In the 1100s, in an effort to protect travelers going from northern Spain over the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia (Dogs of God, Reston, 50), a military force known as the hermandads (“the brotherhood”) was organized. Soon, these vigilantes spread across Spain and offered themselves as protectors of roads and merchants. Eventually appointed as a national police force who could collect taxes and prevent insurrection in every municipality, they would go on to exterminate untold numbers of Muslims, Jews, and other “enemies of the state” during the Middle Ages. Reston mentions an unsettling “right” granted to the hermandads in the 15th Century, during the famous reign of Isabella and Ferdinand. He writes, “In a curious turnabout, executions took place first, and trials were held afterwards” (51).
Given our country’s constitutional concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” this practice seems both backward and barbaric. How useful is a trial to present facts about a case after the defendant has been executed? What if the deceased was found innocent? What if there was no proof of guilt? Of course, the “facts” of every case incredibly supported the punitive action that preceded it.
While we may find such a practice appalling, how often do we do the same with our tongues? Through rash anger, reckless gossip, and rabid prejudice, we can serve as judge, jury, and executioner of the reputation and actions of another. How often do we jump to conclusions and assassinate another’s character, but later revelations prove our actions both premature and unjustifiable? Unfortunately, the damage having been done, nothing done by way of reparation can fully undo the effects upon the victim.
What we need to see is the spiritual danger we face who “execute” before “trial.” Solomon wrote, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). A few verses later, he says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (21a). That New Testament “wisdom writer,” James, adds, “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (3:8-10).
Be very careful! Even when we think we have the facts about another, let us post a guard outside the door of our lips (cf. Ps. 141:3). Better to deliberate and reserve judgment than to execute before the trial has been held!