Have you ever faced a weighty choice with no clear direction from the Lord? How do you resolve ethical dilemmas when your feelings are so strong in a certain direction? And what about justice? 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 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 keep confidential any specifics we might learn about the case that day or at any time throughout the trial.
To cull the jury pool, the judge posed general questions to the roughly 200 people seated before him. About 20 of them left when the judge offered an out to any who might not be 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 numbers still further.
In the end, about 150 had departed. I remained along with about 50 others.
Finally, the judge read the criminal charges. The woman sitting next to me muttered as she rose: “And I’m out.” As all those who had recused themselves made their way to the court clerk to record their decision, I remained seated in prayer.
“What, O Lord, would You have me to do?” I wondered. “What is the righteous action?”
My dilemma was complicated. I believed 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 that He could overcome any issues I encountered if I would only pray and ask 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 that this crime is among the most heinous of any — potentially destroying almost completely anyone 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 my friends have made films about 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 might 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 fail to unearth all these, would I then need to disclose them and have wasted the court’s time anyway? Or worse, what if I were to go on to serve on the jury but my service compromised the trial or gave grounds for an appeal that might not otherwise have had any such grounds?
And yet, I wanted justice to be 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 in 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 that 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 merely excuses to try and 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 any voice or word of direction, but I thought again about my prayer to discharge my jury duty quickly. Was the Lord pointing out that I had asked Him for a reprieve? Would a failure to recuse myself be akin to the parable of the drowning man who prayed for God’s help but ignored the two boats and helicopter sent to rescue him? Additionally, I suddenly remembered that someone close to me had had a brush with a similar crime some years ago.
I rose and approached the court clerk to record my recusal.
Returning to the main juror waiting room, I prepared to be called for another case, but I was not selected for any other trial that day. As a result, in a change about which I was unaware, my jury service was considered complete. In the past, I had either served on a trial or, if not selected as a juror, for a full two weeks.
I can’t say I came out with any overwhelming sense of peace about the matter. I do believe I did the right thing: Absent any clear word from the Lord, I had to assume that 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. I pray for the Lord’s outcome in this case, for those victimized and those perpetrating, for the attorneys, for the judge, for the jurors to do justly.
I have no doubt that the Lord can balance all of this. My husband, Rich, 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 that the defense attorneys deliberately excluded jurors who claimed to hold pro-life positions, but Gosnell was convicted nonetheless.
An experience I’d had with the Lord years ago, when I was working at a magazine company, brings perspective. I lived in Manhattan but was traveling up to White Plains for a Friday evening Bible study. On the crowded commuter train, I suddenly spotted a senior executive from the company I worked at. Based on his regular interrogations of me, I knew he was intrigued — in a cynical, New York way — about 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’d been studying Scripture the evening before, 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, now, years later, this man is 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 who are involved in every situation — not least when judgment needs to be rendered on earth.
Lord, thank You for Your faithfulness. Thank You that 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, expose the guilty, redress the injustices, and bring Your kingdom to earth in this matter. To all who are struggling with ethical and moral issues, please bring Your clarity, Your direction, Your Word. Brush away the cobwebs of confusion, and make clear the righteous decision. Thy Word is a lamp unto our feet. Lead the beloved, we pray. In Jesus’ way, and in His name.
Can you relate to these ethical dilemmas? Share your prayer or encouragement below.
New York City–based Joyce Swingle is an intercessor and a contributing writer for IFA. With her husband, Rich, also a contributing writer for IFA, Joyce shares the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world through theater, speaking, writing, and film. Prior to going into full-time ministry, Joyce worked for about 20 major magazines and now works in pastoral ministry and Christian counseling. Read more about Joyce’s work at www.Richdrama.com. Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.