The Bible’s View
Should a Christian Serve on a Jury?
MANY persons look to the court or judicial system for justice. In lands where what is called “civil law” prevails, legal cases (both criminal and civil) are usually heard and decided on by a single professional judge, or by a panel of justices. But a distinctive feature of “common law” countries is the use of juries composed of average citizens. A jury of 12 or so persons hears the evidence and determines guilt or innocence. Then, depending on the type of case, the judge may sentence the guilty parties.
Naturally, if you live where the possibility exists of being called for jury duty, you might well ask, Should a Christian serve on a jury? But even if you live where such juries are not used, you can profitably consider the question, for some of the relevant Bible principles can apply to you if you are asked to “judge” in a dispute on your job or to “mediate” some dispute in your neighborhood.
What Christian Obligations?
Serving as a juror is often described as a valid civic duty. It has been reasoned that all citizens benefit from courts and so should be willing to be jurors, even as all benefit from other governmental services and so should pay taxes for these.
This view is of interest to Christians because of what the apostle Paul wrote about governmental “superior authorities.” He counseled: “You must all obey the governing authorities. . . . The state is there to serve God for your benefit. . . . Pay every government official what he has a right to ask—whether it be direct tax or indirect, fear or honour.”—Rom. 13:1-7, The Jerusalem Bible.
Understandably, Paul did not here mention serving on a jury, for under Roman rule there were no citizens’ juries as now exist under Anglo-American law. Still, some persons have reasoned that the local or national government is “taxing” one’s time in requiring any qualified citizen to serve briefly as a juror. And it is noteworthy that in most places being a juror does not involve sharing in political matters, which a Christian would not do because of his neutral position. (John 15:19; Isa. 2:1-4; Acts 5:29) Hence, some Christians have concluded that they ought to accept jury duty.
Other Christians, though, have decided otherwise. For example, in 1966 the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia upheld a Christian who refused jury duty. The court opinion reported that he
“stated that it violated his personal freedom of conscience to serve as a juror and that he felt he had authority under his religious beliefs to serve within his congregation with power to judge or decide but not to so serve outside his congregation and cited quotations from the scriptures to support his belief.” (West Virginia vs Everly)
What scriptures do you think he had in mind? Some have referred to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1, 2: “Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged.” However, the context shows that Jesus was speaking about a personal or private type of judging, such as criticizing the personal habits and preferences of others. (Rom. 14:1-4, 10) However, a minister might well refer to Luke 12:13, 14 and 1 Corinthians 5:12–6:8.
The first passage tells of a Jewish man who asked Jesus to judge in a legal dispute over inheritance. Christ refused, saying “Who appointed me judge or apportioner over you persons?” The congregation of Israel had God’s laws on inheritance and designated older men to resolve disputes of that sort. Moreover, Jesus was not sent to earth to arbitrate in such a matter, but was commissioned to use his time preaching the Kingdom good news.
The second passage pertains to a case of wrongdoing in the Corinthian congregation. Paul directed the brothers to expel the wrongdoer. Then the apostle added: “For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those inside [the congregation], while God judges those outside?” He went on to state that Christians should strive to avoid even taking their grievances or disputes to worldly courts for handling.
This Biblical counsel certainly should alert Christians to be slow about getting involved in others’ personal differences, especially those outside the congregation. And you can appreciate why the Christian in West Virginia might conclude that his efforts to ‘judge or decide’ matters should be confined to the congregation, rather than be a juror in a secular court of law.
Some Christians have also reflected on the types of cases that jurors might face. For instance, in some places capital punishment is a possible or mandatory sentence for a person found guilty of certain crimes. While the Bible upholds a government’s right to execute a murderer, the individual asked to serve as a juror might question whether he could decide solely on the information presented at a trial. (Gen. 9:5, 6) Or a case could involve abortion, divorce, child custody, or another issue on which the Christian follows God’s thinking even when the law of the land differs. So could he agree, such as when being examined for jury selection, to make his decisions strictly according to civil law?
A different problem is illustrated with a nurse in Texas who was a juror at the trial of a young man, son of a prominent family, who was accused of beating to death another youth. During the trial she realized that on her job at the hospital she had seen X rays of the victim, which were rejected as evidence at the trial. Unlike the other jurors, she could not accept the claim that the injuries came from an accidental fall. The others, though, pressured her to side with them to avoid a “hung jury” and subsequent retrial. The nurse, having studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, resisted for days. But finally she agreed to vote for acquittal. Though years have now passed, her conscience still troubles her; she feels that she was part of a miscarriage of justice. Even in other ways, might this sort of problem arise for a Christian juror? It is something to consider.
What to do? Some Christians have refused jury duty, perhaps mentioning to the authorities how impractical it would be to compel a person to sit through a trial and then have a “hung jury” because he feels he would not want to pass judgment on anyone’s guilt. (1 Pet. 3:16) Other Christians, though, have accepted jury duty but have asked to be excused from those cases where they felt their Bible-based thinking would be at variance with secular laws. Still others have accepted any jury assignment, feeling that it is Caesar’s right to oblige persons to serve in the civil capacity of hearing evidence and honestly deciding on questions of fact or guilt. (Matt. 22:21) Since the Bible does not pointedly discuss jury duty, each one must personally decide what to do after considering all that is involved in jury service, as well as Bible principles and his own conscience.