Monday, December 1, 2014

Who Am I To Judge?

I was called up for jury service a few years ago but I really didn’t expect to be selected. I had been there before and every other time I was dismissed when the attorneys asked me where I worked. “Christian” was part of the organization's name and that is an automatic trigger that usually results in my dismissal. This time was different. Somehow I managed to make the cut.

The defendant was charged with two misdemeanors and one felony. The judge estimated the trial would take one day and that the jury deliberations would also take only one day. This was going to be easy, I thought.

After all the evidence was introduced and the defense was through, we were ushered into the jury deliberation room. The jurors selected me to act as foreman and, again, I thought we could wrap this up in about an hour.

We started with the two misdemeanor counts. Both verdicts were “no brainers.” The Deputy D.A. presented overwhelming, indisputable evidence for which the defendant’s attorney had no reasonable arguments. I called for a show of hands on count one and all twelve jurors voted guilty. That was done. Then I called for a vote on count two. “Guilty,” they all agreed. Things were going great. We had selected a foreman and decided two of the three charges in the first ten minutes. By my calculation, I figured I would be back to work in time for lunch.

I was wrong; it took us two full agonizing days to finally reach an agreement on the last charge. Our job was to consider only the evidence and testimonies presented and then come to an objective conclusion about the facts. We deliberated the first two charges quickly because there were no real or meaningful consequences for the perpetrator’s actions. But because a guilty verdict on a felony charge would result in a stiff penalty, the jury fell apart.

Some of the jurors became too emotional. They started wondering about the defendant’s family. They empathized with her and imagined how she must feel. The idea that someone might have to suffer some harsh consequences for her own illegal actions was more than they could bear. The material facts of the case were eclipsed and became irrelevant in their arguments.

Other jurors seemed to have no fundamental understanding of their responsibility to decide “beyond a reasonable doubt.” They insisted on being utterly convinced beyond a “shadow” of a doubt or beyond “any” doubt at all. So we suffered through hours of incredible and inane hypothetical speculations about how anything beyond reason might have been possible. No amount of evidence could be sufficient enough to convince them so they concluded that we just cannot know for sure.

And then there were some who, citing Matt. 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” actually raised moral questions about our right to sit in judgement of others.

I often find myself in situations where I am called on to hear conflicting stories, attempt to sort out truth from deception, and then draw reasonable conclusions. So how should we determine whom and what to believe?

First, we need to understand that Christians do have a real responsibility to discern truth from error. Refusing to judge based on Matt. 7:1 out of its proper context is a gross misunderstanding and misapplication of Jesus’ instruction. The passage, along with others in the New Testament, instructs and compels us to make righteous judgments.

Second, we should evaluate all the objective evidence on both sides. I have found that it is easy to get all fired up after hearing one side of an argument and discovering, later, that the other side of the story is also compelling. I recall a parent once, who said, when considering a dispute between his child and a teacher, “Well, I have to believe my kid.” That parent just simply refused to hear any other testimony because to do so, in her mind, was tantamount to betraying her child. That is insane.  A proverb tells us, “it is a fool who decides a matter before he hears it.”

Sometimes after hearing both sides, we are still confused. While arbitrating a difficult issue recently, I was asked why I chose to believe one person over another. This is where the reputation, character, and credibility of both parties must be considered. On the one hand, I had an employee whose reputation for honesty was impeccable. The other often lacked credibility.

In the end, reasonable evidence is usually sufficient evidence. We are not God and we cannot know everything but He does require us to exercise discernment with wisdom and then trust in His providence.

And finally, we should understand that there are and must be legitimate consequences for wrong actions. That is not my idea; it is God's decree. When I became a father, I began to understand what my dad meant when he used to preface my spankings with the statement, “Son, this is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you.” We may not feel good about necessary discipline but, real love does what is right and not just what feels good. Any attempt on our part to protect people from those consequences is to interfere with God’s process to bring people to repentance and obedience.

"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." John 7:24

first posted in May 2008


Daisy said...

I have jury duty in July. I'm wondering if wearing a jumper, a bun, and no make-up will get me sent home faster so my husband doesn't have to watch the kiddos all week.

I'd enjoy jury duty if they ever let me stick around. They find out my husband is a public school teacher and they ALWAYS keep him. But they find out I am a christian stay-at-home homeschooling Mom with a theology degree and it's, "Thank you very much, you are excused". Hmm. Oddly, enough my husband is more conservative than I am. ;-)

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Very good article.

So how did it finally end?

Ralph M. Petersen-Always Right; Sometimes Wrong! said...

Glenn, we finally convicted her. It took a lot of convincing. After we finished, the attorneys told us that the judge had decided to call a mistrial and dismiss us. We came through just 10 minutes under the wire.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...