“Does anyone have a religious problem with sitting in judgement?” I’m pretty sure the Judge thought it was a simple question. For me- it wasn’t. Granted- I tend to over think things. But when posed the question… I really had to ask myself: “Do I have a religious problem with sitting in judgment?”
Anyone who reads my blog knows that I strive to overcome bigotries small and large. I am passionate about grace. (Mostly because I’m so thankful God is gracious to me. I need it. A lot.) I am constantly writing about, thinking about and challenging Christians for being judgmental. Mostly: myself.
But Wednesday- was different. A new experience for me: Jury duty.
For which I thought I had a “get out of jury duty free card” hanging around my neck. (Neck brace- due to failed cervical fusion. Not my most fashionable accessory- but it keeps my head from falling off… so yeah. it works.) Still. I was chosen.
Wednesday my name was: Juror #12.
Which is when that prickly question was posed: “Does anyone have a religious problem with sitting in judgement?”
The question followed a series questions like:
- Does anyone have strong feeling about guns that may influence your judgement in this case?
- Does anyone know the defendant, or anyone being called to testify?
- Does anyone have a medical or other cause that would affect your ability to to sit in judgement? (Yes- I got called out on this one- to which I answered: Well. I’ll be uncomfortable… but I’m always uncomfortable. I should be fine.)
I hesitated to answer the religious problem question. What the judge was actually asking was: Does anyone have a religious problem with sitting in LEGAL judgement on this trial?
Which, I don’t have. Because:
- It’s my civic duty.
- It was an opportunity to help give a man- beloved by God- a fair trail. No one was going to be railroaded on my watch. Trust me.
However- when we went into the jury room- my first statement was: “I’d like to clarify – I’m a Christian- and while I have no problem holding the defendant accountable to the law- I do not sit in moral judgement of him.That- I’d have a religious problem with.”
Which was met with weird glances. But- I had to be honest. And- I didn’t want to misrepresent my beliefs- or more importantly- God. It’s not my job to judge someone or condemn them morally. Legally- however- is a different story.
It was a very long day. A day where a defendant- AKA: beloved by God human being, and his family sat in court and waited to find out his legal fate.
A fate to be decided by a jury of his peers. Which included: me. UGH.
As the trial started- I found it interesting. I noticed specifics about the evidence that helped me form an opinion. It was interesting to see criminal defense and prosecuting attorneys at work. It was interesting to see the actual role of a Judge in action. (He presides- he doesn’t Decide. The judge is all about: protocol and juror education about law, charges and evidence.)
I honestly believed and assumed the defendant was innocent. Until he was proven: guilty.
There was just no way around it.
We went into the jury room to deliberate and examine the physical evidence.
I was chosen foreperson.
Which is when it really hit me: “We are about to make a decision that impacts a man’s life.” I felt an overwhelming sense of caution and responsibility. The phrases: “This is not TV. This is real. Real people. Real consequences.” kept going through my mind.
We scoured the evidence. Honestly- it was cut and dry. There was no doubt in our minds about the verdict. Guilty.
We TRIED to find something to find him innocent. There was: nothing.
Deliberation was quick and unanimous. I read aloud each charge and it’s subsequent evidence needed for conviction. All of which, had been provided by the prosecution. There was video from the arresting officers’ dash cam of the entire event. Photos of the crime scene. Testimony of credible corroborative witnesses with no motive for lying.
It took one vote.
We went back into the court room.
Thats when it WAS like TV.
The judge asked:
“Who will speak for the jury?”
I said: “I do.”
The judge read each count. and asked for the verdict.
Count 1: Guilty.
Count 2: Guilty.
Count 3: Guilty.
Each time I said the word- my voice cracked more in heartbreak. I was crying by the time I answered the third time.
Why? Because I believe in grace. I believe in second chances. I believe in each human being’s intrinsic value to God and the world. I also believe in justice. I believe in protecting the innocent.
Wednesday, I experienced and participated in the process of justice (Of the judicial kind- not moral- spiritual) firsthand.
It made me very sure that I never want to do anything that would place me in that defendant’s chair.
It also made me very thankful- that God has a different judicial system than man does. Before him- I will never be tried by a jury of my peers-nor will any of us.(I love you all… dear readers- but please. If my eternity were in jeopardy- and your prejudices and opinions are as messed up as mine?… I don’t want you (or me) on that jury. Just sayin.)
It’s not what others think- or the evidence that they see that matters- in my eternity… it’s what Jesus has done.That counts. He took the penalty for my sin. Not only that- he faced the trial for it as well. HE sat in my defendant’s chair. HE represents me before the Father.
Unlike the gentleman who’s trial I was part of – Before God- I am: not guilty. Even though I know I WAS: guilty as charged.
The truth is- while that gentleman was found guilty in a court of law-I have NO IDEA whether he is guilty before God.
I would have a religious problem with sitting in judgement of that.
The truth is: I hated finding him guilty. I hate that he and his family will face a penalty because of that decision. I also know- that the decision that actually caused this effect as his own. He willingly and consciously broke the law.
It still: sucks to see someone face those consequences. Prison- (Which I think is the penalty n this case) is an awful place.
I’m obviously a bundle of conflicting feelings.
Here’s what I know: The trial was just. The decision was right.
And that man- now has someone committed to praying for him everyday. I can’t take away his guilt. But I can treat him with respect and love and prayer.
I did. And I will.
Dear Lord- what an experience. Thank you for not using juries of peers in deciding anyones eternity. Even with the best jury -that would suck. I wonder lord, if I tasted a tiny bit of the heartbreak you feel when someone is found: guilty before you? Lord- I pray for the man convicted yesterday. I pray for his sentencing. I pray for his family. I pray for his future. I know you love him Lord- and created him for a purpose in this world. I pray that he’d discover and live that out where ever he ends up. God- remind me to pray. He may have lost his freedom- but he’s gained a sister in heart and prayer. I love you Lord- and am so thankful for your grace. Cause- I know- I’m truly- guilty as sin. The truth is- I’m a jury of my peers away from hell. Ouch. Thank you for grace instead of law. I love you Lord- Amen.
So— Have you ever served on a jury before? Did it provoke any moral dilemmas? How did you feel? Was the verdict- guilty or not guilty?
Tell me in the comments! I want to hear your stories!