Can a Christian Be a Fair and Impartial Juror?

October 9, 2014

My husband and I have been hugely entertained and encouraged by the messages received in response to yesterday’s non-rhetorical question: What if a trial attorney were to ask you, “Pastor, would you be willing to put aside your Christian faith in order to be a fair and impartial juror?” My blog today could quote them all and fill this page, and I may still before the day is over. But the question itself deserves and requires some consideration simply for what it says about our culture.

Part 1: Would I be willing to put aside my Christian faith?

I first consciously committed my life to Christ forty-four years ago, though I was raised in the faith since early childhood. My faith has been tested through many challenging periods: rejection by fellow students for being the wrong brand of Christian; pressure from clergy feminists to radicalize me; marriage and the bearing of children (Martin Luther himself called the celibate priesthood a piece of cake compared to being married and supporting a family); the attempt of “clergy killers” to undermine my pastorate; theological education, both received and taught; rejection of my orthodox/biblical arguments within the judicial process of my tribe, the PC(USA); and survival of lung cancer, to name just a few. But to quote one of Barbra Streisand’s songs, “I’m still here.”

I have had many invitations to “put aside” my faith, and so far, I have not and I cannot imagine a situation in which I would ever want to, including jury service. Putting aside one’s faith compartmentalizes it (thank you, Debbie Berkley), but my faith is a way of life and as indispensible to me as the air I breathe (thank you, Jim Berkley).

From a theological point of view, is it even possible to “put aside” one’s faith as a temporary gesture? I really don’t think so, because I am not my own and was bought with a price; my faith really is not mine to put aside because God cannot be put aside. I belong to God. My life has been redeemed by the Savior. It would be extremely ungrateful of me to set aside the gracious investment God has made in my life.

If one wants to talk about putting aside one’s faith permanently, that is another discussion altogether, and one we need not get into here.

So, my answer to this part of the question is “No.” (Thank you, Steve Niccolls!)

Part 2: Does my Christian faith make me unfair and partial?

Getting out my dictionary, a few definitions are in order:

“Fair” is “in accordance with the rules or standards; just (based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair); free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism.” “Impartial” is “treating all people and groups equally; not partial or biased.” “Bias” is “a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others that usually results in treating some people unfairly.” Note that bias is not merely determining that a person or idea is better than others, but that it leads to treating some more harshly or leniently than others. I’ll be the first to claim that there are some really bad ideas out there, and the people who hold them may be ignorant, foolish, or malevolent. But simply holding dumb ideas is not a crime, and holding lofty thoughts does not prevent a person from doing illegal things. One overcomes bias by holding every person to the same standard of behavior, regardless of their background, race, or religious belief.

The same should go for jurors. The only time I have sat on a jury, one of the jurors declared in our deliberation that he “never believed a word a cop said, because they all lie.” It’s one thing to believe that cops lie; it’s quite another to dismiss the testimony of this police witness without running it through the same tests we do for all other testimony. That juror was showing bias and partiality. It took a full day to get him to recognize his prejudice and look at the testimony of all the witnesses consistently.

In the Christian faith, fairness is a tricky concept. We hear about it most often in our unguarded moments of claiming that God isn’t fair. This accusation is slung usually at the moment we didn’t get our own way because God somehow wasn’t treating us the same as others. But I think we can say God is fair and he is good. In fact, the Scriptures claim that God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11). God has set up the rules and applies them consistently. By all rights, God is justified in holding us all accountable for our failure to live up to those rules. The gospel proclaims that to fulfill that justice Jesus Christ took upon himself the punishment of our sin. If you want fairness from God, then you have to let go of grace, which is unmerited favor!

By “unfair” does an attorney think a Christian juror might be too soft on crime or too harsh in judgment? Or worse, that a juror might not seriously deliberate because everybody deserves forgiveness? An attorney who thinks that about Christians has already shown bias. There is nothing unsavory about a Christian’s approach to the juror’s job, which has everything to do with hearing the evidence and evaluating the arguments of the prosecution to determine whether the accused has actually committed the crime.

So, to answer the question, can I be fair and impartial? Yes, I can!

Part 3: By your question, are you saying that my Christian faith is at odds with the judicial process and the rule of law?

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

Seems to me this says that a Christian is an asset to a jury, because heavenly wisdom helps a juror hold to the belief that the accused is innocent unless proven guilty. It enables a clear eye to view the evidence, a patient ear to hear the testimony, an impartial heart that judges all people by the same standard of law, and submission to the civil authorities (Romans 13:1). And you want me to set aside my faith? I really don’t think you want that.

But, having said all that, here’s the answer that my friend Bruce Byrne would give:

“I’m not sure I could set aside my Christian faith, but if you think it would help me be a fair and impartial juror to assume that the universe (including time and space) came into existence of its own accord, that the universe just happens (against all odds) to be fine tuned for life, that life was and is merely an improbable accident, that intelligence arose from that which was non-intelligent, that consciousness arose from a complex arrangement of unconscious matter, that morality is a relic of a non-moral evolutionary process (thus making moral right and wrong not merely relative, but illusionary), that there is, therefore, no moral lawgiver behind morality, no ultimate judge, no truth beyond brute facts, no grounding for laws beyond social convention and, therefore, no basis for concluding that things like murder, theft and lying under oath are actually wrong, then sure, I’ll give it a try.”

 

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