Conventional Thinking: The court of public opinion
The American public finds itself facing controversy and disagreement relating to George Zimmerman, who was found not guilty of the charges related to the killing of Trayvon Martin. The courts, many think, did not mete out justice in this case, while others may believe otherwise.
Once again, a high profile court case, in which everyone from the President to the man on the street commented, did not wrap up in a neat and tidy way. You know, like it happens on TV. Do you recall the program from the 80s, “Columbo,” starring Peter Falk? The stumbling, bumbling—but smart as a fox—police lieutenant would take a murder case and unscramble all the clues, uncover the real killer and take the person into custody where the wheels of justice would take effect, all in less than 60 minutes.
Shows like these, I am afraid, have pre-programmed our culture to think that the pursuit of justice is as easy as A-B-C. The Bible, meanwhile, is closer to real life and shows that some cases take the wisdom of Solomon (1 Kings 3) to decide and still others, an unjust outcome may occur, such as Christ being put to death (though God had a plan).
In America, as well as in the English Common Law tradition, the judicial process of the courts is spelled out in detail in an orderly manner. The custom of a “jury of our peers” dates back all the way to Magna Carta of 1215. The outcomes and reactions formed in the court of public opinion, however, are formed in a much less orderly manner, to say the least.
Whether it is a court case or a contender on American idol, the court of public opinion can think one thing one week and something else the next, changing on a dime and trashing a person’s reputation before they even have a chance to make a defense. The media and social media can fuel fires of outrage in which the viewer or reader does not have all the facts. People jump to conclusions based on little more than TV news sound bites or Facebook posts they consume. We are thankful for the democracy in which we live, but not when it degrades into “mobocracy.”
Regardless of the issue of the day, Christians must rise above this chorus of ever-changing public opinions for at least three reasons.
The Bible instructs us to hear all sides of the matter before deciding (Prov. 18:13). In fact, Proverbs goes so far to say that it is folly or foolishness not to do so. After all, one side may seem right until the other side is presented (Prov. 18:17).
One of the often neglected Christian virtues is maturity, the kind of which Hebrews, chapter 6, speaks. Each of us wars against “childlike” thinking in ourselves and an incomplete view of life (1 Cor. 13:11-12). As we strive to be like Christ, we must respond, rather than react, when complicated, controversial matters arise.
The Golden Rule
What if you suddenly found yourself in the public eye under accusations? Would you want the chattering social media masses analyzing every detail from afar? Would you trust the cold analysis of a cable TV news talking head to get the facts straight? Christians should be hesitant to pile on during a feeding frenzy, knowing that those on the dog pile may soon turn on us or one of our own.
The thief on the cross recognized that Jesus was being crucified unjustly and believed he and the other criminal were getting what their crimes deserved. Believing in Christ, he threw himself on His mercy. For this act of faith, Jesus assured him of paradise.
In the Christian worldview, we trust that God will mete out justice in the last day. In the meantime, we point to His mercy offered on that cross in hopes that we sinners will not get what we deserve but rather what He freely offers.