Justice on Trial

There's only one possible commentary today—the O. J. Simpson verdict. If you heard a huge sucking sound yesterday at 10 A.M. Pacific time, it was the gasp from a nation shocked by the verdict. I believe in the American system of justice and therefore accept the decision of the jury. Every American is entitled to the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And if in fact Simpson was guilty, he has to live with his conscience. Tragically, the most serious casualty of the O. J. extravaganza is the eroding public confidence in our legal system. The perception of many Americans is not that of an unbiased search for truth and justice, but rather a media show complete with celebrities, a multimillion dollar defense, and supposedly crooked cops. Our forefathers honored the law because it was based on transcendent truths and could not be manipulated by wealth or power. The great legal scholar William Blackstone wrote that the genius of the legal system we inherited from Britain was that it was a reflection of a people—the English people—who were infused with the spirit of Christ. The idea that law is about justice and, yes, even righteousness, is the great contribution of Christianity. Before the eleventh century, Western Europe—though nominally Christianized—still consisted of tribal societies governed by ruthless, primitive legal systems. That all changed with Pope Gregory VII who, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Popes, ruled "with a profoundly religious passion for justice." Under Gregory VII the church introduced reforms, bringing Western Europe under a system of law based on Christian principles of justice. The first law book of the German nation stated this succinctly when it said that “God is himself law; and therefore law is dear to him.” Over the past 100 years, the secular elite has worked overtime to purge the law of its Christian influence. As a result we've come full circle back to the eleventh century, where justice takes a back seat to wealth and power. Lawyers employ high-paid consultants to help select favorable juries—often using the race, ethnicity and class of a potential juror as a predictor of how he will vote. We’ve watched lawyers blatantly use the race of the defendant as a tool to manipulate the jury. When we lose sight of the Christian conviction that law must be an unbiased reflection of the justice of God, all that is left is rule by power and coercion. And that will spell the death knell for democracy. Here's a great opportunity for you to share with your neighbor why the legal system has fallen into disrepute: because we have abandoned the Christian understanding of law based squarely upon God's unchanging standards of justice. The O. J. extravaganza will have served a good purpose if it teaches us that lesson. In the Simpson case there was more on trial than the fate of one man. It's our legal system that is also being weighed in the balance.


Chuck Colson


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