I’m not in the office today; I was called for Jury Duty.
The summons first came back in March, for the Tuesday of Holy Week. Friends made jokes about the ironies of clergy being called for a capital case on that week… advised me to think twice about any guilty verdicts handed down on that Friday. I simply rescheduled.
This week is, in some ways, even worse. We leave for our family vacation on Thursday, and not only do I desperately need to get some things done before I go, but if I should be called for a trial, our plans would likely have to change.
I think the likelihood of my being called is pretty slim; I am clergy: opinionated, a news junkie. I should probably wear a collar.
But the fact of the matter is, as much as I am mildly put out by the summons, and as much as the disruption of my life would increase if I were actually selected, I like jury duty. Or, rather, I think it’s important and am thus willing to do my part.
Christians have never had a singular way of engaging the powers and principalities (as the apostle Paul puts it). The ancient Hebrew people demanded a divinely ordained king; they lived in exile under foreign empires and their prophets called out injustice from within and outside the community. Jesus healed his fellow Jews and Romans alike and overturned tables in the Temple rather than seeking to overthrow the Empire. Paul advised believers not to be conformed to their cultural context, but also to respect varied authorities.
In more recent centuries, the diversity of responses has continued. The Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire. John Calvin set up his own little theocracy in Geneva, as did some of the first European settlers in North America. Churches aligned themselves with varied nation states. Churches called out the violence and injustice of their countries’ rulers.
Me, I’ve always loved institutions – both ecclesial and governmental. I appreciate the way they can help us to make a wide impact, over time and geography. My love, however, is coupled with critique and no small amount of ambivalence. Our institutions fail us, and marginalized people, all the time.
But I like to think that reform is possible, wrought by faithful engagement and outside, prophetic, pressure. It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and.
I like jury duty because, even if my participation in the process is largely symbolic (please don’t pick me this time!), it feels like a way to engage in the work of justice, whether in questioning assumed guilt or asking good questions about a privileged defendant. In faithfully showing up to hear the stories of my fellow citizens.
I am glad to be going to serve this week, as we’re reading with horror about “the Stanford rapist,” the young man who was convicted on three counts of violent assault and yet was nonetheless sentenced to only six months of prison time because any longer would (in the opinion of the judge) jeopardize his future as a scholar and athlete. The fate of his victim, the toll this assault and trial has had on her life, has been disdainfully disregarded. This week, I want to participate in our justice system, even if by proxy. I want to feel like I can help.
There are other ways to help, both systemic and in smaller moments. As a congregation, we support and participate in the work of DuPage United to work for justice in our communities; as a denomination, we are turning our focus to white privilege.
There are Christians who feel as though participating in the system at all compromises their integrity, renders them complicit in the injustices of the state. But I tend to think we’re all complicit anyway, so we might as well own it and get to work.
I hope to be back in the office tomorrow, but I’ll serve as faithfully as I can, in this limited and mandated way, today.
What are you passionate about? How will you answer the call to serve?
Reverend Bromleigh McCleneghan
Associate Pastor for Ministry with Families
The Union Church of Hinsdale, U.C.C.