In the past couple years, I’ve been asked to testify in two felony trials.
I’ve agreed to do so with a bit of controversy and some people even leaving the church I pastor. Most recently, my name was published on a list of defense character witnesses for the trial of former Cincinnati Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld, facing federal corruption charges. Though I’ve just found out that I won’t be taking the stand, I agreed to be a witness. Why? Because I want to be like Jesus.
In both court cases, I have zero opinion to offer regarding the guilt or innocence of my friend. I keep up with the news but am no legal expert. I don’t understand all the details nor am I qualified to render a judgment. In both situations, a friend wanted me to simply state that I was their friend and that they had been personally helpful.
I don’t welcome the scrutiny and I have other things to do with my time. I gain nothing from supporting a friend other than recognizing this is what a friend does. The reasons I wouldn’t testify are three-fold: (1) I don’t want to be partially responsible for an alleged criminal, who might actually be a criminal, avoiding justice. (2) I don’t want to take the time answering questions that offended people throw my way. (3) I don’t want to drive down attendance and hurt the church I started and still lead.
With so much potentially on the line, why agree to be a witness? Because I believe Jesus would do the same.
Jesus laid down his life for his friends and I endeavor to be like him (John 15:13). Jesus was constantly criticized for the company he kept and was called a “friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:10-11). He befriended Zaccheus, who was hated by the masses so much he climbed a sycamore tree to gain anonymity. Then Jesus went to dinner with him and his other sinner friends at his house that night (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus also says that we should have a special heart for those who are in legal duress. When we don’t visit people in prison, He takes it as though we aren’t visiting Him (Matthew 25:36). Do I have leeway to turn down a friend who simply wants me to state the truth about our friendship? I don’t think so.
I believe the most important spiritual discipline for a man is the act of friendship. Knowing how to have fun with another human being, as well as stand by them in their hour of need, is a dying skill set. There is an epidemic of loneliness and isolation that is ravaging our nation. We separate everyone into camps of good and evil based on our political ideology and personal morality. The average modern American can’t imagine having a friendship with someone who they are hoping will be canceled. This isn’t the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the ideology of our day that is anti-God and rotting our souls.
I could say “no” to requests from friends (maybe even guilty friends) who want me to publicly declare that I am their friend. But I won’t because Jesus declares I am his friend even though I am a sinner in need of grace. Whether my friends have been guilty or not, I can’t say, but I know that I’m guilty and yet Jesus is my friend. Therefore, if you are on the right or left, I can be your friend. If you are gay or straight, I can dine with you. If you are Christian or atheist, God loves you and so will I.
I could avoid a lot of controversy and other negative fallout if I refused to testify. But that would make me like everyone else who isn’t interested in going the way of Jesus. The day I look toward my own ease or only protect the interests of the church I lead will be a sad day. It would be a day that I choose the needs of an organization over the needs of a friend. It would be a day that I lose my soul and cause Jesus to grieve. That is a tradeoff I refuse to make.
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