I had an experience during jury duty this past Monday.
I was assigned to a panel, and along with about 35 others, went into the courtroom to undergo the questioning of each lawyer for jury selection (which is actually jury de-selection, since they are deciding who they don’t want serving).
I was way back on the 3rd row, so I went through about 2 hours of questioning without having to speak. But then the defense attorney asked a general question: “Do any of you know any law enforcement officers?” I was among those who raised their hands. His eyes landed on me first, I guess, and he says, “Okay, Mr. Mashburn. And you are Church of Christ preacher, right?”
Why was my knee-jerk reaction to feel like I had just been busted for something bad? Why was I feeling some emotional mixture of fear and defensiveness?
Now outwardly, I handled this just fine. I think I just calmly said, “Yes, sir, I am”.
Inwardly, however, I wanted to say, “Yes, but the Church of Christ I serve with is not what some of you might be thinking! And I am probably not like the Church of Christ minister that is popping into your head right now! And I do not believe or preach or focus on what some of you might have experienced from some of the Church of Christ people in your life!”
Outwardly, this whole thing just lasted a few seconds.
But inwardly, I had left the courtroom, trying to examine what this reaction in me was, where it has come from, if it is necessary or useful.
Certainly, part of this has to do with me and my stuff. It has to do with me being confident about who and Whose I am, needing nothing (properly understood) from any man, and thereby settling into a sort of invulnerability against the judgments of people. This is all absolutely true and has been and continues to be my work.
But I also know that there is another part of this. A historical part based in reality. A part that has to do with a “Christian religion” replacing relationship with Christ, an “institutionalized legalism” replacing Christlike life, and “Church practices” replacing Church family. Yes, indeed, part of this has to do with the Church of Christ and her stuff.
So, back in the courtroom: I wasn’t the only one who reacted to the lawyer’s “outing” of me. Not everyone, but many in the courtroom (some with an urgent snap of the head and others nonchalantly acting as if they just happened to be looking in my direction anyway) turned their heads to get a look at me once the pronouncement was made.
Like they all wanted to know…what does one of those look like?
I can’t be sure what was going on in them, of course. Not everyone (maybe anyone) in that room was having a negative reaction to the news. But, because of far too many experiences, I am sensitive the fact that some may have.
Now, part of my sensitivity was from the lawyer identifying me as a “minister.” That title can carry it’s own generic baggage for some people these days. Maybe I get linked with the crazy guy in Florida who thinks burning a Koran is an effective way to represent Christ. Maybe I get associated with a Catholic priest who’s vow of celibacy was broken in the some of the worst ways. Maybe I get connected to some questionable TV evangelist.
But the major part of my defensiveness was the lawyer indentifying me with the Church of Christ.
- Was that scowling woman going back to the time her Church of Christ minister or elder told her she could not leave her physically abusive husband unless he committed adultery?
- Was that guy’s friendly smile because he’s a “Church of Christer” just glad to have a “brother” from the “Lord’s church” on the panel with him?
- Were any of these folks Baptists, Pentecostals, or Catholics remembering how condemned they felt by zealous Church of Christers in the past for their “flawed beliefs” about baptism, prayers, the raising of hands, or the use of musical instruments in worship services?
I wish this was all in the far distant past, and pray that before too long it will be, but I know an older woman right here in my town who told me that her husband had stopped attending church due to physical limitations as she kept going faithfully. One Sunday, she approached an elder in their Church of Christ and asked if he would come over sometime and read the Bible to her husband (“Oh, how he loves that,” she told me). This elder angrily said that they at the church don’t owe her husband a thing since he didn’t bother to attend their church services.
I wonder if someone like her was in that jury pool? We were there to potentially judge some evidence and declare someone guilty or not guilty based on that evidence about drug possession. All of a sudden, with just a “title” thrown out there without some disclaimers, I felt like this jury was out on me and the group that I am a part of.
Hear me…I’m beyond grateful that I am a part of a Church of Christ family that humbly works to live up to the name on our building outside, trying to be a church that is actually “of Christ”. This stellar group of people is journeying together, transforming more and more into Christ’s image, imitating (by God’s grace) Christ’s heart, character, mission, and priorities.
I’m proud to be a minister at the Southwest Church of Christ.
But am I right to be sensitive about this? Is this concern outdated in your circle of influence? In your own heart?