Polity: Bible Offends the Court

-Associated Press, March 29, 2005.

The Colorado Supreme Court…threw out the death penalty in a rape-and-murder case because jurors had studied Bible verses such as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” during deliberations…During oral arguments before the Supreme Court last month, defense attorney Kathleen Lord said the jurors had gone outside the law. “They went to the Bible to find out God’s position on capital punishment,” she said. [On a 3-2 vote, justices ordered Robert Harlan to serve life in prison without parole for kidnapping 25-year-old cocktail waitress Rhonda Maloney in 1994, raping her at gunpoint and then fatally shooting her].

My thoughts do not run on the issue of the death penalty. That is grist for a different mill. I am intrigued with the implications of a judicial review that remediates the decision of a jury on the basis that the jurors sought guidance from the Bible. To reject conclusions about law and morality that come from the same source that the founders of this nation used to organize the judicial system in the first place is colossal hypocrisy. The Colorado jurors could do nothing less than they did (the “offending” juror who brought her Bible into the jury room said as much) and the Colorado Supreme Court should have respected that.

The fact is, they didn’t. What the Colorado court did was demonstrate the emerging reality of living in the world as Western culture is shaping it: opinions that purport to come from a source external to time and space are not welcome. The Bible, regardless of its centrality to the personal life and conduct of citizens, or its fundamental contribution to government, is to be regarded as extraneous material—outside the law. Although there were two dissenting votes on the court (interestingly, by women who seem to be better able to find the relationship between belief and conduct) the conclusion of the court overruled the decision of the jury who had expressed themselves according to their conscience, having gone “to the Bible to find out God’s position on capital punishment.”

So what should we Christians do? Rail against the system? Declare an assault on the court? Man the battlements? Sound the alarm and call reinforcements to the next front in the culture wars?

I think not.

To decry the bias of the court against people of faith is to take a self-serving road. To demand our rights is to forget that we have none, only privileges purchased for us by the grace of God and the cross of Christ. Our job is not to change the system, but to walk faithfully in it—at times to be thrown into the teeth of it. We can make two equally grievous errors when faced with the rejection of society. We can change to suit the dominant culture, or we can try to change it to suit us. The first is to forget who we are; the second is to become distracted from the walk of faithfulness in an attempt to salvage a world bent on self-destruction.

What the Colorado Supreme Court thinks of a juror’s walk of faith is, in the end, irrelevant to us. The jury did its job. The court undid it. We can expect more of the same. But the reverse needs also to be true. No matter how many times the walk of obedience is challenged and rejected, we should be found walking still. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, said, “The great tragedy of modern evangelism is in calling many people to belief but few to obedience.” The best hope for change, then, is not in the objections of a few believers critical of the system, but in the faithfulness of the many who, in their obedience, refuse to be shaped by it.

2 thoughts on “Polity: Bible Offends the Court”

  1. Chuck Colson used this to show the irony in the culture’s moral and ethical confusion. He says:
    “Without the inner restraints created by a belief in some ‘higher authority,’ however it’s defined, law can never be enforced.” Here’s the link. It’s worth reading along side of Dan’s Blog.

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