Written by: ChristianView Network 
Article source: www.facebook.com

I am regularly approached by people unjustly accused of doing wrong – and as law and policies are distorted against Christian faith, this becomes a higher risk for all of us. The same principles apply in common institutional situations which may have nothing to do with persecution. You could face a workplace or professional misconduct allegation. This assumes a charge to an authority and not just a flippant allegation on social media, a passing comment or verbal slander, which usually can be safely ignored.

And since I have had to defend myself many times – there are certain common themes I end up repeating again and again – so cut, paste and save this for when it is you – because it will be. Your specific situation will probably need specific advice – maybe from a lawyer or other professional – but this is general advice applicable to just about all situations.

1. Open an “Evidence file” on the allegations and your defence, but keep it private. Into the file, include:
1. Any correspondence related to the allegations. Correspondence from your accusers and anything relevant you may have previously sent to them.
2. Research the rules of the particular institution that are relevant to your case and put extracts in your file. E.g. Constitution, disciplinary procedures etc.
– While you do have rights in terms of the national constitution and broad principles of justice, the subsidiary rules of your own organisation apply first, and you can only appeal to the national constitution if you can prove that the rules of your particular institution infringe that.
– The rules of a particular institution may be narrower than your rights in a public space. For example, a church may limit speaking against its own statement of faith.
– Establish what rules you allegedly have infringed.
– Establish the processes which disciplinary action must follow. These are your rights. At the least it allows you to insist on fair process. At best, the whole process of the opposition may be thrown out.
3. Your own draft thoughts about how to respond to the allegations
– If you end up going for legal advice, this file will save your lawyer time.
– The “evidence file” is your ammunition. That arms you but if you can resolve the issue without firing your ammunition, so much the better. The difficulty is that if you fire too much, you may provoke your opponent to attack you more.

2. Say as little as possible until you have to
1. Since anything you say may be used against you, its better to say as little as possible. That does not mean you say nothing and thus not defend yourself, but that you choose what you say and when you say it carefully.
– Usually lawyers speak for their clients and ask them to keep quiet.
– If you have to respond to correspondence, a short response like “I acknowledge receipt of your letter” is usually all that is needed.
2. You are innocent until proven guilty. The other side must make a specific case against you of breaking the rules of the institution before you are obliged to respond. If they don’t make a case, then the whole case can be dismissed without you having to respond.
3. It takes energy to pursue charges against someone – which in many if not most cases results in the charges being dropped – after the prosecution runs out of energy. People tend to cool off over time, if you don’t provoke them further.
4. If the allegation is a public controversy, it is usually much easier if an outside third party with a similar viewpoint comes in to defend you in the public arena – while you concentrate on defending against the specific allegation within the institution. Whatever the outside party says, can help you but can’t be used against you.
5. Aggression is usually a function of emotions multiplied by the money at stake. E.g.motivation to sue. Emotion of your opponent is more within your control, so try to calm.
6. Remember that the first priority of any tribunal is to defend its own authority. While they are often unjust, be careful how you respond to injustice so as not to provoke it further. Even if the judge is wrong, do not show contempt. A contradiction of an authority, should be prefaced with ‘With all due respect…”

3. Time pressure.
Sometimes time works against you. Other times for you. Manage the timeline.

1. If you are put under time pressure then ask for an extension of time to respond and suggest an alternative date that is convenient to you.
2. Usually it is to the defence advantage to respond slowly. It gives you more time to think and the accusers to cool off. If it can be delayed a long time, often the situation changes completely. 3 The accuser may move off somewhere else, or get into a fight with someone else that absorbs their attention.
4. Sometimes if for example you are suspended from doing something you want to resolve it quickly.
5. You have emotional reserves and drawn out conflict can drain that. If that happens you must do things to fill up your emotional petrol tank so you do not run out of energy. Make sure you get enough sleep, fun, nature, encouraging people.

4. If and when you do formally respond:
1. Remove any animosity from your letter. It can help to ask someone else to read it through to check this for you. Typically just one sentence can upset your accuser or form the basis of another allegation.
2. If there are many charges, try get the side charges dropped and only respond to them if forced to.
3. Do not engage in formal conflict correspondence via email with your accusers. Emails get sent in haste, replied to in haste, and forwarded, cut and pasted to other emails and social media usually inflaming the conflict. If you do send anything via email, it must be a printed, scanned signed attachment.
4. A response option is a ‘Without prejudice’ letter or a ‘without prejudice’ meeting. If you put this at the top of the letter, it means it is not your final response and the other side can’t use it as evidence against you.
5. Be careful that a detailed response to charges can be taken as an admission of guilt of facts.
6. If you are pushed to an agreement against your will, a vague one is usually to your benefit as it allows for future interpretation and avoids constraining your freedom, or setting a bad precedent for others.
7. Some things you can concede to appease your opponent but firstly don’t do so without consulting a wiser person like a lawyer because of you are not careful you may be pleading guilty or giving away more than you bargained for.

5. Plan your alternatives
1. Plan your ‘Best alternative’. If you cannot resolve the conflict, what is your “Plan B”. For example, can you find another job or another organisation to join. This doesn’t mean you give up the fight and move, but that you can fight with more confidence knowing you have a plan if you fail. If you can’t work out another good plan, then you are in a weaker position and that can influence how you respond.
2. What other conflicts are important to you? It’s pretty hard to fight more than one conflict at a time and you risk losing both for lack of energy. If something else is more important, you might be wiser to make a less than ideal peace on this one to give your energy to another one.

6. Strategically decide if this is a ‘hill to die on’ or a battle to evade.
1. While we must show courage in defending the faith, we do not have time or energy to fight every battle – and often the odds are stacked against us. Scripture and church history give examples of leaders evading (e.g. David from Saul, Paul from King Aretas, Jesus at Nazareth) and times of standing up (e.g. Jesus at the Sanhedron). Pray, think, consult advice.
2. Never fight just to prove you are right. Fight because it is your best interests to do so.
3. Very often there are other opportunities and forums for you to do what you want to do other than the specific conflict.
4. Within those battles we do fight, there are degrees of fighting. We want a favourable resolution with the least cost. Unless this is a hill to die on, we want to minimise cost to ourselves and because we love our enemies, them as well. Bringing in a mediator can be a helpful way of resolving things without fighting to the death at a tribunal or court.

7. Consulting for advice and help
1. Try as far as possible to consult for confidential advice with people who are competent, objective and far outside of the situation. If you consult with people too close, the risk they get drawn in as a witness or participant in the conflict in a ‘he said’ ‘she said’ situation.
2. Beware the trap of thinking you have a stronger case or support than you actually do. People can affirm you in an emotional counselling way. That doesn’t mean they will actually support you in a conflict. Some lawyers may (unethically) encourage a client to fight on a poor case, because that is how they make money.
3. While there are lawyers and NGO’s that do offer pro-bono (free) legal advice, there are a few problems with this:
– Firstly, such lawyers usually have their hands full already, and do not necessarily have time to give to your case.
– Secondly, if they do give a bit of free ad-hoc advice, they may not be able to sustain it in a drawn out conflict without pay.
– Thirdly, if you know a lawyer as a friend, they may not have expertise in that field.
– Fourthly, if they do fight your case for free and they have other cases for which they are paid, they might not invest so much time in your case. If you go to court and you lose, you will usually end up having to pay your opponents lawyers fee, which can be really expensive. It may be in your best interests to pay a lawyer than to get free help.

The most desirable situation is to belong to an organisation (such as Homeschooling legal defence) which helps its members.

8. Relationships do get damaged in conflicts. People who you thought would support you might not or even oppose you. Opponents tend to become more estranged.
1. If this does happen, try not to take it too personally, but as a function of human conflict in general.
2. For this reason, one wants to try to reduce conflicts.
3. Since conflicts are complex, the odds are you may do something you think is minor but that seriously upsets the other side. While defending things that matter, we must be willing to apologise and/or remedy on secondary accidental errors or misunderstandings to refocus attention on the things that do matter.
4. A danger to try avoid with conflicts is that relationships deteriorate to the point where people decide to part company regardless who wins or loses the particular dispute. For example, move church, move job. Think the consequences of whether you are okay with that and not just the merits of your case.

9. Prayer. God does do miracles and deal with enemies sovereignly (e.g. Psalm 124). Nevertheless, this does require that we are spiritually right with God and have repented of any wrong done.

10. Decide beforehand what you are ethically not prepared to do, so that you do not compromise when brought under pressure. For example, you do not want to be coerced into saying something that contradicts the Bible or your conscience.

11. Try to diagnose the interests behind the positions of all the parties involved, including the authority and yourself.
1. Usually the authority wants peace and reputation to retain their authority.
2. If you don’t know your opponents interests, then ask them. Or ask them if your assumption on their primary interests are correct.
3. Usually people become flexible on their positions if you can meet their primary interests another way. This allows for creative problem solving.
4. A conflict which doesn’t help achieve primary interests is a waste of time.
5. If there is an attempt to settle, it can be helpful to disclose your primary interests to your opponent and or authority to facilitate more flexible problem solving.

12. Framing conflicts
1. All conflicts are framed to exclude irrelevant details and highlight context, but usually the parties do this differently. E.g. Pro-life frames abortion as about human life, while the opponents about choice and women’s rights.
2. You may think your case is obviously good but if the authority frames it differently, you will lose. E.g. You may think you are defending the faith, while your opponent may frame you as a relational trouble maker.
3. If you argue first, start with your frame and then fill in supporting arguments. Without this your facts and arguments are meaningless.
4. If you argue second, start by briefly demolishing your opponents frame, and then propose your own.

13. Escaping the personal victimisation trap
1. Usually significant conflicts consist of one group of people with one view versus another group of people with another view.
2. A common strategy of one side is to avoid group vs group conflict and rather to try to isolate, accuse, victimise and silence a prominent individual voice by mobilising the machinery of an authority to and an array of allegations to attack that individual – make an example of him – and then hope the others will be afraid and not do the same. That is what the Jewish authorities did to Jesus; it’s what the SA Human Rights Commission did to Jon Qwelane for speaking against same-sex marriage and Dr Jacques de Vos on abortion. The tactic is to inflict sufficient stress on the victim so that even if they are ultimately found innocent, they are effectively punished and silenced by the process.
3. If this dynamic applies to your situation, you don’t have much chance of winning in that particular forum – because the whole system is loaded against you. You can win in the long term, but unlikely in that forum. You then have to choose between martyrdom, evasion and appeal to outside authority. Ideally, others come to your side to defend you.

Feature image: unsplash.com

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