Our Role in Justice
Have you ever faced a weighty choice with no clear direction from the Lord? How do you resolve possible ethical dilemmas when your feelings are strong one way or the other? And what about justice issues? What is your role in seeing justice done on earth? Joyce Swingle writes about facing just such situation in the Manhattan jury system.
To preserve the integrity and confidentiality of the court system, we are prohibited from discussing specifics of the case described below but its subject is a topic IFA has covered many times.
The criminal court judge began by introducing himself, the attorneys and the defendants. Such introductions were intended, I believe, to enable potential jurors, including me, to take stock of any hidden or not-so-hidden biases we might harbor toward certain participants in the coming trial.
The judge also admonished us to refrain from internet searches about the case or any person related to it and to hold confidential specifics of the case we might learn that day or throughout the trial.
To cull the jury pool, the judge posed general questions to the 200 or so people sitting before him. Some twenty left when the judge offered an out to those who were not confident in their English skills. Subsequent questioning — Could we fairly evaluate the testimony of police officers? Were we comfortable sitting in judgment on other persons in a criminal case? Could we render a verdict based solely upon the evidence presented? — pruned our number further.
About 150 had left. I remained with about 50 others.
Finally the judge read the criminal charges. The woman sitting next to me muttered, “And I’m out” as she rose. As those who had recused themselves made their way to the court clerk to record their decision, I sat in prayer.
“What, Oh Lord, would You have me to do?” I wondered. “What is the righteous action?”
My dilemma was complicated. I believe the Holy Spirit in me could render an impartial verdict. I have seen and heard the Lord speak to me in ways that overruled even my own desires and biases. I knew He could overcome any issues I personally encountered if I prayed for Him to remove all hindrances to His Voice.
In truth, though, I was repelled by the charges. In fact, they were in an area of injustice about which I had interceded for more than 20 years. The Lord often leads me to pray against this crime in specific cities; often the call is urgent as if the intercession were interrupting the act in progress. I feel strongly this crime is among the most heinous of any — potentially destroying almost completely the ones caught up in it.
Additionally, I have ministered in my Christian counseling practice and in church ministry to people who have been touched in some way by this crime. A couple of friends have made films centering on this subject. Would that count against me as a juror? If I were the defendant or a defense attorney, would I want me on the jury?
A thorough defense attorney may ferret out most of these experiences and bounce me, anyway. But if so, would I have wasted the court’s time by not recusing myself at the offered opportunity? Or should the defense attorney not unearth these, would I need to disclose them and have wasted the court’s time anyway? Or worse, what if I served on the jury but my service compromised the trial or gave grounds for an appeal that might not otherwise have had such grounds?
And yet, I wanted justice served. Was my participation important for that reason?
Ethics or Excuses?
I had reasons to duck jury duty.
With ten charges and two defendants, the trial was likely to go long and jury deliberations even longer. Arriving at a verdict was difficult enough in the one-charge, one-defendant criminal trial upon which I had once served. I could anticipate tough going in this case.
Of the many ministers in my little church, I was unexpectedly the only one in town that week. A trial of this magnitude would be, as the judge warned us, a 9-to-5 time commitment. Shouldn’t I place my prior commitment to the church first? I had prayed the duties associated with my juror summons could be wrapped up quickly, not impacting my availability to the church. Additionally, I was involved with many complicated family logistics. Were these legitimate issues of concern, or were they excuses to avoid the hard and tedious work of trial service?
I watched as the line of those waiting to recuse themselves because of the nature of the charges dwindled. The moment of decision was upon me.
“What should I do, Lord?” I pleaded. “What is Your Will?”
I didn’t hear a voice or a direction, but I thought again about my prayer to discharge my jury duty quickly. Was the Lord pointing out I had asked Him for a reprieve? Would failing to recuse myself be akin to the parable of the drowning man who prayed for God’s help but ignored the two boats and a helicopter sent to rescue him? Additionally, I suddenly remembered someone close to me had had a brush with a similar crime some years ago.
I slowly rose and walked up to the court clerk to record my recusal.
Returning to the main juror waiting room, I prepared to be called for another case but was not selected for another trial that day. As a result, in a change of which I was unaware, my jury service was considered complete. In the past, I had served either on a trial or — if not selected as a juror — for a full two weeks.
I can’t say I had overwhelming peace about the matter. I believe I did the right thing: Absent a clear word from the Lord, I had to assume He was leading me. But my ambivalence about serving that week (though I usually enjoy jury service) and my strong reaction to the criminal charges made me wary. Was I hearing from the Lord clearly, or was I led in some ways by less-than-pure motives? Was my decision ethical or simply convenient? Most important: Would these defendants get a fair trial and would the victims receive justice?
Blessedly, the greatest tool of justice I have is prayer to the One who handles all with wisdom and compassion. And so I pray. For the Lord’s outcome in this case. For those victimized and those perpetrating. For the attorneys, the judge, the jurors to do justly.
I have no doubt the Lord can balance. My husband Rich Swingle, also a contributing writer for IFA, has been listening to podcasts of the investigation and trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell (www.SerialKillerPod.com). Rich told me the defense attorneys deliberately excluded jurors who claimed pro-life positions, but Gosnell was convicted nonetheless.
An experience I had had with the Lord years ago when I was working at a magazine company brings perspective. I lived in Manhattan, but was going up to White Plains for a Friday evening Bible study. On the crowded commuter train, I suddenly espied a senior executive at my company. Based on his regular interrogations of me, I knew he was intrigued — in a cynical New York way — by the Lord. I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to approach him, but because he intimidated me, I balked.
Once I was safely off the train, I was overcome with remorse. I repented and asked the Lord to send another to witness to this man. The very next day, the woman who led me to the Lord and with whom I was studying Scripture that evening was on one of the infrequent Saturday trains into New York City when she ran across this very man. He too was commuting in for weekend work. She followed the Lord’s prompting to engage with him. The witness was made. In a wondrous coda, years later, this man is now a minister who testifies to the saving power of Jesus Christ in his life. Despite my disobedience, the Lord’s best came forth for that senior executive because the Judge of all the world does rightly.
God is faithful always: In our uncertainty and indecision. When we hear clearly and when we do not. He cares for all involved in every situation — not the least when judgment needs to be rendered on earth.
Lord, thank You for Your faithfulness. Thank You we can count upon Your heavenly direction, justice and love. Thank You that You will ensure the best for the victims and the defendants in the case mentioned above. Thank You in advance for the righteous verdict. Protect the innocent, reveal the guilty, redress injustice and bring Your Kingdom to earth in this matter. For all who are struggling with ethical and moral issues, please bring Your clarity, Your direction, Your Word. Wipe away cobwebs of confusion and make clear the righteous decision. Your Word is a path unto our feet. Lead the beloved, we pray. In Jesus’ Way and in His Name.
Can you relate to such ethical dilemmas? Share your prayer or encouragement below.
Author Joyce Swingle is an intercessor and contributing writer for Intercessors for America. With her husband Drama Evangelist Rich, Joyce shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world through theatre and speaking. Joyce also has performed on screen. Prior to going into full-time ministry, Joyce worked for about 20 major magazines and now works in pastoral ministry and Christian counseling. She and Rich live in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty Images.
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