Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jury Duty

Last week I had jury duty.  It is something that most of us dread.  It is an inconvenient and boring, but it is essential.  A trial by jury is an essential protection against unjust prosecution.  Yes, unjust prosecution and conviction still does happen, but just imagine how much worse it would be if only judges determined guilt or innocence.  One of the trials I was up for selection for was a 10-week trial involving various forms of harassment at a workplace. Being that it was such a long trial, as each prospective juror was called up, the judge asked if that prospective juror could serve the 10 weeks without undue financial hardship or if it means canceling a prepaid vacation.  One such lady took a different approach.  One lady went up and boldly (proudly) said that she was an ordained minister and as part of her beliefs she could not sit in judgement of another person.  This woman was either ignorant of the Bible or of what jury duty even means or she was just plain dishonest.  Furthermore, considering this case was against a government organization, there was no actual person to sit in judgement of if that were even the case with jury duty.  Personally, I lead towards dishonest, but I can not say for sure.  Either way, it was a terrible witness and rather troubling.  Today I want to talk about jury duty and what we can glean from Scripture.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to [execute] wrath on him who practices evil.  Romans 13:1-4 NKJV
The Scriptural premise is that unless a law of our government conflicts the law of God, we are to obey that law.  So the question now becomes whether or not serving on a jury is a violation of God's law.  The argument usually given is this:
Judge not, that you be not judged. Matthew 7:1 NKJV
Given its context, this passage has absolutely nothing to do with jury duty.  You are not judging a sin or someone's soul, but you are evaluating evidence as to whether a person broke a law.  It is a rather convenient (and daresay ignorant) application of this verse to get yourself out of jury duty.  You are not judging a person, but you are determining if the evidence proves that this person broke some certain law. 

While there is no solid reason to excuse yourself from jury duty on Christian grounds (though I do accept that for many they have a conviction regarding the death penalty and so excusing oneself on Christian grounds for that purpose I do believe is acceptable if that is your conviction), I want to give several reasons why we should serve on a jury. 

First of all, if you are a citizen of the United States of America, it is your responsibility.  I know this is not our home and I know that our citizenship is in Heaven, but that does not mean we are also not citizens of this nation.  If you enjoy the roads, expect the police to investigate a crime against you, if you have ever petitioned congress, if you have ever voted, if you expect the fire company to put out a fire, and if you expect that should you ever be accused of a crime that you receive due process and a fair trial, then you are a citizen.  We are (at least in theory) a government of the people, by the people, for the people.  This means that you are actually part of the government.  This means that the responsibilities of government also fall upon your shoulders.  One of those responsibilities is to be God's minister to execute wrath on those who practice evil.  If you enjoy the privileges of citizenship, you must also be subject to the responsibilities of citizenship. 

The other reason we should serve is that we are the most qualified.  We will one day judge the world, we are certainly capable to evaluate evidence.  We have the power of the Holy Spirit and a call by God to be fair in our treatment of others.  We are called to love the defendant no matter how horrible the crime and in that love we are compelled to evaluate the evidence fairly and without prejudice.  To say that Christians should not serve on a jury is to say that no jury should ever contain a practicing Christian.  If God has ordained government to punish evil, did God do so while disallowing His own people to be a part of that system?  That makes no sense at all.  If God has delegated government with a certain level of authority, then why would He not call His own people to be a part of that government?  To say that a jury should never contain a Christian is an idea not supported at all in Scripture. 

This also brings up another problem.  If Christians are not called to evaluate the evidence of someone broke some particular law, then it stands to reason that they should never be called to write laws, execute laws, or interpret laws.  Otherwise, you would have Christians writing laws but refusing to determine if someone broke the law that they wrote.  You would have Christians executing laws, in other words, putting them into effect but taking no part in their application in terms of determining if people are upholding or violating those laws.  And you would have Christians interpreting laws but again not to the point of ever determining if someone violated the law they interpreted.  That said, saying that Christians can not serve on juries means that Christians can not serve in government.  Furthermore, being that police have the duty to determine if there is enough evidence to arrest someone for a crime, a Christian would never be allowed to be a police officer.  So if your mindset is such that Christians should not serve on juries, you are in effect saying that they can not be legislators, executives (presidents, mayors, governors, etc), police officers, judges, and especially not prosecutors. 

Of course there are some sects of Christianity that believe that Christians should not partake in government.  There is no basis for that in Scripture unless you take passages way out of context and twist their meanings. From before the establishment of the nation of Israel, God has appointed His people to positions of authority.  If you think that only applies to Israel, then how do you explain Joseph in Egypt or Daniel if Babylon?  If you think that it only applies when God is leading the nation, then how do you explain God appointing kings despite the fact that the people reject God as ruler?  If you think that it only applies to the Old Testament, then explain Romans where God says that He has established government?  I am not saying that government takes the authority of God over our lives, but we are subject to their authority in our daily lives unless that authority is opposed to the authority of God.  Personally, I take great comfort when I know that government is influenced by those whose wisdom come from God. 

In the end, Christians who are called to serve as a juror should do so as unto the Lord.  They should serve with enthusiasm, not grumbling or complaining, but by giving thanks to God for having this opportunity to bring the witness of Jesus Christ into the jury box. 
 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, [and] giving of thanks be made for all men,  for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this [is] good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:1-4 NKJV

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