Christians, like all people, have been far too quick to believe the worst about others. The internet and social media have only made this vicious trait even easier to indulge. This excellent sermon by Mike Ricardi, “How to Kill Your Neighbor” discusses the Christian’s obligation in this area.
A related concept has to do with the potential sin of condemning another human being — particularly another human being to serve punishment or death. In our law, we require at least preponderance of the evidence for civil and require “beyond a reasonable doubt” for criminal convictions. While we think of that rule as protecting the accused (it does), the basis for that rule was to protect the juror from sin (because, even though it is a neglected doctrine, in Christian theology it is far worse to sin than suffer; Christ suffered death, but never sinned; suffering can only lead to death which is met by resurrection, but sin leads to eternal death).
At its origins, as this Article aims to show, the familiar “reasonable doubt” rule was not intended to perform the function we ask it to perform today: It was not primarily intended to protect the accused. Instead, it had a significantly different, and distinctly Christian, purpose: The “reasonable doubt” formula was originally concerned with protecting the souls of the jurors against damnation. Convicting an innocent defendant was regarded, in the older Christian tradition, as a potential mortal sin. The purpose of the “reasonable doubt” instruction was to address this frightening possibility, reassuring jurors that they could convict the defendant without risking their own salvation, as long as their doubts about guilt were not “reasonable.”
As John Adams reminded the jurors in the Boston Massacre trials in 1770, repeating language of moral theology that dated back to the Middle Ages: “[w]here you are doubtful never act: that is, if you doubt of the prisoner’s guilt, never declare him guilty; that is always the rule, especially in cases of life.”