Not too long ago, an African-American man in a small Texas community was accused of sexual assault (rape) of a Caucasian woman. While the community was not especially noted for racial division, there were racial tensions discernible in some of its people, and this case didn’t help matters. Many in the community showed no signs of prejudice, but others made theirs obvious.
When I received the jury summons, I had no idea what to expect (as one never does). I suppose I didn’t expect to be selected as a juror, but I have always valued the right to trial by jury, and consequently treated the whole process with respect. Maybe it was the suit. Maybe the prosecutor and the defense attorney were just desperate. Whatever the reason, I am thankful God gave me the opportunity to be on this particular jury.
As the trial began, we were briefed on the basics of the case – pertinent laws, responsibilities of the prosecuting and defense attorneys, and our responsibilities as jurors. As the witnesses began to testify, and the evidence was presented, I remember being deeply saddened at the pain encountered by both accuser and accused. They previously had a relationship that somehow devolved to this moment – with one accusing the other of a heinous and hateful crime. Even if the charges were false, the damage done by both in the relationship was obvious. I remember thinking how fragile relationships are, how we have to constantly work to maintain them, and how selfishness is the quickest way to destroy them.
The case continued for the better part of two days – it certainly wasn’t a complicated blockbuster of a trial. But it was painstakingly engaged by all involved, in order to ensure justice. Justice. In a case that turned out to be in large part “he said, she said,” how we could we determine what was true and just? The jury’s task was not a simple one. When jury deliberation began, I paid attention to the makeup of the jury for the first time. Before I knew the potential racial overtones of the case, we were simply a group of people selected to discern what really happened in a sexual assault case. But as details became clearer, I began to wonder if the jury would have difficulty considering the case objectively. The jury was multiracial in its composition, comprised of people representing four (as I recall) racial heritages. As the jury selected me to be its foreman (proving to be perhaps its only lapse in judgment), I embraced the responsibility with sobriety. Our collective decision would be determinative in the lives of these two people and their families.
As we deliberated, I discovered something most refreshing. This jury, made up of regular folks from diverse backgrounds, was seeking the truth. They understood the responsibility they had, and they worked – really worked to arrive at the truth (as best as it could be determined). No one other than God would ever really know what happened between those two people, but we had to make a decision based upon the evidence. After careful and considerate deliberation, we arrived at a not guilty verdict. We were uncertain of what had really happened, but we were certain that there was not enough evidence to condemn this man. We presented the verdict to the court, had a concluding meeting with the attorneys from both sides, and then it was all over. We all went about our lives, knowing we had done the best we could. Whatever happened to the accuser and accused, I have no idea. I hope and pray they are doing well and have been able to find hope and purpose in Christ.
I also hope that trial turned out to be as helpful to them as it was to me. Serving on that jury allowed me to see things I might not have otherwise seen. I witnessed firsthand that our judicial process is designed with many safeguards from injustice – for people of all races. Of course, the system is not perfect, and thus fails from time to time, but experiencing it in that way made me more thankful than ever for the system we have. I saw that while racism is still very real – and will be as long as there is human nature and differences among us – many people are capable of operating outside of such negative sentiments. It was a privilege to watch people of great diversity work for a common purpose. They recognized that truth and justice were our pursuit, and they did not, as far as I could tell, give even a single hint of any discriminatory attitudes one way or the other. The narrative I experienced during that trial was nothing like the narrative I often encounter in the media handling of similarly racially charged cases.
Thinking about that trial reminds me that while we have different racial heritages, backgrounds and walks of life, we have much more in common than the things that we foolishly sometimes allow to divide us. At the forefront of those commonalities is our universal need for the grace of God through Christ. We all share guilt before God. There is no lack of evidence of that guilt, and there is no evidence to the contrary. I am thankful that Jesus poured out His blood – the same kind of blood that runs through all our veins (except in its innocence) – so that we wouldn’t have to bear the consequences of our insurmountable guilt. Further, the unity that we share by belief in Christ and the resulting acquittal from our guilt and imputed righteousness transcends infinitely any disunity we might otherwise sense.
Perhaps the knowledge of our own guilt and the mighty price paid to cover it can give us a deeper sense of compassion for those engaged in the legal process. Some are accusers, broken and suffering from deep loss of their own. Others are accused, guilty or not, but suffering either way. Others serve to administer the process, and are faced with the heartbreak of the human condition all day every day. I thank God for His mercy in paying for and forgiving my own guilt, and I thank Him I live in a country where truth and justice aren’t completely yet forgotten. I pray that we don’t take these gifts for granted, and that we use them wisely.