Brian Banks was a sure shot for the NFL. He was big, fast, and smart. He dominated his football world. Then, his whole world shattered when he was accused of rape. While there was no physical evidence of the rape, he was looking at a world of trouble – after all, we know what football players are capable of. At the age of 17 he was put into a locked room and given an ultimatum: plead guilty and get either probation, three years, or six years in prison depending on a probation hearing. With ten minutes to decide and no family help, he pled guilty. The probation office recommended probation. The judge gave him six years. To make a long story short, after he got out of prison, his accuser contacted him – wanting to let bygones be bygones. She later admitted that the charges were falsified. His time in prison caused his physical skills to deteriorate, but he now works in the NFL front office where he is making a great name for himself.
No one knows why she made the accusation. In her words, though, everything got blown out of proportion. Banks isn’t bitter, and also volunteers in the California Innocence Project. He is one of many innocent people who have been charged with crimes they didn’t commit. That seemed to be a problem in the early church. Usually, though, the charges came because the beliefs of Christians messed with people’s pocketbooks. That happened in Philippi when Paul and Barnabas were accused. “They brought them before the magistrates and said, ‘These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.’ The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.” (Acts 16:20-22)
Those charges seem straightforward. What they miss is what happened before. Jesus was convicted of blasphemy by the Sanhedrin – when the charges came to Pilate, He was accused of insurrection. Paul and Barnabas were charged with advocating unlawful customs – what they did was heal a servant girl of demonic possession. That girl was used to raise money for her owners with her demonic predictions. While it was all about the Benjamins – so to speak – the owners had to falsify the charges because “we can’t make any more money” wasn’t a crime in ancient Rome. In true mob spirit, the crowd joined in on the melee and finally, the magistrates ordered them stripped and beaten in front of all the people. Then, they threw them in jail. Innocent and in jail. That seemed to be the norm for Christians in every run in with the law. Their beliefs messed with the economic system and bam! Jail time.
Perhaps the reason that Christians don’t run into those types of false accusations anymore is that our economic system seems to be justified based on Christian principles – you know, the Protestant work ethic and all of that. The problem is that when people take advantage of the system and oppress others, and you know they do, if they are called on their sins, they take a few verses out of context to support themselves. We accept the oppression of illegal immigrants to get cheap labor. We gladly buy things made in foreign slave labor camps because we get the best price – and Christians should be thrifty. It’s time for Christians to return to our roots and upset any aspect of the economy that exploits or oppresses others. We must seek a just economic system that allows people a fair wage for their work and opens opportunities for people, especially those with no hope. Hope, earthly and heavenly, is at the heart of the gospel.
Oh Lord, it’s so easy to turn a blind eye to those who are oppressed. Remind me to work for justice.