It is a common experience to be summoned to Jury Duty. In 2006, I was in the jury pool of a case involving attempted murder. The horrific charges were read and subsequently I was named as Juror #5. I was determined to be impartial. It was then that I was subjected to a process called voir dire. This is where the judge and the attorneys ask the potential jurors questions to determine their suitability to serve on the jury. The purpose of voir dire is to exclude from the jury people who may not be able to decide the case fairly. In essence they “judge” us. As it turned out, during their questioning, they asked about my family. I informed them my son was out of the country, serving as a missionary in Bolivia. This was enough to have the defense attorney release me from the jury. I later read in the paper where the defendant was convicted by the jury on all counts.
Fast forward to April of 2014 and once again I was in the jury pool. This time a man was being charged with child sexual abuse. The charges were read, and I really didn’t want to be on the jury. The Judge gave a rousing speech on civic duty and once again my name was called and I was sitting in one of the 12 juror chairs. During the voir dire process, the Judge asked if I knew anyone in the courtroom. I said, “I know you from church” to which he responded, “But we’re not really friends though”. He refused to release me from the Jury.
It was true. I knew him from our church congregation. We were casual acquaintances. I was on the Jury.
Over the next day, many were put through the voir dire process and several were released. Finally, the full jury was seated and we were sworn in. During the next morning, the trial began with instructions to the jurors from the judge, a formal reading of the charges by the clerk and opening statements by the prosecution and the defense. The defendant sat in the courtroom and I felt a mix of emotions. I had compassion for him and at the same time was disturbed by the serious claims made against him. After the opening statements, we were in recess for lunch.
Upon returning from lunch, we sat in the hallway, waiting to be called in. A clerk came out and said there would be a one hour delay. After about two hours, we were called back into the courtroom and the judge thanked us for our service and said we were released from jury duty. The judge said that we had done our part. The threat of a more severe sentence and judgement of his peers had convinced the man to plead guilty and he was sentenced to prison.
In 2018, the judge in the 2014 case would accept a church assignment as Bishop of our ward (congregation). Sometimes Bishops are referred to as “Judge in Israel”. How fitting.
The scriptural cannon has conflicting instructions on judging from the famous “Judge not, that ye be not judged”1 to “judge righteously”2
I thought it would be interesting to compare secular and religious judgement in the arbitration of truth.
If you were to be a judge or a jury on a case and only one side was presented, what would you do? How would you judge? What biases would you let affect your impartiality?
In our secular society there is a process for judgement. The judge oversees this process which allows for the presentation of arguments and counter arguments. There are rules of evidence. The system generally works yet sometimes, even with all the procedural guardrails we get it wrong.
Some religious claims cannot be proven, and if they are to be acknowledged as “spiritual truth” must be accepted by faith. Other claims can, and I believe should be tested.
In the first case, the claim might be made that God exists and loves us. This is a comforting thought, but without a method of scientific verification can only be accepted on faith. Any subsequent spiritual “witness” is not a confirmation of any empirical truth or knowledge. Despite this fact, many people claim they have gained spiritual knowledge and testify of it with such phrases as “I know …” or “I bear witness …” Would it be more correct to say, “I believe…”?
For me, I find it difficult to trust someone who makes such authoritative claims. I don’t discount for a minute that they believe the claims, just that the methodology of arriving at the claim is subject to error and interpretation.
There are, however, testable claims made in religious settings. They present as futuristic revelations or statements of fact. The person making such claim is burdened with proving it.
When I started to critically examine my religion and faith, I had to be open to where the evidence would lead, even if I didn’t like the outcome. This caused me serious distress and what I would describe as an existential crisis. I considered all sources. I felt like I was on a jury and read the defense and prosecution arguments. I had to learn about fallacies and apologetics. For me, the apologetics was the most damaging to my former belief.
I also studied mythical origins and various spiritual texts.
Initially, I thought I would deconstruct some of the problematic historical narratives and scriptural origins of the Mormon church and retain a literal belief in Christianity. Approaching it with honesty and integrity, that was an untenable position. Most of the stories and doctrinal themes have origins that predate the biblical record. The message and gospel stories in LDS scriptures are derivatives and interpretations of the Bible.
You may have come to different conclusions when presented with much of the available evidence.
The Book of Abraham was claimed to be “written by Abraham’s own hand on papyri”. While the LDS Church acknowledges that this is not true in their essays, it remains a part of the scriptural cannon.
Joseph Smith claimed, (paraphrasing) “There are men on the moon and they are dressed as Quakers”.
The doctrine surrounding the priesthood ban, which was lifted in 1978 and was claimed by several prior prophets and leaders of the church to be from God, has since been disavowed by the current church leadership. Do they all really speak for God?
Polygamy was officially discontinued by the 1890 manifesto yet sanctioned in person polygamous marriages continued to be performed by church leaders for several years. The doctrine of polygamy replaced the doctrine of monogamy in the Doctrine and Covenants and vicarious polygamous marriages are still being recognized in LDS Temples.
Most of the revelations in the original Book of Commandments have been altered in the current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
None of the provable claims made by Joseph Smith were true. We are left to believe only the unprovable claims he and subsequent leaders have made by faith.
In a defense, when a witness has been discredited, other claims are rendered difficult to believe as well.
I was completely devoted to my faith. I would state that I knew it was true and I really wished it were true more than anything. While I find value in the culture and love to study the theology of my Mormon faith, judging all the evidence I have seen I can no longer say it is true.
Looking at the history, challenges, culture and doctrine through different eyes and perspectives.
Prosecutor: The person putting forth new information that challenges the existing paradigm and proves the church isn’t true
Defense: The person or entity arguing why the new information doesn’t matter or prove that the church isn’t true
Judge/jury: The person(s) looking at the new information will consider the validity put forth by the prosecution and the relevance of the arguments put forth by the defense. Ultimately, looking at the whole, he will make a judgement decision as to what is true for them.
Hymn 273- Truth reflects upon our senses.