Last winter, in the flurry of Christmas parties and potlucks, I was called in for jury duty. Interestingly enough, the interruption to my schedule felt like a respite from all the usual December end-of-year activities.
In my prior experiences with jury duty, I've never been called in beyond the waiting room, so I was surprised and anxious when I got called into a courtroom with a number of other potential jurors. In fact, I was in the first group sitting in the jury box, and it was certainly an honor to hear from the judge about our legal system and the role we would play as jurors.
If you've ever been on jury duty, you probably know that there's a vetting process that each juror has to go through under the watchful eyes of the prosecutor and defense attorney (as well as all the other complementary participants in a courtroom). Potential jurors are asked to answer a litany of questions, some of which are similar to the following:
What's your occupation?
Are you related to or know anyone involved in law enforcement?
Have you ever been the victim of a crime?
Do you know anyone who has been accused of a crime? What's been your experience with people in law enforcement?
First off, it was very cool to hear about the disparate backgrounds and occupations of my fellow potential jurors. New York City is definitely a melting pot. Despite the ethnic differences of our jury group, it was customary to hear others answer "no" to a majority of the questions related to knowing people who have been in law enforcement or been accused of crimes, etc. Usually, the answers were "yes" to one or the other -- do you know more law enforcers or more criminals? When it came time for me to answer questions about my job and various relationships I have with people, I shared that I was a pastor who had a broad range of relationships with people from different walks of life. Unlike most of the other potential jurors, I was one of the few people who said "yes" to almost everything. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney narrowed their questions to me specifically after the general questions were asked.
The two sides asked me (not in exact terms):
Can you tell us about your interaction with police officers?
Can you tell us about people that you know in law enforcement?
Can you tell us about the trials of accused people that you knew?
I didn't realize how odd it was to have such varied relationships, but in the course of the questioning, everyone who was listening discovered:
As a pastor of a church community, I know cops, defense attorneys, prosecutors from the DA Office, and other legal and security professionals.
As a pastor of a church community, I also know people who have been victims of racial profiling, accused of armed robbery, and accused of selling drugs, etc.
Of the groups mentioned above, they're all folks I've met while pastoring at New Life Fellowship in Queens, New York. People prosecuting and representing the state, people defending and the people being defended -- they're all friends and families who attend our church.
At some level, this might seem like an awkward dynamic. At another level, it's also quite beautiful. Messy, but beautiful. I count it a privilege to being a pastor in this community, and although some tend to think that religious people see the world through a black-and-white, right-and-wrong lens, being part of such a diverse community has shown me that there are more shades of gray when it comes to the problems we all face. And at the end of the day, these problems remind us that we are linked not by our perfection or our rightness, but by our common weakness -- a weakness that calls for a better way, a better truth, and a better life.
In other words, we all come together -- prosecutor and prosecuted -- because we're all longing for the way, the truth, and the life.