Jury Duty for God

Well, hello out there, Mr./Mrs./Miss Contender. It’s nice to be with you once again — on the edge. Actually, the view is a lot better from here, don’t you think? I hope you are stretching the limits of your “comfort zone” by taking advantage of each opportunity to obey your heavenly Father and grow in grace. Each day can be filled with great learning in the personal curriculum our Lord Jesus has for each of us as he mentors us in the art of faith.

This month I would like to share with you some recent reflections about my own life—both its “littleness” and its “bigness”—in the aftermath of having just served on my first jury. There I was, sitting amidst approximately 400 other prospective jurors on a Monday morning. Let’s just say that the crowd was not abuzz with the kind of anticipation and delight you might find in a group en route to a Club Med. I must say that I also felt somewhat “put upon.” In light of the fact that I was leaving on a three week itinerary in 10 days, and that I had a tremendous amount of work to do that week, including much of the editing on our forthcoming book, I really couldn’t afford to spend time serving on a jury. Or so I thought. I was to discover that the little sign on my mother’s refrigerator is true: “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

Yes, I had my own agenda, and a noble one at that, but God wanted me to serve in another way. Maybe there’s a parallel to what happened to Simon of Cyrene, who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and was busy pursuing the details of his own life. But as he passed by the Roman governor’s palace en route to who knows where, circumstances reached out and pulled him into history. Scripture gives us no details about his life after the Roman soldiers commandeered him to carry Jesus’ cross, but I believe it is likely that the service he rendered changed his life forever.

Luke tells us that Simon carried the cross behind Jesus, and thus, every step of the way, he could see ahead of him this beaten pulp of a man making his way through the crowd. Doubtless, Simon felt imposed upon, and especially considering the nature of what he was compelled to do, started his traumatic trek unwillingly. But I believe that being so close to Jesus Christ and seeing his demeanor and courage under the circumstances deeply touched his heart. Perhaps Jesus spoke to him at some point, and perhaps Simon stayed at the Cross until Jesus took his last breath. When Jesus quoted Psalm 22, maybe Simon ran that psalm through his mind and realized who it was whose cross he had carried.

Mark has one verse about Simon, in which he tells us that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus, speaking of the two sons as if they were known by those to whom Mark wrote. Perhaps Rufus is the same man Paul salutes in Romans 16:13, and perhaps, as the song, “Watch the Lamb,” by Ray Boltz, suggests, he and his brother were, at the time of the crucifixion, young boys who had accompanied their father to Jerusalem, also to have their lives radically affected. It seems that what began as a grievous imposition for Simon turned into a blessing beyond measure. While I cannot attach the same degree of significance to my having to drive downtown and back five straight days as a juror, I do see in retrospect that what began, at least in my mind, as an interruption to my schedule turned out to be an opportunity for me to serve God in a different way than I ever had before.

After a couple of groups of about 50 people each were called out and led away into the land of jurisprudence, there was a lengthy wait. The very nice lady in charge noticed the glum atmosphere and said, “This is not like church, you know. You can talk. You could even come up front and sing a song. We had one little old lady do that recently. Or you could tell a joke.” “Joke?” The word was still hanging in the air as I leapt to my feet. “I’ve got one!” Although it was a tough crowd, the classic, thirty second “memory” joke (you may have heard me tell it) got ‘em! Perhaps winning a small piece of some of their hearts would pay off later. In the moment, all I knew was that I could not live with the overwhelming guilt of depriving that crowd of that joke.

Finally, about 65 of us were ushered into a courtroom for the selection of jurors, and I was among the first 12 seated in the jury box to be interviewed by the lawyers for the state and the defense. We were then informed about the case by the extremely friendly female judge. In April 1998, an 18 year old state championship high school team basketball star allegedly raped one of the team’s cheerleaders, who was 14 years old. My prayer that morning, in light of the incredible amount of work I had to do that week, had been that I would not have to serve on a jury unless I could make a godly difference. When I heard about the case to be tried, I realized it would be most challenging, and I reiterated my prayer.

During the selection process, I thought about what I could say to get excused, like, “I believe in the death penalty for jaywalking.” As I sat there, however, I realized a little of the greatness of the good old USA and how vital our legal system is in regard to the freedoms we enjoy. Granted, it has been corrupted by corrupt people, and I did think how awesome it would be to have a jury of mature Christians who know God’s Word. No doubt that’s what God was hoping for when he instituted the principles of civil government–that believers would be the ones administering justice according to His Word. I finally decided that the privilege of living in the United States made it a privilege for me to serve as a juror, and I focused on the proceedings, determined to make a difference as a Christian.

Knowing from the form I had filled out that I was a minister, the lawyers asked me two questions in particular: “There may be a lot of explicit sexual language, Reverend [Who, me?], will that bother you?” “I’ve heard it before.” “You may hear testimony from another clergyman as a character witness. Will the fact that he is a pastor influence you to believe whatever he says?” I managed to stifle the “Ha!” forming on my lips, and evoked a ripple of laughter in the courtroom with, “Nope, I’ve seen some good ones and some bad ones.” And so I was among the 8 men and 4 women picked to serve as jurors. As soon as the bailiff (the keeper of the jury) took us into the jury room after we were selected and given a break, he asked me, “Didn’t you used to be on television?” It turns out that 25 years ago when he was a teenager, he watched me regularly during my 5-year stint of sign-offs for a local station. “You were the only one who held my attention,” he said. As the week went on, we had some good talks, I gave him some of our material and we are planning to get together as soon as possible.

So, there we were: twelve human units, suddenly joined together and given the task of becoming unanimously like-minded about a very emotional and challenging situation that would basically come down to one person’s word against another’s. At each of the many breaks for human necessities or legal wranglings, the judge repeated the same instructions to us, among them not to talk about the case among ourselves or with anyone else. This case was a big deal here in Indianapolis, and all the TV stations and newspapers were on hand all week. So what do you talk about for hours with theretofore total strangers? Well, you know, breakfast cereal, vacations, food, husbands leaving the toilet seat up, food, how to punish a child by making him watch the Gospel Channel, food, your mother’s aunt’s brother’s bunions, food. Let’s just say that it wasn’t life-changing. But one day, I did have most of the people’s attention for about a ten minute “God-rap.”

I am privileged to spend most of my life in the presence of Christians. I realized that my jury duty was the most time I’ve spent in years among “regular” people. To be honest, I was very blessed by how I was able to love them as fellow humans (and some fellow believers) and take an interest in each of them. Also, I was aware that, being the only me God has, I would perhaps need to be influencing them in a particular direction when it came time for us to deliberate the verdict. I have to say that it was a good group of people who worked together pretty well and had as much fun as we could, under the circumstances. Given the nature of the case, there was more than ample opportunity for graphic sexual talk, and I would hope that I debunked any “squeamish minister” stereotypes they held without sinking to the level of some of the ungodly language being used. My heart was very touched when one young man said to me, “You seem to me like what I think a man of God should be.” He may have said that based upon my having a cell phone, however.

“Do you solemnly swear or affirm [they’ve apparently added “affirm” for those who can’t quite swear that they’re telling the truth] that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” “I do.” Yeah, right. The basketball star said they had consensual sex, and the cheerleader said it was not consensual, but forced. When two people tell very conflicting stories about the same incident, even non-rocket scientist jurors like me know that one of them is lying. I will confess that all week I prayed for God to show me exactly what really happened, but late Friday afternoon when we finally went into deliberation, I was still not positive who was being truthful, or at least more truthful. Maybe it’s just me, but I think I should be at the place where I could have received from God what I can’t help but believe He wanted to tell me, and it really bothered me that it didn’t happen.

We were given the instructions that a person is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and also given the understanding that “reasonable” does not mean beyond a shadow of a doubt, and that circumstantial evidence and inferences are valid in evaluating the case. In my own heart, considering all that we had heard and seen according to that standard, I could not honestly say that the man was guilty of rape, beyond a reasonable doubt. And believe me, had I been convinced that he was, I never would have changed my mind, even if it hung the jury. God is a God of justice, as every human will one-day find out firsthand. I know it is a godly thing when the guilty are punished, and I want to see that happen.

After nearly six hours of deliberation (including a nearly hung jury in regard to what kind of pizza to have sent in for dinner), the rest of the jury felt the same way, and we found him not guilty of the rape charge. We did find the man guilty, however, on the charge of having sex with a minor, and he will receive some consequences for his sin. Even though the state did not prove conclusively that he knew she was less than 16, we agreed from the evidence that it was “reasonable” that he knew she was a freshman and that the vast majority of freshmen are less than 16 years old. The consequences he will receive will most probably put a definite crimp in his life, and they are well deserved, because by his own testimony he had been quite promiscuous.

Here are some of my “juror-prudent” observations:

At one point while instructing us about rendering a verdict, the judge said that there are very few things in this world that we know are absolutely true. My heart leapt with the joy of knowing the One who is Truth, and with the desire that all men have the opportunity to come unto a knowledge of the truth. The idea of “truth” doesn’t seem to mean much to people these days, and certainly this is in large part due to the relentless assault by the Devil (since Genesis 3) on the concept itself. In our postmodern world, “truth” is relative, and that greatly dilutes the gravity of telling a lie, especially when it is in one’s own interest to do so. We definitely do have “a story to tell to the nations”: The Word of God is the truth!

The power of words, the art of persuasion, the science of asking questions. Are these a big deal?! I was recently told by a reputable source that when it comes to successful verbal communication, 15% depends on the content, 35% depends on the vocal tone, inflection, etc. and 50% depends on the body language of the speaker. That means to be convincing, one must believe what he is saying, because if he does not, his voice and mannerisms will belie his hypocrisy. A human is an integrated (meaning oneness) unit, and the best communication is that which is reflected among all elements of his being. Of course, Jesus Christ was the perfect model of this. What was in his heart is exactly what was evidenced in his words and deeds.

Civil government was God’s idea. He knew that many sinful men would not fear and obey Him, but that they would (more often than not) fear and thus obey other men with the power to punish them for criminal actions. Therefore, there are quite a few verses in the Bible about this subject. Our bi-monthly teaching by John Schoenheit, titled The Bible and Civil Law has been transcribed and can be read or listened to online for free. I highly recommend it.

One of the keys to a godly society is the time involved in rendering justice. Ecclesiastes 8:11 says, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” I will add that with how slowly our justice system moves here in the USA, one thing the hearts of the people are not filled with is all the facts about what happened. How hard is it to accurately remember exactly what happened last week, let alone a year ago!

As we began to deliberate the verdict, I was chosen as the “foreperson” of the jury. Standing up and telling the judge that we had reached a verdict was easy. What was impossible was getting only one person at a time to talk during the deliberating! I told them that first we had to be sure that we understood both the standard and the charge as to how it was disobeyed. Then, if we spoke one at a time and did our best to listen to and consider believing what another person said, we could reason together and see what happens. What a lesson in many subjects those six hours were! We even talked about having a reunion, but I guess we decided to leave it up to the odds of all of us getting picked on the same jury again.

Well, the trial ended late Friday night, July 2, and I went back downtown to a fireworks display two nights later on the birthday of the United States of America. I thanked God for the privilege of living in this country. My prayer is that the hand of God will be on the USA until we have been able to reach out around the world with the Gospel.

In looking back at my jury experience, I believe that I was in the right place at the right time, and I hope that the witness of my life was a blessing to those with whom I interacted. I’m just one guy, a guy who spent way too much time in college throwing water balloons out the upper-story windows of his fraternity house, but with the holy spirit of God in me and a knowledge of God’s Word, I can choose to trust my heavenly Father one thought at a time and make a difference for the humans in my world.

What about you? Think about it. There is not now, nor has there ever been, among all the billions of humans ever to draw breath, anyone just like YOU. You are a pricelessly unique creation of God who, by virtue of His gift of holy spirit within you, has the potential to think, speak and act like Jesus Christ, no matter your circumstances. When you trust God, He, the Lord Jesus and you make a majority no matter the odds, and you can do whatever God asks you to do and make a big difference in the lives of a lot of other human units. Why? Because you are the only you God has. Go for it—on the edge.

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