Want Social Justice? Stop Avoiding Jury Duty.

I came back this past week from a fun but exhausting trip to Louisville where I preached four sermons. We got back late on a Monday night, which meant I was already a full day behind, and all of the weekly responsibilities hadn’t hit the pause button simply because I was out of town. Unless the Lord decided to make the sun stand still, Sunday wasn’t going to wait an extra day to let me catch my breath.

And of course, of all weeks, this was the one I was summoned for jury duty.

Do I really want justice?

I didn’t want to do it. Of all weeks, this was the last one where I needed to get paid a meager $11.80 to spent my entire afternoon sitting, waiting, staring at the wall, and being shuffled in an out of a courtroom.

A friend joked that it was easy to get out of jury duty in our county. Probably true. I could have come up with a host of excuses that probably would have freed me from my civic obligation.

But if not me, then who? If I, a local pastor who–let’s be honest–has a pretty open schedule and makes his own hours, am not willing to serve as a juror, who do I expect to do it?

It is very easy to advocate for justice, to speak up for victims, to stand against abuse, to desire to hold government officials and police officers accountable to the law…on social media. But if I’m not willing to inconvenience myself for one solitary afternoon out of the year–even if that afternoon comes at the most inopportune time!–in order to do my part to see justice prevail, can I really call myself dedicated to justice with any sense of honesty?

Consider these three reasons why jury duty is fundamental to enacting justice in our society.

Humanizing the Abstract.

All debate over proper governance is abstract until we actually enter the courtroom. I was surprised by the way my entire person was stretched to apply the law to specific circumstances with specific people. Participating as a juror forces us to think through the way the laws are written and interpreted. I was struck by the great shortcomings of the law. No amount of legal code can anticipate all of the complexities of our society. Without righteous judges, lawyers, and juries, the law can be twisted and misapplied very easily.

The afternoon re-humanized the legal process for me. All of the sudden things we think about in the abstract, argue passionately about online, or even preach about from the pulpit now have faces and names. They are real people with real families, real hopes, real sorrows, and eternal souls. In a society increasingly distanced from one another through technology, I wonder whether our perspectives would begin to change if we were forced to do a solid week of jury duty each year. How would we grow in compassion? How would we come to see our own near-sightedness and naïvety? How might our perspectives on policies and proper governance shift?

Restraining the Government.

We the people hold law enforcement officers, lawyers, and judges accountable to the law. To enact justice, it takes faithful jurors who are dissatisfied with mere allegations and force prosecutors to present compelling evidence. Police officers should not be able to waltz into court and think that on the basis of a badge they can make assertions about a defendant and expect a conviction. Juries protect against a police state.

If you value a free society, it is your basic duty to participate in that free society as a conscientious juror. It is not enough to feel pretty sure a defendant is guilty. We sit in the courtroom to make sure the prosecution proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise, we return the verdict not guilty. Not because we think the defendant didn’t commit the alleged crime, but because we hold a high standard for conviction. We put a heavy burden on law enforcement to prove that the law was broken–and broken by the alleged perpetrator.

Faithful juries actually build trust in the government. When jurors are hard-nosed and insistent on clear evidence, this strengthens good faith in the judicial system and the police, not the opposite. We honor the government as we seek to restrain it. What is more, juries that consistently return just verdicts eliminate the need for vigilante justice.

Loving Our Neighbor.

In the United States, the right to a trial by a jury of peers is an application of the Golden Rule. It beckons us as peers to treat the defendants and victims in the courtroom the way we hope they would treat us were we in their position. As Christians, we show love to our neighbor by doing our best to ensure justice is served. We love victims by holding perpetrators accountable to the law. We love the accused by ensuring they are convicted and punished not on the basis of hearsay, intimidation, or public sentiment but on on the basis of concrete evidence.

Sadly, our nation has a marred history of biased juries especially with regards to racial bias. Not long ago, judges and juries in our region miscarried justice by handing down specious convictions against blacks who had no power to serve as jurors or to elect their judges. What if Christians had taken seriously their duty to love their fellow man–especially those of a different color who needed an advocate for justice in the jury box?

The next time your jury summons arrives in the mail, thank the Lord for a chance to serve your neighbors. Ask the Lord for guidance, compassion, and a clear mind. The world needs men and women filled with the Spirit of God and given the compassionate heart of Christ who strive to see the righteousness of God reign in our communities!

(photo credit)

Published by Chad Ashby

Pastor at College Street Baptist Church Newberry, SC

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