The Cautionary Tale of Amari Allen
Last week news cycles were interrupted by the story of a twelve-year-old girl at a Christian School in Washington DC being violently mocked and abused by three of her classmates. Amari Allen, who is black, said that for weeks she had been bullied by the boys, who are white. The decisive act of bullying, according the tearful testimony of Amari, was when the boys pinned her arms behind her back, covered her mouth, and used scissors to cut her dreadlocks. The scene she described was horrific. Anyone who would treat a fellow image-bearer of God—much less one who is a mere twelve year old—should be punished with severe consequences.
If it really happened. Which it didn’t.
After four days of police and school investigation, Amari confessed that she made the whole thing up (though she says that she has experienced being bullied). This, unlike Jussie Smollet, who persists in his false accusations, is commendable. This whole ordeal has been sad on multiple levels. The boys who were falsely accused have suffered, along with their families. The school has suffered being subjected to threats, accusations and a four-day ordeal of trial by public media. Amari’s grandparents, who are raising her, have, along with other family and friends, suffered the shame and embarrassment of defending her lies and calling for justice on the basis of a false premise. We should also note that real victims of such crimes also suffer, because cases like this make it easy to dismiss similar accusations out-of-hand.
For all of the sadness that this case has evoked, there are also valuable lessons to be learned for those with enough humility to learn them. Before spelling out what I believe to be important take-aways from this sad situation, let me give credit where credit is due.
First, from press reports, it sure seems like the school administrators handled the situation admirably. Despite calls for automatically declaring the boys guilty and turning them over to the juvenile justice system, restraint was exercised as legal authorities were called in to investigate the alleged crime. The school also did its own investigation and refused to let the case be tried on social media—at least not on their own social media accounts. This is the path of wisdom. As two verses in Proverbs 18 put it, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (13) and “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (17).
Second, the legal authorities—in this case the Fairfax County Police Department—apparently did what such God-ordained civil authorities are supposed to do. They pursued justice by investigating the situation honestly and reporting their findings impartially. God has appointed civil authorities to be His servants in administering civil justice (Romans 13:1-7). It appears in this situation, that is what happened.
Third, the grandparents of Amari, who are her guardians, have issued a full-throated apology without caveat or qualification. This is rare in our day no doubt because it is so personally painful to do. Yet, the family unequivocally owned the consequences of the false accusation.
“To those young boys and their parents, we sincerely apologize for the pain and anxiety these allegations have caused. To the administrators and families of Immanuel Christian School, we are sorry for the damage this incident has done to trust within the school family and the undue scorn it has brought to the school. To the broader community, who rallied in such passionate support for our daughter, we apologize for betraying your trust.”
“We understand there will be consequences, and we’re prepared to take responsibility for them. We know that it will take time to heal, and we hope and pray that the boys, their families, the school and the broader community will be able to forgive us in time.”
Mr. & Mrs. Allen, I, and no doubt other Christians, forgive you right now. That is what the death of Jesus on the cross is all about and the power of that death in granting us forgiveness enables us to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). Their response is exemplary and I hope that everyone—especially Christians—will learn from it.
What specific lessons can we learn from this ordeal? Let me offer a few.
- We live in a hyper-racialized culture that undermines real racial harmony. Those who insist that every offense or slight that takes place as well as every inequity that exists between racially diverse people is necessarily due to racial injustice contribute to this combustible situation. All injustice is due to sin but not all injustice is due to sinful partiality. But when racism is redefined in terms of post-modern power structure formulas (as ideologies like Critical Race Theory do), then every failure of those impugned with “whiteness” is attributed to racial injustice.
Our culture has been shaped to view the world through this lens, as demonstrated by the disparities in the New York Times’ headlines about this case. On September 27, when breaking the original story, the headline read, “Black Virginia Girl Says White Classmates Cut Her Dreadlocks on Playground.” In the follow-up story, September 30, the headline read, “Virginia Girl Recants Story of Boys Cutting Off Her Dreadlocks.” The accusation fits the national racialized narrative, thus the inclusion of “black” and “white.” The recantation doesn’t fit, thus the excision of those racial descriptors.
It is difficult but understandable when unbelievers promote godless ideologies as useful tools through which to view the world. When Christians do it, however, it is inexcusable. We have the gospel that has been procured for us by Truth Incarnate. We should treat all people lawfully and with the respect that image-bearers of God deserve. This includes speaking truthfully, including with proper restraint, about reported events.
The racialization of American culture has increased dramatically over the last decade, or so it seems to me. Thus, any conflict involving people of different ethnic backgrounds or racial appearances is immediately attributed to “racism.” When that charge is made in a racialized culture the accusers automatically stand on the high ground and the accused are automatically guilty until proven innocent. The accused are thrown under the bus right along with biblical justice.
That is what happened in this case and we have seen this play before multiple times. Does anyone remember Tawana Brawley? The horrific story she told of being brutally raped was taken up by Al Sharpton and became his entry ramp into the lucrative industry of keeping America racialized. Or do you remember the Duke Lacrosse team? Such miscarriages of justice can be, sadly and easily, multiplied.
False allegations of any sort can be devastating. False allegations of racism in a racialized culture is tantamount to having the scarlet letter hung around your neck. Shame, loss of reputation, relationships, income, etc. can last a lifetime.
What is less evident but equally destructive is the impact such false charges have on cross-ethnic relationships and on genuine cases of racism (sinful partiality based on ethnicity). Suspicion becomes common-place and inevitably does its corrosive work. Real victims often feel its effects.
This is why true Christians must strongly reject the hyper-racialization of culture that ideologies like Critical Race Theory promote. Such ideologies cannot operate on principles of biblical justice and therefore wind up hurting the very people they purport to help. If those who know God would faithfully seek to apply His Word when such situations as Amari’s allegations arise, they would provide at least some resistance to the strong winds of racialization blowing across the landscape. An added bonus is that they would have to delete fewer of their tweets.
- We have forgotten the righteousness of due process. It is tragic to hear Christians argue that “innocent until proven guilty” is a mere “legal standard” that should somehow be transcended when it comes to caring well for victims of abuse in our churches. The truth is, we cannot be more compassionate or just than God. His Word guides us in paths of righteousness as we confront difficult cases such as Amari Allen’s.
Every allegation of abuse should be taken seriously and the one making it should be offered immediate help and protection, including legal and medical. Crimes should be legally prosecuted. Sins should be ecclesiastically adjudicated. But before firm conclusions are reached, judgments made or punishments meted out, biblical principles must be considered.
“Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (2 Corinthians 13:1). In other words, an accusation alone is not evidence. DNA, eyewitnesses, forensic science, etc. can all provide supporting evidence, but gathering such evidence usually takes time. Which means that rushing to judgment ahead of such evidence is unbiblical. Of course, calling for punishment without proper evidence-based judgment is also unbiblical. Unrighteous even.
So the people calling for the incarceration of the three white boys whom Amari accused of abuse were calling for unrighteousness. They were actually calling for sinful steps to be taken. So does everyone who calls for punishment of those who have been accused of sins or crimes without supporting evidence being provided. In other words, much of the virtue signaling that so many imbibe in today by immediately demanding punishment on the basis of an allegation is not only crass self-promotion but also is defaming the very justice of God.
Once again, when unbelievers do this, it is tragic, but somewhat understandable. But when those who profess to know God trample His law by doing this, it is shameful and inexcusable.
- It is far too easy to make false accusations because the consequences of such actions are not severe enough. Perjury laws are good because they encourage honest testimony in the seeking of legitimate evidence. So are laws that forbid the filing of false crime reports. But, as we have seen far too often, in such cases, either such laws are not enforced or the punishment does not always fit the crime.
What should happen to the person who files a false charge of being assaulted, or robbed, or mistreated in any way? Here’s an idea. Once evidence has been gathered and the falsity of the charge has been determined, then the same punishment that would have been handed down on the accused (had he been found guilty) should be given to the accuser. Deuteronomy 19:15–21 teaches this very principle.
A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. 18 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 20 And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. 21 Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
If the general equity of this text were more directly to inform modern jurisprudence, it would greatly help our pursuit of true justice by protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. Charges and accusations would remain an essential part of that pursuit, but they would not be so easily abused and weaponized by those whose real goal is something less than and often contrary to real justice.
I have real pity for all those involved in the Amari Allen case. From all reports she is a talented and beautiful young lady. She also needs real help to deal with whatever spiritual, emotional, and relational problems are confronting her. From the response of her grandparents, I have confidence she will receive such support. I hope that she, and the boys she falsely accused, may one day be fully reconciled to each other by deeply experiencing the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
The truth is that any one of us is capable of doing what Amari Allen has done. That is why we need the gospel of God to empower us to live according to the law of God in order to enjoy the blessings of God in this life. Because of the love and kindness of our God, we have such a gospel in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This article highlights some of the very concerns that our film, By What Standard, will address. We are still working on this project and could use your support to bring it to completion. More information is available on the Founders cinedoc page.