The juror's seat.

Friday, October 5, 2018

For six days, I found myself in the most unexpected place: a juror's seat.

I'd known about my summons to jury duty for a few weeks. But when I reported to the Wake County Justice Center that day, I thought my chances of actually sitting in a trial were slim. Hundreds of us had reported for duty, waiting to be called and either sent to a court room or dismissed. A couple hours in, my name was called and I was led to a courtroom on the 7th floor. There, I and other potential jurors were asked hours-worth of questions. What did we do for a living? What did our spouses do? Did we have children? Would we believe or not believe a child's testimony simply because it was a child testifying? Tragically, the case involved a child victim and a litany of sexual offenses committed against her. I was convinced I'd be dismissed for having young children, for being a pastor's wife, or for working with sexual abuse victims as a nurse. To my bewilderment, I watched juror after juror be dismissed while I stayed seated. I was staying on this jury.

For the next six days, I listened to the testimony of a little girl who was violated again and again and felt powerless to tell. She'd been threatened by her abuser (who lived in her home) and believed that he would destroy her family if she spoke up. This young girl was robbed of her childhood and traumatized to the point of needing years of therapy. We also heard the testimonies of her therapist, her social worker, the pediatrician who examined her, and the detective working on the case. It felt exhaustive, emotionally draining, and agonizingly slow... nothing like the courtroom dramas you see on TV that cross-examine a witness for 30 minutes, get to the bottom line, and deliver a verdict.

After all witnesses were presented, the jury was sent to deliberate. It was immediately apparent that we agreed: if we believed the victim, then the defendant was guilty on all counts. There was no physical evidence - and often, there is not - so we based our decision fully on what we believed. This is obviously such a hot topic right now, especially in the case of Brett Kavanaugh and the FBI investigation. Do I believe that all victims who come forward must be believed? No. That isn't just. Both sides must be weighed and examined equitably. In this case, though, we had every reason to believe the victim. Not because she was a child, but because if this had all been manipulated or concocted, she should have been nominated for an Academy Award for being able to dupe an entire team of therapists and professionals into believing the trauma she had endured. And without going into details of the case, it was clear to all of us she had no motive for that.

After a few hours, the jury returned to the courtroom to deliver our verdicts. I watched the unmoving expression on the defendant's face as each of the five "guilty" verdicts were read. My heart pounded visibly through my shirt. It wasn't that I second-guessed our decision. It was that our decision had sealed a man's fate: in this case, up to 40 years in prison. The weight of that made my knees buckle.

I will undoubtedly process this experience for the rest of my life. Shawn asked me if witnessing these testimonies was more traumatic than the stories I hear in the hospital, and I'd have to say yes. Because instead of just providing a listening ear, I was expected to discern and act.

As soon as I knew I'd be kept on the jury for the duration of the trial, I can't begin to tell you just how many people - specifically Christians - told me, "Why didn't you write a letter to get out of jury duty in the first place? You care for small kids and work as a nurse. They would've let you go." While I understand that they were just trying to help, I was bothered by this response. To give a bit of background, the case was truly awful timing for us: a record-breaking hurricane was on its way, Shawn was flying to Germany for the week, and I was piecing together childcare through friends and other pastors' wives all week long. Ultimately, though, I firmly believe Christians should be on the forefront of the cause of justice. I believe - now more than ever - it should be Christians who lean in to hear a victim's testimony, praying that Christ would redeem her life from this point forward. It should be Christians asking themselves what can be done to prevent this kind of abuse from happening to others. It should be Christians who fight passionately on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves. It should be Christians in the deliberation room, praying for wisdom as weighty, life-altering decisions are made. And for those of us who aren't lawyers or law enforcement or judges, what better opportunity than to serve on a jury?

Finally, sitting in a courtroom for a week helped me to understand the concept of substitutionary atonement more clearly than I ever had. As believers, we acknowledge that Jesus stepped in and took our place and took on the full punishment for our sins. He died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. I pictured myself in the seat of the defendant, hearing "guilty" read over me over and over again, not only for my known sins but those that had never been exposed. Then, in a radical turn of events that no one could have seen coming, Jesus stepped into my place and bore the full consequence for my sin. And my punishment should have been far worse than 40 years in prison: it was a lifetime separated from God. Instead, I was given full rights as God's child and heir while Jesus hung on a cross in my place. If you're a believer, that's your story, too. If you're not, I invite you to consider that stunning picture and contemplate the true and eternal life Jesus died for you to have.

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