As a cold-case detective and part of a three generation law enforcement family, I’ve got a secret I’d like to share with you: the majority of criminal (and civil) cases are won or lost well before the opening statements or closing arguments. Most cases are decided at jury selection. You can have a great case but lose miserably if you don’t have the right jury. That’s why prosecutors and defense attorneys specialize (or hire specialists) in jury selection. Both sides are looking for jurors who aren’t biased against some important aspect of their case; better yet, each side wants a jury inclined to agree with their position, even before they start the trial. A lot of effort is expended trying to figure out which twelve people (from the larger jury pool) should be selected. Case makers use surveys and questionnaires to ask important questions of each juror as they try their best to sort through the candidates. No one wants to present a criminal case to a group that hasn’t been carefully screened, questioned and examined. If case makers fail to assemble the right jury, their efforts to articulate and argue the case will be meaningless.
As the case agent and investigating detective in many high profile criminal trials, I’ve learned to look for three things in every juror, and these are the same attributes I seek in those with whom I share the case for Christianity: I’m looking for people who are passionate about the issues, open to hearing the case and humble enough not to let their ego get in the way. Today I’d like to talk about the first important attribute: passion.
Some potential jurors arrive for jury duty with great reluctance. They view jury duty as an inconvenience and a burden. They appear disinterested and disgruntled. As the investigating detective, I’ve typically spent several years preparing the case for trial; the last thing I want at this critical juncture is a disinterested jury. Instead, I’m hoping for twelve men and women who see their jury service as a privilege and noble duty. I want people on my panel who are excited to uncover the truth, glad to be there, and appreciative of their opportunity. Apathy is extremely dangerous on a jury panel. I want jurors who “get it”; jurors who understand what’s at stake and the importance of their decision. I’m looking for passionate jurors.
As a Christian case maker, I’ve come to recognize the importance of jury selection. I became a Christian at the age of thirty-five. I was an obstinate atheist prior to that, but after a careful investigation of the Gospels (as eyewitness accounts) I changed both my mind and the trajectory of my life. As a new Christian, I was incredibly excited to share what I learned, but I wasn’t always careful about picking my jury. Many of the people I engaged were disinterested. One, a good friend and Deputy District Attorney, eventually told me I was wasting my time. “I don’t give a rip, Jim. You’re wasting your time with me. I’m not against what you believe, I just don’t care.” Now I don’t honestly think my efforts were wasted on my friend. In fact, I pray and trust God will cause him to remember our conversations at some point in the future. But the experience only highlighted the importance of selecting people who are interested in hearing what I have to say. The claim of Christianity is unlike any other truth claim. C.S. Lewis captured it perfectly when he wrote, “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important” (from God in the Dock, page 101-102). I try to identify people who “get it”; folks who understand what’s at stake and the importance of their decision. I’m looking for passionate jurors.
Perhaps you’ve already discovered the futility of offering answers to people who don’t seem to care about the questions. If that’s the case, you may want to examine your own public behavior. Are you living the kind of life that causes others to ask about your faith? Maybe it’s time to live a “question provoking” life and look for what God is already doing. As I travel, work and play, I’m looking for signs of God’s involvement in the lives of the non-believers I know. There are some people I’ve known for years who suddenly become interested in the things of God; when I see that happen, I impanel them on my jury as fast as I can. God is already moving in their lives, now it’s time for me to make the case. I am only a small part of what God is doing, but I am ready to play my role, helping to remove the obstacles and answer the tough questions.
The best jurors are passionate, open-minded, and humble, and it’s important to understand these characteristics if we hope to have an impact as Christian Case Makers. If you’ve spent time thinking through the evidence and you think you are prepared to make a case for what you believe as a Christian, take an equally conscientious approach to the selection of your potential jury. Remember, most cases are decided at jury selection. If you spend a little more time choosing your audience, you’ll be far more likely to reach your audience. On Friday, I’ll discuss the importance of selecting jurors who are open-minded.
For more information about the nature of Biblical faith and a strategy for communicating the truth of Christianity, please read Forensic Faith: A Homicide Detective Makes the Case for a More Reasonable, Evidential Christian Faith. This book teaches readers four reasonable, evidential characteristics of Christianity and provides a strategy for sharing Christianity with others. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Forensic Faith DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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