would demand the same for our families.

Both victims and accused can feel isolated after sexual misconduct claims. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

The freedom for every American to be a part of the political process and express opinions is a beautiful gift. It’s unprecedented across thousands of years of civilization. But politics these days has looked more like a sporting event than a platform for healthy discussion among voters and lawmakers; we have loyal fans cheering for their team at all costs, and no one willing­­ to be principled referees.

We can’t get caught in this tribal sensation of “I believe her” or “I believe him” — claims that are often rooted in our political affiliations.

We need to adopt an overarching sense of objectivity when it comes to accusations of sexual assault. Courage and discipline to remove ourselves from inflammatory partisan rhetoric are necessary to arrive at the truth — there’s no way around it. We have to get this right. If we don’t, our republic, our way of life will crumble.

If it wasn’t already so obvious, this past month has confirmed without question that our country needs to heal. 

As President Lincoln so eloquently said in his second inaugural address, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds … ”

“With malice toward none” — I fear we are collectively failing at this charge. Let’s bind up our wounds, and do better next time.

(Jentezen Franklin is the senior pastor of Free Chapel, a multicampus church in Georgia, South Carolina and California. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

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