Texas: The Unenlightened State

The state of Texas has been guided by a system of poor leadership and what I call a good ‘ole boy network as it relates to its hill billy notion of justice; I have only blogged about my thoughts towards the death penalty once before, but it is safe to say I am beyond angry with Gov. Rick Perry. As a pacifist I see no purpose in the execution of another person. The most sacred thing that we all possess is life; it is not up to us to decide who should live and who should be executed. It is my contention that if one believes in God, one should also believe that he holds all final calls. For years I have been a self-proclaimed social and economic liberal regarding the death penalty. I, just like so many people, have known innocent victims of crime. I am not an apologists for those who have committed horrible acts of crime: murder being the worst seeing that it violates one’s natural rights. Humans do not have the right to take such a life without it being a “just” cause. But when such an act occurs, I am not sure society gains by executing the guilty. The problem with the death penalty is that it does not deter crime. Furthermore, those that commit such crimes tend to come from lower socio economic groups. English intellectual John Stuart Mill stated that “if the death penalty worked, people would not pick pockets while observing a public hanging during the 19th century.” I have also noticed that blacks and the poor are executed at a disproportionate rate. I have been reading scripture looking for answers to whether subjects of a state should support the death penalty.

As of today, the state of Texas continued its pathetic cowboy and unenlightened image by executing another person.

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Texas Gov. Rick Perry may have to decide whether a death row inmate lives or dies.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a rare ruling, has recommended that Robert Lee Thompson’s death sentence be commuted to life in prison. The 34-year-old Thompson is set for lethal injection Thursday evening for his part in the fatal shooting of a Houston convenience store clerk. He was not the triggerman when Mansoor Bhai Rahim Mohammed was gunned down 13 years ago during a robbery. But he was convicted under the Texas law of parties, which made him equally culpable for the slaying.The shooter, Sammy Butler, received life in prison. Thompson, tried separately, got death.

Perry is not required to follow the board’s recommendation.

As stated below in Romans 13 1 – 5, I do believe that we interpret certain verses too literally regarding the death penalty:

Paul instructs Christians to submit themselves to the authority of the state, because “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Referring to the authorities, Paul writes in Verse 4: “For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” The reference to “sword” might be interpreted literally (to refer to capital punishment) or symbolically (to refer to the power of the state to punish wrongdoers).

For those that follow scripture, I have yet to find anything that substantiates the execution of a person that commits a wrong; in the teachings if Christ, such behavior did not transpire.

Another example found in John chapter 8 might be:

This famous passage describes an adulteress who was scheduled for stoning. Jesus told her executioners He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. These verses have often been quoted to indicate Jesus’ opposition to the death penalty.

According to Christianity Today, white evangelical Christians are the biggest supporters of the death penalty, though a number have become bothered by the “proportion” of blacks receiving such execution.

While the issue before the Supreme Court is narrow, the national mood on capital punishment itself seems to be shifting. New Jersey became the 14th state to outlaw executions in December 2007. And a Pew Forum poll taken last August found that public support for capital punishment has dropped to 62 percent from a high of 80 percent in 1994. White evangelicals are still the death penalty’s strongest supporters, with 74 percent approval, but that is down from 82 percent in 1996. Some Christians have been disturbed by the disproportionate number of poor and African-American prisoners on death row, said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties organization.

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33 thoughts on “Texas: The Unenlightened State

  1. I think the Bible supports the death penalty, going all the way back to Genesis (pre-Patriarchal times, even) specifically because life is so sacred.

    That being said, just because I support it in principle doesn’t mean I’m real confident with how it’s practiced.

    The death penalty seems to be applied inconsistently, and the investigations which have seriously called into question the guilt of some of those who have been executed are disturbing to say the least.

    Basically, if you can be absolutely certain about the guilt of the individual I feel a lot better about it, but how often does that really happen?

  2. Great post! I’m with you 100%. I’m completely against the death penalty on multiple grounds. And the idea that a guy can be sentenced to death in Texas even though he didn’t even pull the trigger (that is, he didn’t kill someone), is insane! What about “eye for an eye”? If he didn’t kill someone, we can’t kill him.

    Luke,
    You make a good point. I think I could grudgingly deal with the death penalty if we were totally (100%, nothing less) certain that they murdered in cold blood, and it was premeditated. But, that can’t happen. We’ll never know for sure. The law only requires us to be sure “beyond a reasonable doubt”. But, when it comes to us executing someone, ANY doubt is unreasonable. Even a shred of doubt, and we can’t do it–because we might, and therefore will at times, be wrong, thereby killing an innocent person. How is that ever worth it?

    But, in addition to the obvious problems of practicality, I just can’t see it as moral. If there is a God, it’s up to him to make the final judgments. I don’t believe in the idea of “justice”. At least not in the colloquial sense of the word. When people say we need “justice” to be served, what the mean is “revenge”.

    Our job as a society is to protect the people from those who pose an eminent risk of violence. Locking someone up for life accomplishes that. They can’t kill again. Done. We don’t need to go the extra step and kill them. That’s revenge. And according to the Bible–the book so heavily quoted by those in support of the death penalty–revenge is a sin. Period.

    No matter how you slice it, the death penalty exists ONLY to make us feel better. Not to protect society. Now, the fact that killing makes us feel better is its own problem.

  3. I am with you on this one Carson. Perhaps the Bible does condone capital punishment – but the Bible also condones slavery. Does that mean that we should re-establish the institution of slavery in the United States? I do not think so.

    It is also important to remember that the death penalty is not only racially disproportionate, but is is biased against members of the lower classes who cannot afford adequate legal representation.

    I believe that Texas has the highest execution rates in the country (someone correct me if I am wrong.) If we are not the highest, we are definitely up there on the list. Ironically, the largest city in Texas, Houston, has one of the worsts crime labs in the country – a few years ago they discovered that at least seven inmates were sentenced to death row based on false DNA evidence. It is a scary thought.

  4. Perhaps I didn’t read your article correctly, but Gov. Perry decided to ignore the Parole Board’s recommendation and did in fact allow Thompson to be executed last night.

    Like you Carson, I would focus on rehabilitation rather than retribution or revenge. (The alliteration can’t be stopped!) Personally, I find it difficult to condone violence in light of New Testament teaching.

    That being said, I have never been the victim of, nor have I known the victim of, a crime that was considered worthy of capital punishment. I can’t pretend to understand their feelings on this issue.

    The fact that the shooter in this case received life, and his accomplice received death does seem rather backwards, doesn’t it?

  5. Hebert — you did. I had this conversation with my students today. How can a state allow this to take place? I was sure that Perry would not allow this execution to take place. To me, this should be the end of his political career.

    • Looked into this a bit more. Did you know Thompson unloaded his gun on one store keeper (Mubarakali Meredia), then pistol whipped him and left him for dead? Fortunately, Meredia survived. Thompson also apparently took two errant shots at the other store keeper (Mansoor Rahim) but his buddy, Sammy Butler, finished the job and killed him. The state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt Butler pulled the trigger that killed Rahim so he got life in prison. This was apparently their 8th such similar crime. See http://deathpenaltynews.blogspot.com/2009/11/texas-executes-robert-lee-thompson.html

      If the concern is an innocent man was unjustly executed after an exhaustive and expensive run through the appeals process …. sorry, don’t buy it.

  6. Saij,

    (1) I think I could grudgingly deal with the death penalty if we were totally (100%, nothing less) certain that they murdered in cold blood, and it was premeditated. But, that can’t happen.

    I think I would contend that it can happen, but that it doesn’t happen in all cases where the death penalty is used.

    To use an extreme an obvious example, I think it’s clear that Hitler brought about the death of millions in a cold-blooded and premeditated fashion (you might argue that he himself didn’t do the actual killing, but to me, that’s a different situation than the case Carson cited). I don’t think there is any doubt that he was guilty.

    Still, I agree with you. When it comes to execution, there are no takebacks—you can’t come back later and say, “Sorry we made a mistake.” You have to be absolutely certain—I just think that it’s possible to arrive at absolutely certainty…if incredibly rare.

    (2) Interesting take on the justice/revenge issue:

    You mentioned that biblically, revenge is a sin, and that’s certainly true, but I think the Bible also distinguishes between justice and revenge, which you don’t.

    In addition, you said, If there is a God, it’s up to him to make the final judgments.

    I agree with that, unless that same God also mandated that, under certain circumstances, we (governments/authorities/whatever term you want to use) be responsible for making those judgments. I would argue that, when it comes to the death penalty, He has.

    Of course, that still brings you back to the first issue, determining guilt, which is problematic.

  7. I’m with you too on this one Eddie. The state should not be taking anyone’s life. Period. There is no reason for it. Even if the person has committed a heinous crime, it serves no purpose to execute the individual when he/she can easily be incarcerated for life in such a way as to prevent him rom committing murder again.

    I also have a problem with the secret nature in which it is carried out. Yes, there are “witnesses”, but only a very few witness the state carrying out it’s policy. For the most part the “people” will never see the policy they supposedly support actually carried out. I wonder how many people would be pro-death penalty if they showed it on a public access channel?

  8. Dillon,

    “Perhaps the Bible does condone capital punishment – but the Bible also condones slavery. Does that mean that we should re-establish the institution of slavery in the United States? I do not think so.”

    This argument is fallacious.

    It would only be a valid point if the Bible said the same things about capital punishment that it does about slavery.

    But it doesn’t.

  9. Sir-
    First, can we dispense with the racist “hill Billy” epithet. Would “ghetto Leroy” pass if describing a car jacking suspect?
    Who said that execution has to be a deterence? Execution is a guarantee The act by That person will Never happen again. Absolutely no recidivism here. Lethal injection(gas chamber, electric chair, firing squad, etc) guarantees that.

    You said,”Humans do not have the right to take such a life”. I agree. Criminals violate that, so we should take that what is most precious of theirs. What right? The same right that says we can kill to defend our country. Do we wait to see if a soldier kills first? Do we wait to see if a soldier is going to act oppressive? Of course not. With a murder, they have already acted and so we who value life so greatly will demonstrate this great respect for life by taking away your most valued gift. You dont value a persons life by taking the person who took it and rewarding them with free shelter and 3 square meals. Far more people are given passes with the crime of murder and are only imprisoned. How well has that deterrence worked? And it cant be missed the abortion inconsistency. What act has a person to commit that puts them under the guillotine? The whims of its mother? What is more monstrous: Taking from he who has taken a life or taking the life of one who is barely born? Its okay if the mommy makes life and death decisions based on no guilt only personal feelings, not okay for the state even of there is an action, murder? Examine who is truly inconsistent and unjust.

    Your use of the Bible is again confusing. You dont take it literally but you invoke it to support your position? And remember–so many chose not to– the Adulteress was told, “Go, and sin no more”. I wonder what was meant by that. Claiming you are Christian while bending the faith to your behaviour isnt much of a faith. That would seem more a fad. “Inside the family you judge, outside the family you do not. They dont know they do wrong.” Where do you stand?

  10. Although not a huge proponent of the death penalty, I do see it as a deterrent to future heinous crimes and will add:
    a) Capital punishment is ‘just’ retribution for taking the life of another and is biblically supported in Rom 13:1-4 as well as Gen 9:6; Ex 21:12; Acts 25:11; Rev 13:10.
    b) Jesus came not to abolish the law but to “fulfill it” (Mt. 5:17) so the OT teaching of an ‘eye for an eye’ is still in play.
    c) The adultress in John 8 did not commit murder thus (of course) Jesus would not condone capital punishment in this case.
    d) The Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery. It gives instructions on how slaves should be treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-15; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1), but does not outlaw slavery altogether. Many, as Dillon suggests, see this as the Bible condoning all forms of slavery but please consider context before leaping to that conclusion. Slavery in biblical times was very different from the slavery that was practiced in the past few centuries in many parts of the world. The slavery in the Bible was not based exclusively on race. In context of the Bible, slavery was more a matter of social status. People sold themselves as slaves when they could not pay their debts or provide for their families. In New Testament times, some actually chose to be slaves so as to have all their needs provided for by their masters. Futher, we tend to forget slavery is still present today. It is estimated 12 million people in the world are subjected to slavery: forced labor, sex trade, inheritable property, etc. No one (with a straight face) could say the bible supports this form of slavery today.
    e) Since we are checking what is ‘just’ or not, please show me where the bible supports abortion as a ‘just’ execution of human life?

  11. I’m not pretending to have a foolproof theological system that is completely without holes; however, I must object to some of the verses and thoughts that have been bandied about here that would show that God is in favor of the death penalty.

    First, the implication of Rob’s debunking of John 8 (the woman caught in adultery) is this: If the woman had been caught murdering, Jesus would’ve said to the mob, “Go ahead; stone her!” Is that the picture of Jesus that you get?

    Second, the argument in favor of the death penalty using Romans 13:1–4 would seem to go like this:

    (1) God has placed governing authorities over us.
    (2) Those governing authorities have instituted the death penalty.
    (3) We should agree with all governing authorities because God has placed them over us.
    (4) Therefore, we should agree with the death penalty.

    The problem, of course, is that history is full of wonderful struggle against authority. Without such struggle against authority we wouldn’t have the United States (I’m assuming you’re in favor of America’s existence, but I could be wrong), and we wouldn’t have Christianity itself. The Germans would’ve all agreed with Hitler, and the French Resistance wouldn’t have helped Allied Forces push NAZI’s out of France. The Bible is full of images of individuals resisting authority (e.g., Daniel and Jesus himself).

    How we go about applying Romans 13:1–4 to our own context is a tricky thing indeed. Certainly we shouldn’t submit to authorities when they tell us that blacks are three-fifths of a person, and aren’t worthy to vote or pee in the same urinal as whites.

    I am not sure how Acts 25:11 applies. Here Paul is saying: “If, according to your laws I am supposed to die, well…so be it…I’m not seeking to escape that, but if you find nothing, then let me chat with Caesar.” Not sure how that can be cited as some kind of proof text in favor of the death penalty.

    In terms of Revelation 13:10, well, I don’t pretend to know what the heck is going on in Revelation.

    So, we’re left with Old Testament law. Certainly, the Old Testament law was in favor of the death penalty. I would ask this: If Genesis 9:6 prohibits the shedding of man’s blood, then why should we shed yet another man’s blood? This to me is where John 8 becomes supremely applicable. If we took Jesus’ attitude in that passage, we would say: “Heck yes…this guy deserves death. But so do I.”

    That’s the bottom-line, biblically speaking: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We all deserve death because we have turned our backs on God. But Glory be! God is merciful and has offered us reconciliation and paid the price for us on the Cross. Therefore, shouldn’t we do the same for our fellow man? Shouldn’t we bend over backwards to show mercy and love? That is not to say that we should let these folks continue terrorizing the populace. Rather, we should protect the innocent while showing the love of Christ to the guilty.

    Justice is hard…

    • Stephen –

      Good points to ponder and agreed justice is hard. Also, agreed one’s theology may not be 100% foolproof on this secondary issue. But here are a few comments in reply:

      Genesis 9:6 which was written before the 10 commandments and in the days of Noah states “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; For in the image of God He made man”. I submit this is not God’s suggestion but an imperative or command that justice be served. Why? Because man is made in God’s image and, as such, human life is sacred and full of dignity. And if one premeditatively murders / destroys another human being, they therefore forfeit their own right to life. God doesn’t merely allow the execution of murderers but commands it as the OT law further expresses.

      John 8 – I do not see this as supportive text for abolishing capital punishment. First, I do not pretend to know the mind of Christ. Had the woman actually committed murder can you dogmatically say what Jesus would do? I can not. Second, I see this account as Jesus not falling into the trap set by the Pharisees (ie. stone her and violate Roman law or not stone her and violate Jewish law) and remaining focused on His mission to call all mankind (ie. sinners) to repentance and reconcilation with God thru Him as “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12)

      Acts 25:11 – Apostle Paul is accepting the principle of capital punishment where appropriate.

      Romans 13:1-4 – Based on your resisting authority agrument, I think we agree that capital punishment is in view here with “the sword” in verse 4. Our difference is whether or not to submit to the principle of government having the authority for society’s benefit to end one’s life. I would say ‘yes’ as Christians are not called to take revenge (Rom 12:19) yet the state may legitimately do so in the pursuit of justice. I suspect we may disagree.

      Rev 13:10b “he who kills by the sword must be killed with the sword”. This I believe is a reiteration of Gen 9:6 principle.

      • Rob, thanks for your thoughtful response. Allow me to respond in kind…

        Genesis 9.6 — Agreed. The OT Law commands capital punishment. However, a couple of things to consider:

        (a) If this command is carried out incorrectly (i.e., the wrong person is executed), then we have violated God’s command by shedding the blood of an innocent. Therefore, at the very least, we should exercise extreme caution. In the Thompson case which Carson cited above, does this OT injunction truly apply?

        (b) This is the bigger issue at stake for me. Simply because a legal prescription exists in the Old Testament does not mean that we should follow. After all, as Christians we assert that our justification comes apart from the law. What is the purpose of the OT law today? Is it to create a set of rules by which we should order society? I would say, “No,” after all most of us reject huge portions of that law (e.g., animal sacrifice). The purpose of the law is to showcase our lack of righteousness. Can we then pretend to mete out justice as if we were in fact righteous? Seems like a dicey situation to me.

        You seem also to appeal to the ancient-ness of this text as some sort of authority by pointing out that this law was given before the 10 commandments and during the days of Noah. I’m curious why you would appeal to the age of the doctrine here.

        John 8 — My argument was not at all that John 8 abolishes the prescription for death. Rather, my point is similar to the one made just a moment ago: As sinful, fallen human beings, can we really pretend to carry out God’s perfect justice perfectly, and, therefore, not fall under the condemnation of the same law that we try to uphold?

        No one will be justified by the law…

        I am not sure why you are so quick to say that adultery is not a capital offense for Jesus, since the Old Testament law would have us believe so (e.g., Lev 20.10; Deut 22.22). Adultery, like murder, according to the OT Law, deserves death.

        My question re: John 8 still stands: Do you think the crime matters to Jesus? Or do you think his response would have been the same to any sinner? Do you really think that the driving force behind Jesus saying “neither do I condemn you” is his hope of avoiding Roman retribution? I would like to think that Jesus is not quite that near-sighted, more interested in the eternal rather than the temporal or ephemeral.

        Acts 25.11 — Is Paul accepting the principle of capital punishment where appropriate? Or is he merely accepting the fact that the Romans have capital punishment? In effect, I’m asking this: Isn’t this just a rhetorical strategy for Paul? I guess we’re going to disagree on that.

        Revelation 13.10 — Honestly, I just can’t address this, because what’s going on in Revelation is beyond the breadth and depth of my understanding. I don’t pretend to really know what any of it means.

        Romans 13.1–4 — My real point with Romans 13 is that I don’t understand when/where to apply this difficult passage. In your system, in order to say that the execution of someone is OK, I’ve got to do two very difficult things:

        (a) Believe that government is good. Though I do not consider myself a “conservative,” my understanding is that conservatism (at least as it’s expressed in the media) would have a difficult time saying that governments are good. I too find this difficult. Like any other human institution they are corruptible. So, how to understand Paul’s submission to authorities ideas is quite a problem.

        (b) Separate the Christian “no revenge” principle of which you speak from those doing the executing. For example, if I’m Rick Perry, I’ve got to somehow split myself into “Christian Rick Perry” and “Governor Rick Perry” so that the Governor side can carry out the punishment.

        Does that make sense?

        Bottom-Line — Again, my point is less about whether or not death is a deserved punishment and more about whether or not we can carry it out. I think it’s perilous to argue that God doesn’t think that some sins/transgressions are worthy of death. In fact, I think it’s very clear that Sin = Death (Rom 6.23) since Sin is separation from God, the one who gives and sustains life.

        The real heart of my thinking is this: Knowing that we are imperfect humans who exist in a fallen state, should we cast stones or should we show mercy?

        In the end, God showed mercy and love.

  12. One other thought (dang, I’m vocal today…)

    Does one need to interpret the Bible literally at all times in order to find Truth and guidance in it?

    For example, looking at the accounts of Creation in Genesis (chapters 1 and 2), I find it extremely difficult to buy that this is literal, empirical fact. First of all, these are two different and conflicting accounts of what are supposedly the same event. Yet, the folk(s) that put Genesis together didn’t seem to have any problems with putting these two stories together.

    So, if we don’t take them as literal, can we no longer use them to say something about the character/nature of God? I think we certainly can. God has created this world with a certain order to it and with certain boundaries. God has created man in His image and there is some special relationship. Etc. etc.

    • I would submit to interpret the bible correctly and as infallible one must “strive” to interpret scripture literally employing proper hermeneutics (ie. methodology / art and science of biblical interpretation). The ‘literal’ principle, technically know as the historic-grammatical method, takes the natural straightforward case of a text or passage as fundamental. The text must be according the original meaning, original setting and context before attempting to relate it to ourselves.

      This ‘literal’ approach must be carefully distinguished from the ‘literlistic’ approach. The literistic approach interprets the words of scripture in a ‘wooden fashion’ without making allowance for imagery, metaphor, literary form, etc. I agree this is problematic and even dangerous.

      Regarding Genesis 1 & 2, I do not see these as conflicting but complimentary. Genesis 1 gives the chronological order and outline of creation events while Genesis 2 provides more content and details about them. Is it empirical fact? The bible is not a science book per se yet is true nonetheless on what it explicitly teaches as well as what it touches on (eg. history, science or mathematics). Are there difficulties in the bible? Yes, error no. St. Augustine noted, “If we are preplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, the author of this book is mistaken”.

  13. Rob:

    What about this point of view.

    Any thoughts to this point: The Bible is and without a doubt the inspired word of God; however, we as students of this cannot deny that man over time injected themselves into its writings. When I look at scripture, I remind myself that man after the period of Christ wrote to others about the current which is now the historical. Case in point: Paul’s writings in the books of Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans are in many ways his reflection and thoughts of the period and his own cheering for young Christians and churches.

    1 Corinthians 7:12, he speaks of divorce, but in doing so, he is voicing what many Christian scholars believe to be his view; however, I do realize he draws from the Gospels. My point as it relates to the death penalty and the periodization of scripture is that if we use the modern hermeneutics approach, one must look to the cultural norms of a region at that time, then evaluate the impact of scripture on a current/modern society.

    Maybe I am missing the boat here. Thoughts?

    • Carson –

      The bible was written over a period of 1600 years, on three different continents, in three different languages by forty different writers with varying backgrounds (eg. king, shepherd, doctor, fisherman, tax collector, etc) and levels of education. Each writer employed his own literary style, human perspective (eg. Psalm 23 was written from a shepherd’s perspective, Chronicles from a priestly perspective, etc), human thought patterns (including laspes in memory – 1 Cor 1:14-16) and human emotions. So yes, the bible is a human document inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20) – as you concur. Said another way, like Christ the Bible has a completely human form, yet without error.

      Regarding 1 Cor 7:12, I would submit this text is not Paul’s opinion but rather him adding to what Christ had not specifically addressed in gospels about marriage / divorce. He affirms this teaching is by divine inspiration a few lines later (1 Cor 7:40). I don’t see this as applicable here.

      Yes, the epistles were written to the fledgling church in the current which is now historical. The purpose of the epistles was primarily to delineant Christian doctrine and practice while warding off heretical teachings. I would submit its “application” is every bit as revelent today as it was to the original audience. Why? Because the bible is transcedent truth that addresses the perpetual wayward / sinful nature of mankind. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun ” (Eccl 1:9). In other words, scripture forms a foundation that lasts despite the caparcious shifts of the age.

  14. Rob: You stated “Looked into this a bit more. Did you know Thompson unloaded his gun on one store keeper (Mubarakali Meredia), then pistol whipped him and left him for dead? Fortunately, Meredia survived. Thompson also apparently took two errant shots at the other store keeper (Mansoor Rahim) but his buddy, Sammy Butler, finished the job and killed him. The state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt Butler pulled the trigger that killed Rahim so he got life in prison. This was apparently their 8th such similar crime. See http://deathpenaltynews.blogspot.com/2009/11/texas-executes-robert-lee-thompson.html

    If the concern is an innocent man was unjustly executed after an exhaustive and expensive run through the appeals process …. sorry, don’t buy it.”

    I am with you and do not think he is innocent; for me to believe that many would question my intelligence; my point is that it was recommended by the state board due to the evidence that he not get the death penalty. I understand why families of violent crimes believe this is a good solution to our problems. But, I still contend that killing a person is such a complex and emotional matter; it is one that advanced states should avoid; instead, focusing on the root of the problem. Now, before you laugh at me, I will be the first to admit that I am an idealist.

  15. Rob:
    Thanks for pointing out the difference between historical-grammatical literalism and letteristic literalism.

    In my experience, however, most of the preaching and teaching that I hear/read coming out of churches is not as attuned to the issues of genre, figurative language, and historical context as it should be.

    I don’t think we should pick up the epistles of Paul and have our first thought be: “What is Paul writing to me?” I’m not at all trying to say that we shouldn’t allow for that question or that possibility or for the movement of the Spirit in us. Rather, I’m saying that before we attempt to create doctrine/dogma/theology out of these texts, we need to do a thorough investigation of when and why they were written.

    Of course, then we get into historiographical issues of text and context…

  16. Getting to this late however a close reading of the Bible, both NT and OT, one can see where the death penalty is upheld and is clearly Biblical. I am not for the death penatly (as I think it’s too easy) but to say it is against God is just plain wrong.

    Paul speaks on how “those who live by the sword will die by the sword”. Also, the Bible states that God will demand an accounting for taking a life. That accounting is thru the death penatly.

  17. Carson, you said:
    “I still contend that killing a person is such a complex and emotional matter; it is one that advanced states should avoid; instead, focusing on the root of the problem. Now, before you laugh at me, I will be the first to admit that I am an idealist.”

    I would actually argue the opposite. People who are FOR the death penalty are the idealists. The ideal is that we humans and our obviously flawed court will somehow ALWAYS be correct in our judgments, and therefore never put to death people who are innocent. That’s idealism.

    In any particular case, we may be quite sure that the person is guilty, like with Charles Manson. But, that doesn’t mean we will ALWAYS, 100% of the time, be sure. That’s idealism, if not outright insane.

    All moral/religious arguments aside, the practical argument that by Murphy’s Law we are guaranteed to be putting to death innocent people periodically, is enough to abolish the death penalty completely. I can’t see a logical argument to successfully refute that.

    Save for two.
    First, the Head in the Sand argument: “No, we always get it right, 100% of the time. Our justice system is perfect.”

    or Second, the Utilitarian one: “So, we kill off some innocents once in a while … Oh, well … at least we USUALLY get the bad guys! And that’s better than letting guilty people go free.”

    The first one is just dumb, though, we’ve all heard variations of it. And the second is shady at best, and certainly begs the question of the morality of its consequences.

    • Saij –

      I see your point (and Stephen’s below) but if government needs to be 100% foolproof, then they’d never do anything. (eg. They’d shut down the Post Office as I seem to frequently get my neighbor’s mail). So agreed government is faulty and I personally believe less government intrusion in one’s life is better. But regarding this topic, we are taking about hardened criminals who have an extensive rap sheet and been through the exhaustive, lengthy and expensive appeals process with opportunties for clemency which is often times granted. I just empathize with the crime victims and protection of society. Not administering justice can have devastating societal effects. Case in point: Mike Huckabee’s clemency record under fire this week after four police officers were gunned down by Maurice Clemmons who was set free by Huckabee and the judicial system :
      http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,316312,00.html .
      http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/11/30/crimesider/entry5836475.shtml

  18. Interesting thoughts, Saij.

    I was thinking about this issue again this morning as I was driving to work.

    As I’ve said, I completely and totally affirm that the Bible condones the death penalty. My argument(s) above are more about whether or not we can truly mete out this punishment fairly/correctly/justly all of the time (see also Saij’s argument above).

    This morning I was struck by the irony of the situation. The comments on this post that are in favor of the death penalty seem to be written predominantly by Christians. Christianity itself is a religion that worships a man(-god) who was unjustly sentenced to death. (I.e. as a Christian I believe Jesus to be God and perfect and sinless.)

    Of course, depending on your theological understanding of the Cross, you may point out that at the Crucifixion Jesus took on the sin of all humanity and was, therefore, deserving of death at that moment. Furthermore, you may say that the positive effect of his punishment justifies (e.g., salvation of humankind, source of hope, etc.) this judicial error.

    BUT, the fact remains that Jesus, at the time of his trials before the Jewish leadership and Pilate, was an innocent man unjustly sentenced to death.

    For centuries after this (and even today in some places), Christians were persecuted and even killed, i.e. sentenced to death by their fellow humans, though they were innocent of wrongdoing.

    Yet, we are affirming the idea that the State, which has yet to prove itself incorruptible, has the ability to dole out death in a purely just manner.

    Have the punished become the punishers and conveniently forgotten the inherent flaws that exist in systems of justice?

    Just a thought…

  19. Stephen –

    Really some interesting perspectives. Please allow me to reply.

    The reason many Christians support the death penalty is because it is biblical not because we necessarily like it or fail to recognize throughout history innocent people (including Christians) have been put to death. Every one of the apostles (sans John) was put to death. And, the only truly innocent Man who ever walked the earth was executed on the cross. Never has there been a more egregious crime committed! But what did God do? He allowed it to happen. Can we fully grasp the gravity of it? No (at least I can’t) but we can accept it as His perfect will.

    Practical agruments can be made on either side but scripture commands capital punishment as you concur. We could go more into the intramural debate of John 8 and other texts but bottom line is Jesus instructs “if we love Him obey His commands”. We can rationalize our contempt for it (as we do other teachings) but in the end it is God’s judgement used in preserving and dignifying human life. It confirms we are moral beings and, as a consequence, should be held responsible for our actions.

  20. Rob:

    I see and do understand your point; however, I struggle to see the purpose. Society does not execute because it is biblical. We live in a secular society; I think [re]vengence is inherent in man. We seek too often to eliminate the person rather than forgive and counsel. I know this is a matter of conjecture, however, I struggle in seeing why? As a Christian, I prefer God to make this call. Sure, I know what scripture says. But as a pacifist I prefer to follow Christ and focus my attention on forgiveness. I know I have yet (and hope never) to be fully tested on this seeing that I have never lost a close one.

  21. Carson –
    I do agree that Christians are called to forgiveness (which can be a real test of our faith at times). Additionally, we are called not to escalate violence or seek revenge unjustly. We are released from these desires (as hard as it may be) because is it God’s call (as you noted) to extract judgement and revenge.

    I would also submit that as part of the classic Christian worldview God sets up and establishes all governments. He is sovereign over all governments – secular or not. One of the foundational aspects of government is protect its people and mete out justice as required. In short, God uses His human instrument (government) to further protect the innocent in society (future murder victims) while excentuating His high view of human life.

    Having said that, I do understand your proverbial ‘why’ question as I too have those in other areas. Yet find solace in knowing God is omniscient and is completely just and all about love, grace and goodness. What He is clear about in scripture I strive to uphold whether I fully understand it or not.

  22. Rob, you said:

    “but if government needs to be 100% foolproof, then they’d never do anything.”

    While it is certainly true that the government is never 100% foolproof on anything, not every act the government does is equally important.

    A missed piece of mail is one thing, some over-taxing is a problem, but killing someone who didn’t do anything is unacceptable.

    Yes, there is a utilitarian argument to be had. Is it better to let a guilty man go free, or kill an innocent man? It really does come down to that, at times. I’m for the former. If you are for the latter, then I can understand that as a philosophical stance. However …

    I guarantee, that anyone who gets put on trial for a murder they didn’t commit will not be for the death penalty. “Do unto others …”

    Again, if we could be 100% certain, then I might be for the death penalty. But, we can’t, and so I’m not.

    About the biblical reasons:

    Certainly it is true that the bible proscribes the death penalty (Exodus 21:12, and many other places). But, it proscribes a lot of stuff that modern day Christians (even very conservative ones) ignore outright–and then brush under the rug.

    I am only swayed by the biblical argument if ALL of the laws of the bible are being followed. Otherwise, we’re picking and choosing anyway, so why not in this case?

    For instance, not every Christian follows this law to the letter:

    “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

    How about Deuteronomy 13:6-10, which tells us to kill anyone who believes in a different God, even your own family.

    Then in Deuteronomy 13:12-15, it goes on to say that if we find a city that worships a different God, we should kill everyone and every living thing within it (even animals).

    I particularly like Leviticus 21:9. “If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.”

    That’s pretty clear. Not a lot of interpreting needed. Either we do what the bible says, or we come up with some reason not to.

    Nothing about the bible is obvious. It isn’t a textbook. There have been thousands of years of arguing and waring over which interpretation is correct, and we ain’t done yet.

    It is never enough to argue that any one particular take on biblical law is the “right one”. That’s what the Spanish Inquisition thought, it’s what the Puritans thought, and that didn’t work out so well for either of them, nor for those they burned.

    To say that the bible tells us to engage in capital punishment is the identical argument Islamic terrorists use to justify their actions. Killing infidels IS a part of the Koran. But, most reasonable Muslims ignore it, just like most Christians don’t go around killing people of different faiths, or unfaithful spouses, or even prostitutes, just because the bible says you’re supposed to.

  23. Saji –
    Thank you for your reply. Please let me respond.

    The point that must be reinforced is Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Please see Matthew 5:17. This means that the OT civil and ceremonial laws have been fulfilled in Christ and we are now under His ‘covenant of grace’. The OT scriptures you’ve cited fall under the civil law.

    However, the moral laws do not change and still apply of which capital punishment is one of them. In short, capital punishment is God’s idea, codified in the OT moral law, supported by Jesus and upheld by the apostles.

    I’m sorry, but to equate this to the Koran’s teaching to murder “infidels”…. well, we will just have to disagree.

    • Rob: I do agree that scripture allows for such; however, I just do not see the purpose. I fear men making such calls. Due to our own agendas and sins, I worry that we is this secular society are drive by things other than what scripture discusses…

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