Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Justice for Caylee?

Casey Anthony was found “not guilty” of murdering her child.(For those outside the United States, this was a highly publicized trial of a mother accused of murdering her two-year old daughter, Caylee).

As soon as the verdict was announced, Facebook buzzed with opinions. Most of the comments I read reflected amazement that she had been acquitted. Some posted comments about “no justice for Caylee”.
I did not watch all the trial, and I really don’t know if the mother is guilty or not. I have an opinion, but I’ll keep it to myself. So what happened?

(1)    Keep in mind “not guilty” does not necessarily mean “innocent”.
(2)    Within our judicial system, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
(3)    A jury decided she was not guilty. Not the state, not the judge, not the judicial system, not the press (well, the press didn’t get to officially decide). A jury of twelve regular people, like you and me, made the decision.
(4)    For the jury to find a defendant guilty, the prosecution must convince the jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” that she is guilty.
(5)    The jury, apparently, was not convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In fact, a Reuters news story stated that “State Attorney Lawson Lamar praised prosecutors' efforts and conceded that their circumstantial case was not enough to remove reasonable doubt for jurors.” Lamar added, "This is a dry-bones case. Very, very difficult to prove." One report claimed the problem was lack of convincing evidence, not superlative legal work by the defense. Regardless of the reason, the jury wasn’t convinced. And since we were not in the deliberation room, we don’t know why, exactly, they were not convinced.
So, where does “justice” fit into this scenario?
Some cases are messy. We want justice for the victim; we want the guilty party convicted. But, even if we think someone is guilty, even if the jury’s opinion is that the defendant is guilty, if the jurors aren’t convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt,” justice cannot allow them to say “guilty.” Justice must also protect the accused. And so sometimes we’re left frustrated. (I have no idea in this case what the jury thought. I’m just making the point that justice requires a higher standard than opinion).
Our system isn't perfect. Perfect justice hasn’t happened in Caylee’s situation. The guilty party is free, whether the mother actually did it, or someone else did it (and I'm not saying who is to blame for this). Sometimes justice doesn’t happen in this world. But I am grateful we have a perfectly righteous judge who will eventually sort everything out. He knows the truth in this case.
Personally, I am grateful God doesn’t always deal with us on the basis of justice. In myself, I deserve judgment because by nature and practice, I am a sinner. But He has dealt graciously with me when He forgave me of every single sin (Col. 2:13). Jesus satisfied God’s righteous demands for sin when “He who knew no sin became sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). Justice: The price paid in full. Grace: Someone else paid it for us, and God freely gave eternal life when we believed in Jesus, the “someone” who satisfied God’s justice.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Out of touch?

Are we Christians out of touch?

In a survey of 16-29 year old American’s, two questions in particular disturbed me. When asked to indicate what phrases describe present day Christianity, 72% of outsiders (non church-goers) said Christianity was “out of touch with reality” and 70% said it was "insensitive to others”. By contrast, only 32% of church-goers said Christianity was out of touch and 29% said it was insensitive.

I know enough about surveys to take these numbers with a grain of salt. The questions might be biased; those surveyed might not be a statistically valid representation of the group.

I also know enough about the world we live in and the message of the Bible to know that a high percentage of “outsiders” will claim Christianity is out of touch with reality, in part because their view of reality and God’s view of reality are vastly different.

And, I know enough of the world’s standards that the definition of “tolerance” has changed to mean we must not only accept the person, we must condone their lifestyle. So, if we take a stand against a lifestyle, some may label us “insensitive”.

Even with these disclaimers, though, I think we can learn something from the numbers. Within the church, we need to be aware of real issues in our world and address them within the context of the Scriptures. We should be aware that “outsiders” really do see us differently than we see ourselves. And we should take those perceptions seriously.

Here’s just one example. About the same time I read about the survey above, I just happened to read of another disturbing survey. This second survey reports that only 6% of women in America (not limited to Christians) between the ages of 18 and 23 in a dating relationship are not having sex. Six out of every one hundred. Assuming the statistics are even close to valid (and I think they are!), if we ignore the sexualized world that confronts us, and if we don’t deal with this world honestly and openly, we are out of touch. We teach, correctly, to “flee immorality” and to abstain from sex until marriage. But, do we honestly help people – the 18-23 year olds inside the church - to deal with the artificial reality of the world that confronts them while challenging them to live out God’s reality? Do we help them live like the 6%, or do we just assume they'll make the right choice?

Do we look for ways to influence the world for the better; to change the artificial reality; to show the world that its “reality” is artificial, no matter what moral issue is addressed? I can't answer for the church at large. But I want to. I want the world to see that Christianity really does make a difference.

As we deal with the issues of the world, how do we respond to people who disagree with us, or with people who need help? That’s the heart of the second issue – insensitivity. Of course, some will always see Christianity as “insensitive” because we cannot condone certain behaviors or because we don’t respond the way they think we should. Regardless, we can always deal graciously with those “outside” the church (or inside the church, for that matter). I recall a young man who once lived a gay lifestyle saying he couldn’t start listening to the words of Christ seriously until someone started loving him with the love of Christ. As our culture slides further into a post-Christian culture, let’s make sure that if people are offended by us or believe we are “insensitive,” we have not given them any real basis for their conclusion. Let’s exhibit the love of Christ to a world that desperately needs to see the reality of Christ through His people.

(Sources: The first survey was reported in The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns. He, in turn was citing data reported in UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The second survey was reported in Premarital Sex in America by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker)