Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What About Capital Punishment?

The expiration date was fast approaching.

So, the State of Arkansas reasoned:  we better use-up the Midazolam quickly. Midazolam, being, a required ingredient for the three-tonic cocktail, used in lethal injections.

One problem:  'live' persons were needed to be injected.  And so, Governor Asa Hutchinson ordered that eight death row inmates be slated to die, before the end of the month (the expiration date, of Midazolam).

Well, court-orders stayed four of the eight from being killed.  But nevertheless:  four death-row inmates -- in eight days, were executed.  (see:  Jelani Cobb.  "The Banal Horror of Arkansas Executions.  The New Yorker, May 8, 2017.  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/08/the-banal-horror-of-arkansas-executions)

Why?   Setting aside the question of why some many executions were 'ganged' together in such a short time -- the arguments for capital punishment, overall,  are not hard to find. Al Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Seminary) for one, outlines the pro-death penalty argument, persuasively.
"...the Bible clearly calls for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder. In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah that the penalty for intentional murder should be death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image"...On the other hand, the Bible raises a very high requirement for evidence in a case of capital murder...[In sum]...the Bible envisions a society in which capital punishment for murder is sometimes necessary, but should be exceedingly rare. The Bible also affirms that the death penalty, rightly and justly applied, will have a powerful deterrent effect...a necessary firewall against the spread of further deadly violence." Al Mohler.  "Why Christians Should Support The Death Penalty," CNN Belief Blog, May 1, 2014.   http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/05/01/why-christians-should-support-the-death-penalty/
But there is one glaring problem with this approach:  Jesus.  As I've argued in other blog posts, it is hard to fathom that Jesus would ever take another life -- under any circumstances -- for any reason. (see:  http://wwwpaulmundey.blogspot.com/2017/04/is-violence-ever-will-of-god.html?spref=fb ;http://wwwpaulmundey.blogspot.com/2017/02/who-will-break-cycle.html?spref=fb) 

Now don't misunderstand:  Jesus did believe in justice; Christ-followers were not to 'look the other way,' allowing persons 'to get away with murder,' becoming the proverbial 'door-mat.'  No.  But the way to hold someone accountable for murder was not, in turn, to commit murder.

Think about it.  Returning evil for evil makes absolutely no sense.  Hitting someone, in return, when they hit you -- robbing someone, in return, when they rob you -- trashing someone, in return, when they trash you -- resolves absolutely nothing -- let alone, bring about justice.

What brings about justice is when we take intentional steps to 'check and contain' evil (see: http://wwwpaulmundey.blogspot.com/2017/04/the-state-and-sword.html?spref=fb) -- and then -- give the wrong-doer to the Lord.  Paul is so clear in Romans 12:
"Do not repay anyone evil for evil...Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Romans 12:17-20, emphasis added).
A hidden premise in Paul's words, is that no amount of evil hurled toward evil, will ever be enough to rectify -- or - satisfy.  In fact -- the more evil we hurl, the more riled up and agitated we become.

There's a poignant scene in the movie, Forrest Grump when Forrest encounters Jenny, a central character in the film. Standing adjacent to her home place, Jenny is terribly upset.  And for good reason:  Jenny is remembering her Dad, recently deceased, and the horrific sexual abuse inflicted on her life. And so Jenny begins to throw rocks; rapidly-violently-angrily-she begins to throw rocks-right at the house where she was raised. Finally, she collapses, exhausted in a heap. And Forrest appears. Jenny, he reflects: "Sometimes there just aren't enough rocks."

That's what Jesus is imploring us to grasp.  Go ahead:  return evil for evil; execute someone because he/she has executed another.   But it's all for naught.  For there are never enough 'rocks'; there is never enough brute force and violence, to do justice -- to make amends -- for the violence or injustice done to us -- or -- another. 

But some are thinking: what about explicit Biblical verses that appear to sanction violence, nevertheless; e.g. Genesis 9:6, cited by Al Mohler previously? No doubt, they're in scripture.  But now, such texts -- along with all of scripture -- are under the Lordship of Christ -- who as Lord of All -- is also, Lord of scripture.  As a 17th century Anabaptist confession of faith clarifies:
"The Old Testament is to be expounded by and reconciled with the New Testament [e.g. Jesus], and must be distinctively taught...Moses with his stern, threatening, punishing law [must be interpreted through the lens of] Christ with His new tidings of the holy Gospel over all...penitent sinners as not under the law, but under grace..."  J.J. Von Braght, Martyrs Mirror.  Mennonite Publishing House, Scottdale, PA, 1951, p. 382,
Thus, Jesus frequently uses a reoccurring phrase:  it has been said unto you -- but now I say unto you.   In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount alone, there are 28 occurrences among 107 verses, of Jesus, lifting up the lens of New Testament grace (e.g. Jesus) as a means to now interpret Old Testament law.  One of the most noted is Mathew 5:38, the law of lex talionis.  "...You know that you have been taught, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you."  (Matthew 5:38-39).

So, in regards to capital punishment, lift up the lens of  New Testament grace (e.g. Jesus) to check -- not only Old Testament bias -- but personal bias -- toward pay-back and violence.  For we forget, in the words of Shane Claiborne, that “much of the Bible was written by murderers who were given a second chance. Moses. David. Paul. The Bible would be much shorter without grace.” Shane Claiborne, Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It's Killing Us.  New York:  HarperOne, 2016).   

But not cheap grace, but costly grace, that holds persons accountable.  But accountable not only for their offense but also to Jesus -- who along with requiring repentance -- offers redemption and new life -- in spite of their offense.

When we execute someone, it appears we are deterring violence; make the murderer 'an example,' we reason, for all the world to see!  But a report by the National Research Council, titled "Deterrence and the Death Penalty," stated that studies claiming that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on murder rates are “fundamentally flawed” and should not be used when making policy decisions. In fact, the 2014 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that though the South accounted for 80% of all executions, it had the highest murder rate in the U.S. and the Northeast, which accounted for 1% of all executions, had the lowest murder rate. https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf

No, the death penalty doesn't deter violence.  It only escalates violence, as we literally commit the very same evil, the one executed has done:  murder.

Yes, murder.  When we execute someone - we commit murder.  

And as far as Jesus is concerned:  the expiration date on that counter-productive, ungodly act -- has long expired.   

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