Jason Wright: Leave judging to juries

Jason Wright

A few weeks ago, a good friend and two others were nabbed together in a drug bust. My pal, “D,” is being held without bond.

News spread quickly in our small town. “Ship them away. Let them rot. Have you seen the mug shot?”

Let’s be blue sky clear. I believe in accountability. I’m not soft on crime and I’m not debating the merits of today’s drug laws. But when the village whisperers say, “I always knew there was something about him,” I can’t but help but think that at least they’re right about something. There always has been something about him.

He’s always been a good man.

I wonder how many evenings I’ve caught the news or an email alert about someone being arrested and charged, no matter the crime, and passed judgement from my invisible black robe. All it takes is a 30-second story from an eager reporter featuring a grainy mug shot to tell us all we need to know.

But while we pass judgement during the commercial break, here’s what we might forget. Guilty or not, “D” is still a child of a living, loving God — a heavenly Father who, by the way, never stops parenting.

I first met my friend approximately two years ago when he and his wife were looking for a Christian church and began learning about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both were warmly accepted into our local congregation.

Almost immediately, “D” accepted an assignment to serve as the building coordinator. This meant he would schedule the chapel’s facilities and organize a calendar of church members to clean each week. Local LDS congregations have no paid custodial staff and members take turns doing the dirty work.

As I drove through town one scorching Saturday afternoon, I passed “D” walking toward the chapel and stopped to say hello. Without breaking stride he explained that no one had signed up to clean the chapel and he was off to do it alone. His wife was working, he had no car and the building wasn’t ready for Sunday services.

“You’re a good man,” I yelled through the open window as I went my busy way and he went the Lord’s.

Over the next few months, even though his work made it difficult to attend church, we stayed close and chatted as often we could. Once, over burgers and fries, we discussed what it’s like being an African-American in a community that’s 93 percent white and less than 2 percent black. In short? Not easy.

When I couldn’t catch him at home, I often saw him on the street or at the store and I always appreciated how he interacted with my family. My boys were especially excited to see him. He never left without a strong fist bump and a bright smile that suggested even though he was talking to me, they were no less important.

“I like him,” they’d whisper as we walked away.

“Me, too,” I’d answer.

It’s been a few months since our last chance encounter and despite the news, nothing’s changed. He’s still a good man.

He’s also kind.

He’s genuine and funny.

He’s a hard worker.

He’s my spiritual brother.

And yes, he’s also a sinner, just like you and me.

Looking at his mug shot and reading the charges, I wondered how people would feel if my own picture appeared in the paper with a list of my own sins. Would they want to ship me away? Let me rot?

While my sins are not necessarily crimes, they are no less sins, aren’t they? Even though his sins are a different brand than mine, they still come from the same store.

I know the risk in writing such a column. I could be called too soft, too tolerant, too blind and far too naive. Some might even accuse me of excusing him simply because we have personal history.

There’s no hidden message and nothing buried between the digital lines. I’m not excusing anyone of anything. My friend, if guilty, needs to pay the price and let justice run its course. He needs to be just as accountable to the laws of the land as those with whom I haven’t shared a church pew.

The truth? I’m no different than “D.” Every day I ask God not to give up on me yet.

I make mistakes. I’m imperfect. And heaven knows I have a lot of work to do before I could ever be judged worthy to live with God again.

Thankfully, my friend and I both have time. So I think I’ll leave the judging to juries and the eternal judgements to the eternal judge.

May we remember that all of us are sinners, even without our pictures in the paper.

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at feedback@jasonfwright.com or http://www.jasonfwright.com.