Some years ago, I served on a jury. On trial was Carlos, who was being charged with home invasion and assault.
The prosecuting attorney did a great job, and after three days of evidence, I figured Carlos would be a shoo-in for ‘guilty’. Most of the other jurors agreed, but there was one juror who couldn’t do it. When we tallied the votes for ‘guilty’, he just couldn’t raise his hand.
He was a young guy named Frank, and he was having a really hard time with (most likely) sending someone to jail.
As you know, the jury has to be unanimous. So we kept discussing. And discussing. Minutes stretched to hours, and there were times when the whole room chaotically branched into side conversations–mostly around how to finish our job.
Since I wanted to go home, I picked up a whiteboard marker. The judge had kindly provided us with a written definition of the charges. (A stroke of genius, if you ask me.) So, I began writing the components out on the white board. Then a guy on the opposite side of the table, catching my strategy, asked Frank to go through the list with us.
- Did the defendant break into a dwelling? Absolutely. Carlos had donkey kicked an apartment door in.
- Did he enter? Oh yeah. Carlos had rummaged through drawers.
- Was anyone present? Yup. The people who lived there testified that they had been in bed asleep.
- Did the defendant do anything forceful, violent, or offensive? If swinging a baseball bat as he came down the hallway toward the residents’ bedroom counts, then yes. Carlos was guilty of that, too.
- Did he cause the residents to feel afraid? Yes. On the 911 tape they played, these people sounded plenty afraid.
Even though Frank still struggled with labeling Carlos as ‘guilty’, the law was too clear. Frank had to agree with a guilty verdict–which brought a collective sigh of relief to our jury. We’d be going home for dinner after all.
After the whole thing was over, the judge came into our jury room and told us that a lot hinged on our verdict, and he thought we had made a wise decision. Because of all of Carlos’s previous crimes and convictions, he would be would be given a lifetime sentence to prison. We hadn’t been burdened with this information, because it might have interfered with our deliberation.
Boy, was I glad. Partly, because it’s a grave thing to know you’re affecting the rest of a man’s life. But also because, if Frank had known this, we may have deliberated for days!
Frank drove me crazy in that jury room. He wanted to think of himself as a nice guy who was too compassionate to judge anybody else, but I thought he was full of himself. Carlos was obviously guilty, and his trial had nothing to do with whether Frank was nice or not. I resented the fact that Frank made the jury deliberation all about him. The law was clear. The conviction should have been also.
But, clearly I’m a hypocrite, because in the jury room I may have picked up a whiteboard marker, but in real life, I’m a lot like Frank. People all around me are blatantly violating God’s laws–which are just as clearly outlined in the Bible–but I like to think of myself as a nice girl who is too compassionate to judge anybody. Like Frank, I’m full of myself, because God’s law has nothing to do with whether I’m nice or not. God wants people to know his law and be convicted. It’s his way of compassionately pointing out their need for a Savior.
When I’m so full of myself that I make it all about whether I’m kind compassionate, I keep others from knowing God’s compassion. Rather than joining a generation of Franks, I need to pick up the whiteboard marker and be clear, not vague, about what God says is right and wrong. That’s true compassion.