Thursday, July 30, 2009

When justice is forgotten (capital punishment)

A brutal creep with a history of abusing women stabs a young lady and slashes her face. Amy Leigh Barnes calls emergency, and dies while on the phone, with her last breaths gasping out the identity of her murderer.

The judge scolds the young man who murdered her. Calling him "evil," he says
“You are a bully who will hit and injure anyone who gets in his way. Particularly women. And particularly women with whom you are in a relationship. You are dangerous beyond words.”
Wow. Harsh. Judge sounds all riled, eh?

Sentence?

Well, for the young lady, death. She's dead now. She'll be dead next year. And in five years, ten, fifteen, twenty years....

And she'll still be dead when her murderer gets out of prison — assuming he serves the whole 24 years of his sentence.

The value of her life, then? Twenty-four years of taxpayers supporting, housing, guarding, and picking up the medical bills for her murderer.

Then there's actor Kelsey Grammer, whose deep, mellifluous voice I wish I had. Ah, but did you know that his younger sister was brutally murdered in 1975? Yes, when 18, Karen Elisa Grammer was raped, and then stabbed to death. A man was sentenced to... free support for life on the taxpayers' dime.

But wait, there's more.

Grammer's sister is still dead, and it clearly still tears him up. But the murderer is still alive. He was initially sentenced to death — which makes sense, as he was found guilty of murdering three people. But that sentence was commuted to (A) life, all expenses paid; and (B) the possibility of parole.

So now a parole board was considering freeing this three-time murderer. And Grammer had to persuade them not to do so.

They decided not to.

But the murderer gets another go in 2014.

My point is very simple. In some cases, justice is complicated. In murder, it is not. The value of a human life is beyond measure. I take $50, justice is that I pay back $50 plus interest. I take a human life by murder, my own life is forfeit, period. The suggestion that I can "pay back" by any other means necessarily cheapens the life of the victim.

The Bible's attitude is clear and univocal and just.

Ours is not.

So we have the pathetic spectacle of victims' survivors having to plead and reason to keep a murderer in jail. They should not be subjected to such lifelong suffering. The memory of their loved one should not be so cheapened.

The murderer should not be alive.

But we've opted instead for relativism, psychology. Madness. Inconvenient children get the death penalty on a whim. Murderers get room and board for decades, then freedom.

"...behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD,
so what wisdom is in them?" (Jeremiah 8:9b)

75 comments:

Jonathan Vowell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Vowell said...

Man...I...ugh...(furrows brow in frustration)...Where's "The Punisher" when you need him?

"Does justice ever find you?
Do the wicked never lose?
Is there any honest song to sing
Besides these Blues?
It will be a day like this one
When the sky falls down,
And the hungry and poor
And deserted are found."
(John Foreman, Switchfoot, "The Blues")

"He that testifies of these things says, 'Surely I come quickly.' Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
(Revelation 22:20)

The Squirrel said...

I couldn’t agree more. The death penalty is the only biblically mandated punishment for murder, and the fact that it is so underutilized has, in my opinion, contributed to the current lack of law & order in our society.

I remember getting a lot of questions about the Biblical view on the death penalty during the time of the Timothy McVeigh execution. While I was pro death penalty, I had never looked at the Biblical basis for it. I came away from my studies even more firmly convinced that the death penalty is just and right.

~Squirrel

JTW said...

Kelsey Grammer’s letter is gut-wrenching. It is odd what the left calls compassion - a complete disregard for the suffering victims and a preoccupation with the welfare of criminals.

It also underscores the justice of hell. That murderer can spend an eternity in prison and never restore what he has taken and atone for his sins.

Jerry said...

A long time ago, in a seminary far away, I was sitting in an OT class. The prof. (who remain nameless) asked who supported capital punishment. About 1/2 of the class raised their hand, myself included.

We were then chastised for the rest of the hour. The main argument went something like this:

If you were sentenced to death, then Jesus would take your place, thus releasing you from the consequences of your sin.

My counter argument that the victim was still dead (so much for consequences) did not carry any weight.

I am still a proponent of the death penalty.

DJP said...

Well, now I want to know who and where.

That's absolutely insane. That same "reasoning" could be applied to absolutely every crime without exception, with the result that there can be no law, courts, or consequences for anything - theft, rape, murder, anything.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Amen, Dan, Amen.

Julie

ulfbiggorilla said...

I took an Ethics in the 21st Century class while studying philosophy in college...three years ago...and this topic came up obviously. I was one of 4 or five people in a class of 25 or so to support the death penalty. The prevailing arguments against it?

It is not a deterrent.

What if the convicted individual is innocent?

It is barbaric and devalues life, so society is just lowering itself to the murderers level.

Now I argued a lot in college. Studying philosophy at a liberal university (is there another kind?) meant I was constantly hearing some strange things. But nothing was as baffling to me as how people reasoned for abortion, and against the death penalty.

I spent 45 minutes debating with the prof and classmates...(we shouldn't put murderers to death because it doesn't deter other murderers? Really? Even if that were true, are we really deciding what a just punishment is by its effectiveness as a "teachable moment" to other would be murderers?...)Anyways, you are right the bible is clear. And it is fascinating to argue with folks who will use an argument against the death penalty based on the idea that it devalues human life...and then turn around and say killing babies is fine. It was amazing.

DJP said...

Yep. You also illustrate what we've already glimpsed: that there is no argument against capital punishment that is not equally an argument against any sentence of any kind.

With one exception we should acknowledge: when it's discovered that someone's been imprisoned unjustly, he can be released. But you can't un-execute someone.

As to deterrence: zero recidivism.

But if deterrence is the ultimate goal, then I suggest seriously let's try flaying murderers alive on national TV, or in some other grisly fashion.

Beyond that, I just don't believe it. What do criminals themselves do? When some gang, or the Mafia, wants to make an example of a traitor - do they rent him an apartment and put him up for life?

Nope. They kill him.

NONE OF WHICH is why I'm pro-capital-punishment, just to be clear. I favor it because God demands it, and therefore it is just and wise.

These are just ways that show how just and wise it is.

Jay said...

I'm pro-capital punishment. I have, however, heard Christians argue that since some murderers in the Bible (Moses, Paul) were later saved, that capital punishment decreases a murderer's chance of getting saved because it decreases his/her lifespan.

I simply argued that there should be more ministries to inmates on death row, then. What do you think?

Citizen Grim said...

The most horrible part of this is the girl's dying words, identifying her attacker, and then this: "I’m going... I can't see..."

And the terrible likelihood that - if her lifestyle is any indication - she was probably far from Christ. "I can't see," indeed.

Heart-breaking.

DJP said...

That's a very good bluff-caller, Jay.

What they're saying amounts to, "I'm not going to read God's Word, because I prefer to read His mind!"

IOW, He says to execute murderers... but I've got this hunch He might want to save their souls, but He's kind of slow, and I might beat Him to it and screw up His entire eternal plan by obeying Him....

Yeah, it just really doesn't work.

DJP said...

You bet, Grim. That transcript is gut-wrenching. Had I been the operator, I think my heart would have just shattered like a pretzel.

Dorothy said...

Amen, brother!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

They have capital punishment in China and the Middle East.

DJP said...

Um... yeah.

Sir Aaron said...

I worked on a federal death penalty case ( in fact the only such one in Ca since WW2 and assuming he lives long enough to get executed it will be the only one where the sentence was carried out). The victims' families waited several years for the trial and were in court everyday for six months.

Some people feel like jail is worse than death. Unfortunately, many murderers are very powerful in jail and contribute to many crimes including addl murders from jail. Plus there is no ramification to those who commit crimes while serving a life sentence. I always tell anti death penalty people to visit a maximum security prison. Talk to the guards, talk to investigators. You'll never ever doubt the death penalty again.

As far as somebody being innocent, there's always a slight risk of a shawshank redemption, but most of the so called innocent being released aren't quite as innocent as people are led to believe by the media.

DJP said...

Some people feel like jail is worse than death

Again, not including actual criminals and gang members.

Sir Aaron said...

Right. And saying jail is worse than death is something only the ignorant say since those on death row fight awfully hard to prevent being killed so they can stay in jail.

I do understand the sentiment in some sense. Sometimes victims want the pepetrator to suffer. Totally understandable feeling. But I tell them that wanting somebody to suffer extra for their crimes is no longer about justice but about vengeance. Vengeance isn't in my jurisdiction to administer.

The Squirrel said...

The "Jail is worse then death" idea is closely aligned with the "This Life is All There Is" idea.

~Squirrel

threegirldad said...

With one exception we should acknowledge: when it's discovered that someone's been imprisoned unjustly, he can be released. But you can't un-execute someone.

Even so...

"Hanging is not a more irrevocable act than any other. You can't bring an innocent man to life: but neither can you give him back the years which wrongful imprisonment has eaten."
--C.S. Lewis. "Letters: Capital Punishment and Death Penalty." God in the Dock.

If you (generic "you," not Dan Phillips "you") refuse to execute a man on the grounds that he might be innocent, aren't you obligated to refuse to imprison him on the exact same grounds?

Ben said...

As far as somebody being innocent, there's always a slight risk of a shawshank redemption, but most of the so called innocent being released aren't quite as innocent as people are led to believe by the media.

Oh, come on, guys.

DJP, you raised the question of unjust punishment, but you didn't address is, only acknowledging that it must be acknowledged.

And SIr Aaron, what does you comment quoted above mean? That's an unjustified slur on people who are freed from prison on the grounds that they were unjustly imprisoned.

You can't give someone back the time they spent in prison, but you can make the punishment 'cease' in a way you can't when you kill them.

Murder is the ultimate crime, but considering our justice system is imperfect, surely we must err on the side of restraint, and imprison people for life without parole (which is effectively a death sentence), rather than ending their life.

(And don't come at me with cost of sustaining them in prison. It's been well demonstrated that the death row appeals process is more costly than a life without parole sentence.)

DJP said...

Yes, there probably should be a greater limit on appeals — and will be if the standard of justice is brought back to bear (Ecclesiastes 8:11).

Only one issue matters: did the man or woman commit the murder? If so, he or she must be executed, and that within a reasonable length of time.

Approach it like abortion. Purists say, "____'s position doesn't eliminate abortion for rape or incest. I can't support him." But if that position prevailed, abortion would be cut dramatically.

Execute those whose guilt is a certainty, of which there are many now living on, to the guilt of this nation.

Because God avenges innocent blood for which justice has not been done, to the extent that a particular ceremony was required to clear a town of bloodguilt.

No human court has been without error. Israelite courts had far less sophisticated means of collecting evidence. Yet Yahweh's standard was what we'd consider fairly low: two witnesses, minimum.

And if witnesses were found later to have lied, their own lives were forfeit.

Establish reasonable guilt, execute for murder. To do less is injustice. To do less in the name of compassion is to insult God, whose standard one is rejecting and denigrating.

Stan McCullars said...

Ben: Murder is the ultimate crime, but considering our justice system is imperfect, surely we must err on the side of restraint, and imprison people for life without parole (which is effectively a death sentence), rather than ending their life.

That is plain silly. Was the justice system anything but imperfect in the Old and New Testaments?

If we're going to err on the side of restraint why not completely do away with the justice system? Locking up an innocent person for life (or 20 years for that matter) is beyond cruel.

Stan McCullars said...

One way to increase the likelihood of capital punishment being carried out is to always have a firearm ready to kill an attacker. Glock, Ruger, Mossberg, and Smith & Wesson are loaded and ready to serve.

I hope I never have to fire at someone. I've had to pull a weapon twice. Once some friends were playing a "practical joke" on me and almost got shot. The second time a gang of thugs was approaching me and my family to do us bodily harm. Amazingly, these idiots were familiar with the number 357 and decided to move along.

CR said...

I did not know that about Kelsey Grammar.

Ben said...

Was the justice system anything but imperfect in the Old and New Testaments?

Good point. I thought of that as I wrote, and Dan makes the point that the standard of evidence was relatively low in the OT. I don't know what I think about this yet.

If we're going to err on the side of restraint why not completely do away with the justice system?

That's a bit of an unfair characterisation, I think. The justice system is a part of the NT world, but I can't see capital punishment there, depending on how you read sword in Rom 13.

DJP said...

On what rationale? Do you think human life is worth less since Christ came? Do you think Roman officials paddled people with their swords? Substitute "electric chair" or "rifle," conceptually, and you'll have a better idea. It's like the "rod" in Proverbs: it symbolizes all forms of discipline, up to and including corporal punishment.

Ditto the sword and capital punishment.

Paul certainly reflected his acknowledgment of its justice in Acts 25:11.

It's a snub on God to suggest that the coming of Christ made human life cheaper, as a rejection of God's direct and trans-covenantal rulings does.

JTW said...

"One way to increase the likelihood of capital punishment being carried out is to always have a firearm ready to kill an attacker."

The same people who would parole a killer will fight against the right to keep and bear arms. Why? Because law-abiding citizens cannot be trusted with firearms. However, felons can be trusted to walk our streets.

Stan McCullars said...

Ben, The justice system is a part of the NT world, but I can't see capital punishment there, depending on how you read sword in Rom 13.

I'm not sure how else one can read Romans 13: For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:3-4 ESV)

The final judgement graphically detailed in Revelation is hard to ignore as well.

Ben said...

It's a snub on God to suggest that the coming of Christ made human life cheaper.

Honestly, Dan. *That's* an unfair characterisation. That's not what I said at all. Should we stone those children who curse their parents, as the Law instructs the Hebrews to?

I'm just saying I want to be sensitive to biblical revelation and work this out. I realise murder is in a different category to stoning children, but why? This is an important issue, and it's not good enough to point a finger at the OT and say, "There".

Let's work this through together rather than showing how smart we all are by contesting arguments that no one actually made.

I'm an evangelical Australian Christian and there's a lot of cultural detritus here I don't jive with, but I thought at least I could have a conversation with you guys without people misrepresenting my views.

DJP said...

I don't see anyone stopping you from presenting your views better, Ben. But I must say, I see you telling that you don't like what's being said, but so far I don't see you dealing with much of the considerable substance that's been produced in response.

So how about if you do that? A conversation takes two. Your serve was, I think, pretty amply returned. Ball is in your court.

CR said...

Ben,

Capital punishment for murder was given prior to the Mosaic law. Capital punishment was given under the Noahic covenant which has never been abrogated. It is still in effect today and it is the obligation of the civil magistrate to carry out.

The Squirrel said...

Also, execution for murderers should be swift. As in, "You have been found guilty by this court, the bailiff will now take you out back and shoot you. You have five minutes to make your peace with God. Next!"

~Squirrel

P.D. Nelson said...

Dan I have a question for you that has come from my non-believing friends & co-workers. Now I believe in the death penalty, it is the God mandated penalty for murder. Knowing this they asked me would I still demand his life if he became a true born again believer. Now I know what I said, but I am interested in your response to this question.

NoLongerBlind said...

P.D.Nelson:
I would submit that, if a guilty murderer was subsequently genuinely saved by God's amazing grace - he should submit humbly and willingly to his execution, if that is the law in the state of jurisdiction, as the just and fitting punishment for his crime.

JMHO,

Tom

CR said...

PD,

Genesis 9 teaches that if any man murders another man, then he is to be still be put to death regardless if he is converted. The reason the Lord institutes capital punisment for murder is because man is created in God's image. To murder another human being is to murder what is most like God and that is implicitly an attack on God Himself.

Now, while salvation removes the penalty of sin(Hell), it does not remove the consequences of sin (in this case, capital punishment). Similarly, salvation doesn't necessarily remove other consequences of sin (sickness, disease, and physical death). I can't remember who it was, Jonathon Edwards or George Whitfield but he would go to the gallows with those who were sentenced for murder and not plead for commutation but would pray with those men who had been converted.

Your friends may not understand this because they do not have any love for the biblical Jesus and therefore cannot understand this and they do not have love for the biblical Jesus because they are not born-again.

Ben said...

[[I got this message: "Your HTML cannot be accepted: Must be at most 4,096 characters" so I'll split it.]]

[[This one comes first]]

So how about if you do that? A conversation takes two. Your serve was, I think, pretty amply returned. Ball is in your court.

Okay. To be honest, I don't know what I think about this issue, I'm trying to work it out.

What I'm torn between is, as you guys point out, the clear command in the OT that blood demands blood on the one hand, and a hesitation caused by the absolute finality of that judgment on the other, knowing that people make grave errors in their deliberations.

In the main article, Dan, you talked about the terrible miscarriage of justice it is for a convicted (multiple) murderer to leave prison alive. I agree.

But bearing in mind cases that are overturned on the grounds of DNA evidence for example, while people sentenced to death are still on death row, I'm tempted to think life imprisonment is a wiser option. After all, the Western legal system is predicated on the idea that it's better to let a guilty man go free than punish an innocent man.

As I mentioned briefly above, I wonder if life imprisonment isn't effectively a death sentence. And if it's too cushy or criminals continue to operate as such behind bars, perhaps that's what we need to look into improving, rather than going for capital punishment.

Part of my hestitation here, is that I think it's too easy (read: cop out) to appeal to OT texts for mandating capital punishment. Hear me out. The reason I'm interested in looking to the NT for guidance on this issue is not because I think Jesus death has made human life less valuable (as Dan suggested I might have thought)—that's obviously absurd—but because something has changed from the old covenant to the new.

Ben said...

(cont.)

There are OT statutes that Christians aren't required to adhere to anymore, like the example of a child being stubborn and rebellious in Dt 20:20-21. One of the criteria for determining what Christians ought to make of this (who read the OT as Scripture, but not as Law), is what approach NT revelation takes to particular moral questions.

So for example, in Dt 22:23-24, the people of God are called on to stone a man and a woman who lie together though they are not married, because they must "purge the evil from among you".

In the NT, the Apostle Paul uses exactly these purging words in 1Cor 5:13 to speak of how the NT people of God must be rid of a person who is sexually immoral, but in this case—and this is very important—they are to be cast out of the assembly, for their benefit and the church's. Paul takes OT language about purging, which in the OT meant execution, and appropriates it under the new covenant for expulsion, which 1Cor 5:5 tells us is done so that the sexually immoral man will be saved on the day of the Lord.

Admittedly, we're talking about a difference between what was effectively 'state' justice in the OT, and church discipline in the New, but I think this teaches us that we should be sensitive to how the NT deals with the ethical demands of the old. We need to take the cue of the NT on ethical matters, to know how Jesus and the apostles understood the full revelation of God's moral order.

Looking at the NT, I'm drawn to Romans 13, which talks about the disciplinary and even vengeful role of the government. This is complicated by the fact that the NT isn't written as a government policy handbook; it's written for a minority, who are called to submit to government, rather than being given instructions by God about how they ought to rule.

The government Paul speaks of here isn't Christian, in his day, it's Roman law. So it becomes problematic, I think, to suggest that rulers should see their role as being "God's avengers" (v. 4), since it is not Paul's intent to teach governments how to act (since they don't acknowledge God in any sense in his context), but for minority Christians to be law-abiding and know that, whether its acknowledged or not, a government's authority comes from God.

This issue of the text being direct to a minority Christian group applies to the rest of the NT, so we don't see the command for capital punishment anywhere in the NT (if someone has other references, please let me know).

The question this raises in my mind is whether we can say with certainty that in the new aeon, God's will is that governments mandate the death penalty, or whether perhaps those in power are free to determine what kinds of punishment best accomplish justice in this fallen world.

This is not to suggest that murder is not the most serious of crimes, as Dan points out, it is. But it is just to say that perhaps capital punishment isn't commanded for governments in this age, though they must take crime seriously, and punish offence.

I realise I've raised a lot of things, and it's hard to respond to a comment like that, but I'm happy to keep discussing if you like. Now that we've quit being jerks about it.

Nathan said...

Like Ben I'm an Australian Evangelical Christian - and I find it hard to come to terms with some of the arguments put forward here. They certainly wouldn't wash in Australia - though people might try using them.
I think part of the issue is that for better or for worse we (those in the US and Australia) live in democratic societies where the rights of minorities should be protected. We're not living in theocracies where the court has a spiritual mandate to carry out God's law on non believers.

I am sympathetic to the capital punishment cause - where guilt is absolutely provable. But like Ben I hesitate to pull the trigger if there is any chance an innocent may be killed - lest the blood of that innocent be on my hands.

Our whole belief system is based on the fact that our Lord was found guilty though he was innocent. That this might happen through our courts should not surprise us.

Re the comment about Noahic law...
"It is still in effect today and it is the obligation of the civil magistrate to carry out."

I suspect this, and all other calls to apply OT law - which was specifically given to God's people - should be considered as instructive to God's people, living in God's nation, under God's rule.

Despite America's Christian trappings this does not describe the US - it describes Israel, and later, the global church.

Ben has already addressed the issue of how the law does and does not apply to the church in his erudite manner. So I won't go there.

thesgc said...

Nathan,

The Noahic specifically was given as universal. It was not made with God's covenant people of Israel. So that objection, while applicable to the Mosaic Law, would not apply to it.

Also, the fear of wrongly executing someone is not good enough reason to abolish the death penalty. I'm confident about this because of the simple fact that God himself didn't consider it a good reason to abolish the death penalty. God knew with certainty that innocent men would be wrongly executed, yet it did not deter him from instituting the death penalty on multiple occasions. Instead, he gave instructions on how to punish those who bore false witness that led to the execution of the innocent. So I consider that argument to have been found wanting by God himself. (This, of course, is not to say that we shouldn't debate how to improve our justice system so as to avoid executing innocents.)

Also, as for NT evidence of the death penalty, one additional indicator that Paul viewed it as valid for the Roman government would be in his defense before Festus in Acts 25. Paul, in Acts 25:11, says that he isn't trying to escape death if he's done anything deserving of death. So in Paul's mind, there were crimes you could commit which would make you deserve execution by the Roman government. And that ties in very well with the interpretation of Rom. 13 that's offered by pro-death penalty Christians.

Nathan said...

It may not have been a covenant with Israel - but it was a covenant with God's people. There weren't a lot of people running around immediately post Noah who weren't God's people were there? And those before hand bore the brunt of God's punishment.

thesgc said...

Nathan,

The statement is universal:
Gen. 9:5b-6 (ESV) -- "From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image."

There's absolutely nothing to restrict this to only believers. It's a general statement about mankind, and the logic of capital punishment is based explicitly on man being made in the image of God; it's not liable to objections about a specific law for a specific nation in a specific time, purifying a covenant people, etc. Wherever men bear the image of God, murder demands capital punishment.

reuben// said...

Are you eating blood with your meat CR?

Gen 9:4 "But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.

6 "Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made man.

you say Capital punishment was given under the Noahic covenant which has never been abrogated. It is still in effect today and it is the obligation of the civil magistrate to carry out.

I don't want to put words in your mouth so correct me if i'm wrong but I'm guessing that you'll concede that this 'eating blood' part of the 'universal covenant' with Noah has either been abrogated or no longer applies to *all people*. This at least opens the possibility that the other parts of this same covenant may be abrogated or no longer apply to all people.

ulfbiggorilla said...

It is clear that the best argument against the death penalty is the "what if they are innocent?" argument.

Unfortunately that argument has absolutely nothing to do with whether capital punishment is just or not. And that is what matters in this argument. It clearly is just, I don't think anyone has argued against that yet. To bring up the possibility that maybe the NT doesn't address it and that there are other OT laws that we don't follow etc...all that ignores the question of justice. If capital punishment is the just punishment for murder, then why in the world would we want a lesser punishment?

If your answer is, "Because we might be wrong" then you are advocating for injustice as a policy, based on pity. Which is completely understandable, but not really an argument. More of an appeal to pity. The fact is we get in cars every day knowing there is a possibility we may kill someone with our car. An infinitely higher possibility than killing anyone with a false conviction. Yet we are fine with getting in our car anyways. Why? Because we have determined that our convenience...our ability to operate effectively in society...is more important than possibility of avoiding taking somebody's life. Is this wrong? No...because you can't make decisions based on the worst possible outcome of that decision.

Yet we are supposed to ignore justice based on a worst case scenario possibility?

Jonathan Vowell said...

The whole "Innocent people may be convicted, therefore we must abolish the death penalty" argument is emotionally satisfying but logically falicious b/c it is a non-sequitor.

Allow me to explain: If innocent people get convicted of crimes they have not committed, then that is the fault of the handling of their case specifically and perhaps the legal system in general, i.e., the death penalty does NOT put innocent people in jail; faulty jurisprudence does. Therefore, a renovation of the legal system would be necessary, NOT the abolition of the death penalty, which has nothing to do with an innocent being convicted.

In brief: saying "The innocent may be convicted, therefore we must abolish the death penalty" is like saying "The hedges are overgrown, therefore we must mow the grass." It does not follow, i.e., a non-sequitor.

Libbie said...

He won't stay in there anything like 24 years, of course.

I find it fascinating that those who are against the death penalty for murderers who have been soundly convicted make noises for the 'life inprisonment' that isn't life inprisonment at all.

You do realize our jails are full to bursting point, of course. He'll get a few years.

And actually, it makes sense that those who are anti-death penalty are often pro-abortion. It's the ultimate 'life is cheap' position.

Jay said...

Twenty-five years ago a dear lady friend was hit over the head with a pipe, thrown into the back of her car and taken to a rural field, beaten, raped and left to die.

Her murderer is alive on death row. She is still dead.

Locally, a couple of months ago one of Joyce Meyer Ministries security guards was arrested and charged with the strangulation murder of his wife and two young sons. If convicted, and that is likely based upon evidence released so far, how many years will he spend in prison either on death row or doing life? His wife and children will still be dead.

The use of Capital Punishment is two-fold - first for punishment of a horrific crime, and secondly to deter those who may feel inclined to commit those crimes.

That our society doesn't have the stomach for executing convicted murders but no problem executing unborn babies is disgusting and immoral.

Joshua Kingston said...

“There are OT statutes that Christians aren't required to adhere to anymore, like the example of a child being stubborn and rebellious in Dt 20:20-21. One of the criteria for determining what Christians ought to make of this (who read the OT as Scripture, but not as Law), is what approach NT revelation takes to particular moral questions.”

Hello Ben, I would like to take you back to Romans 13 again on this question. Note that in Romans 13, the authorities are called a minister of God and are used to PUNISH EVIL (and since there have been Christian law orders such as the Scottish Covenanters, we must find the proper interpretation of this passage for them to follow). I would remind you that the Moral law continues which is summarized (though not contained fully) in the ten commandments. So holding to an (almost) NT only position on moral issues is rather absurd especially since if you will notice, the judgments of the pagan nations of the OT is regarding their failure to obey the law civilly. Note please that this “child” is a drunken, fornicating, violent person who is a danger and a shame to his parents (correct reference is 21:18-21). Can you please show me where this law was abrogated in the NT an inquiring mind would like to know….

“So for example, in Dt 22:23-24, the people of God are called on to stone a man and a woman who lie together though they are not married, because they must "purge the evil from among you". “

This is talking specifically about a betrothed woman, not a regular virgin who lies with another man. Our society has a very low view of engagements today, however in the Bible it was regarded as a sacred and Holy covenant which this man/woman violated. Note that the regular laws for fornication are expressed in verses 28-29. The sum of silver is worth somewhere between 35,000-50,000 dollars today. The point is that this law would cut down on the amount of fornicating going on.

“In the NT, the Apostle Paul uses exactly these purging words in 1Cor 5:13 to speak of how the NT people of God must be rid of a person who is sexually immoral, but in this case—and this is very important—they are to be cast out of the assembly, for their benefit and the church's. Paul takes OT language about purging, which in the OT meant execution, and appropriates it under the new covenant for expulsion, which 1Cor 5:5 tells us is done so that the sexually immoral man will be saved on the day of the Lord.”

Note that in the NT we are talking primarily about CHURCH affairs. Why would we go to CHURCH affairs when we already have STATE affairs set out in the OT? I mean, there are some laws which have been abrogated however, the action of being excommunicated should not be interpreted in such a way to imply that Gods laws regarding capital punishment are no longer in effect, the Roman authorities were not about to execute fornicators or adulterers. Again however, as the minister of God, does the state have the right to make it up as it goes along in this area? What standard shall a Christian Magistrate judge by?

“Admittedly, we're talking about a difference between what was effectively 'state' justice in the OT, and church discipline in the New, but I think this teaches us that we should be sensitive to how the NT deals with the ethical demands of the old. We need to take the cue of the NT on ethical matters, to know how Jesus and the apostles understood the full revelation of God's moral order.”

A better way to look at it is that unless something is explicitly done away with in the New Testament it continues. The penalties communicated by God are every bit as Moral as the laws themselves. After all, Paul says that those who disobey the ordinances of God are worthy of Death (Romans 1:32) Ceremonial laws relating to the old dispensation have passed away as they have been fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

cont.

Joshua Kingston said...

my response cont.

“This issue of the text being direct to a minority Christian group applies to the rest of the NT, so we don't see the command for capital punishment anywhere in the NT (if someone has other references, please let me know).”

Romans 1:18-32 (worthy of death)

However, by and large I wouldn’t go to the NT for biblical justification for capital punishment. It is abundantly clear in the OT that murderers are to be put to death. Is going to the OT somehow less effective than the NT? God has by and large revealed more about government in the OT than in the NT. Biblical law knows of no prisons, Biblical law has either double restitution for minor crimes (theft etc.) or capital punishment for Major Crimes (Murder, Adultery etc.). The modern prison system actually penalizes the victim since they have money siphoned out of their pocket to support the guy in prison.

Solameanie said...

Here's my solution to the problem, but people think I am mean.

Sir Aaron said...

Ben:

You said: "And SIr Aaron, what does you comment quoted above mean? That's an unjustified slur on people who are freed from prison on the grounds that they were unjustly imprisoned."

I disagree. I did say there was a possibility of a shawshank redemption, which is a reference to the movie. In that case, a man was truly innocent and wrongly convicted through no fault of the justice system (IMO). So I did say such a sitiuation were possible. However, many people who are "unjustly imprisoned" are hardly that. Often times they are let out on a legal technicality (i.e. the police didn't keep the DNA or there wasn't enough to let the defense test it, etc.). Then you have the people who are let out, and may (and I emphasize may) not have committed the crime in question, but committed other such crimes which is why the Police suspected them in the first place. Then you have instances where the DNA is simply inconclusive which doesn't mean the suspect didn't do it. So my point was that there are very rarely actual innocent people convicted. And furthermore, the death penalty is not an automatic sentence for murder. It has to be sought by the prosecution, and at least federally, means that the evidence is overwhelming that the subject committed the crime and that it was done with particular malice. States run the gambit of course, since prosecutions are done on a county by county basis, but even then, in most instances, the murder wasn't the only issue considered when the death penalty is sought. But you hardly hear about that in the news.

In my case, we had to exclude evidence of two additional murders based on a legal technicality.

Sir Aaron said...

solameanie: why would anybody pick the electric chair over hanging?

Sir Aaron said...

Joshua:

I'd say that Scripture doesn't command us or government to proscribe the death penalty. Those commands were given only to the nation of Israel. However, there are a lot of principles and wise practices to be learned from those commands.

And with respect to the NT, God didn't have much of a problem proscribing the death penalty for Ananias and Sapphira.

CR said...

Sir Aaron,

The command that murderers be put to death was not just for Israel. First, Israel did not exist yet. It was given to mankind. The command to put murderers to death did not just apply to Israel anymore than what the Lord said about He creating man and that the man and his wife shall be one flesh only applied to Israel. It didn't. It applied to everyone.

Nathan said...

I would contend that an American understanding of Romans 13 is likely to be different to understandings of others around the world - where the governments are less nominally Christian.

I think a better understanding of Romans 13 is that governments are a tool wielded by a sovereign God for the purposes of common grace and maintaining social order. This does not mean that government will always act in that way (abortion for instance...).

If your understanding of Government is based solely on Romans 13 then you've got problems - and if your understanding of the judicial role of government is based solely on that passage it's equally flawed.

If God, as is his want, was happy to personally capitally punish Ananias and Sapphira perhaps we should leave it up to him to capitally punish those worthy of it still...

I wonder where Jesus discourse with the adulterous woman fits in. If you can find a pure and just judge, let them throw the stones at the guilty. Jesus abrogates the law's punishment on that woman for her adultery - if the punishment required by law is the same as for murder then who are we to call for "justice".

There's not a whole lot of "there but for the grace of God go I" in this discourse.

I think, personally, that the weight of scripture (particularly the NT) suggests that justice is right and good - but mercy and forgiveness is better.

And, the guilty, unrepentant sinner has an eternity to feel justice for their sin at God's hand.

Joshua Kingston said...

I’m going to respond to Nathan again

“I would contend that an American understanding of Romans 13 is likely to be different to understandings of others around the world - where the governments are less nominally Christian.”

Here’s a few of John Calvin’s comments on Romans 13:4: “For they bear not the sword in vain, etc. It is another part of the office of magistrates, that they ought forcibly to repress the waywardness of evil men, who do not willingly suffer themselves to be governed by laws, and to inflict such punishment on their offenses as God’s judgment requires; for he expressly declares, that they are armed with the sword, not for an empty show, but that they may smite evil-doers.

And then he says, An avenger, to execute wrath, etc. This is the same as if it had been said, that he is an executioner of God’s wrath; and this he shows himself to be by having the sword, which the Lord has delivered into his hand. This is a remarkable passage for the purpose of proving the right of the sword; for if the Lord, by arming the magistrate, has also committed to him the use of the sword, whenever he visits the guilty with death, by executing God’s vengeance, he obeys his commands. Contend then do they with God who think it unlawful to shed the blood of wicked men.”
(Source: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.xvii.ii.html)

There are different schools of thought in American Christianity, however the Southern Presbyterians tended to be quite close to their Scottish brethren (though differing on the establishment principle) so I’ll quote R.L. Dabney as representative: “As to the delegation of the right of capital punishment for flagrant crimes, the feeble attempt has been made to represent the injunction of Gen. 9:6 as not a precept, but a prediction; not as God’s instruction what ought to be done to the murderer, but His prophecy of what human vindictiveness would do. The context refutes this. This command for the capital punishment of the murderer, having been given to Noah, the second father of mankind, and before there was a chosen people, is of course, universal. Look also at the express injunction of capital punishments for several crimes: for murder, Num. 35:31; for striking a parent; Ex. 21:15; for adultery, Lev. 20:10; for religious imposture, Deut. 13:5. In Numb. 35:33, a reason is given which, on general principles, necessitates the capital punishment of murder. "For blood, it defileth a land, and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it."
Capital punishments are also authorized in the New Testament. Rom. 13. assures us that the magistrate "beareth not the sword in vain," but in bearing it he is God’s minister to execute wrath upon the evil doer.”
(source: http://www.pbministries.org/R.%20L.%20Dabney/Systematic%20Theology/chapter32.htm)

Keep in mind when you are reading Dabney that he was a Southern Confederate and was writing this none too enthused with northern Unitarian ideas of which anti capital punishment was one of them.

“If God, as is his want, was happy to personally capitally punish Ananias and Sapphira perhaps we should leave it up to him to capitally punish those worthy of it still...”

It is true that God will punish someone whether the state does it or not, however we could just as easily have used that argument in the OT in the many cases where God kills someone outside of the jurisdiction of the civil magistrate.

Joshua Kingston said...

response cont.

“I wonder where Jesus discourse with the adulterous woman fits in. If you can find a pure and just judge, let them throw the stones at the guilty. Jesus abrogates the law's punishment on that woman for her adultery - if the punishment required by law is the same as for murder then who are we to call for "justice". “

No he doesn’t, the whole situation was a pharisaical sham setup. The Romans were not going to punish someone for adultery and the Pharisees knew that. So they present Jesus with a case of what should we do with her? If Jesus had said don’t stone her he would have violated mosaic law and would have shown himself to be a false messiah. If he had said go ahead and stone her, the Pharisees would have brought him up on charges of civil disobedience since the Romans reserved the right of capital punishment for themselves. Jesus says that the ONE AMONG THEM who has no sin should throw the first stone. THEY were the ones who had committed adultery with the woman and therefore, this is why they all left. Note also that Jesus never abrogates the civil penalties for her crime, he only forgives her of her sin and tells her to sin no more.

Here’s another Dabney quote: “The laws of Moses, therefore, very properly made adultery a capital crime; nor does our Savior, in the incident of the woman taken in adultery, repeal that statute, or disallow its justice. The legislation of modern, nominally Christian nations, is drawn rather from the grossness of Pagan sources than from Biblical principles. The common law of England, and the statutes and usage’s which our Commonwealth has drawn from, present a most inconsistent state. There is no statute whatever for punishing adultery as a crime! And yet a usage, which is as fully recognized both in England and Virginia as any common law, entitles juries to acquit the injured husband of murder who slays the violator of his bed in heat of blood. This seems to be a recognition of the capital guilt of the crime of adultery, and at the same time an allowance, in this case, of the barbarous principle of "goelism," which the law, in all other cases, has so stringently prohibited. But here is the monstrous inconsistency, that if the crime of the adulterer be of long standing, and gradually discovered, no matter how certain the guilt, the husband, because no longer punishing in heat of blood, is debarred from inflicting the just punishment. The only other remedy that remains at the law is an action of damages against the seducer, in which the injured husband is constrained to degrade all his wrongs to the sordid, pecuniary plea of the loss of his wife’s services, as a domestic, by this interference. And juries are instructed, after ascertaining that there has been an unjust interruption of the wife’s domestic services, to appraise the compensation, not at its commercial, but at any imaginary value, which the seducer’s wealth may enable him to pay. Such is the wretched fiction which the law offers to the outraged spouse as the satisfaction for his wrongs.” (source http://www.pbministries.org/R.%20L.%20Dabney/Systematic%20Theology/chapter32.htm)

“There's not a whole lot of "there but for the grace of God go I" in this discourse.”

God had abundant grace and mercy in forgiving her, however a murderer who comes to faith by the grace of God must still pay for the sin of his murder. You are misreading this passage if you think that it abrogates the civil penalties for adultery.

Joshua Kingston said...

response cont. (they're beggining to stack up)

“I think, personally, that the weight of scripture (particularly the NT) suggests that justice is right and good - but mercy and forgiveness is better.”

Note the standard that God sets for civil penalties when giving his law in Deuteronomy 19: 21: “Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”. This passage clearly teaches that the punishment is to be performed in direct proportion to the wrong suffered. Thus ending another’s life unjustly warrants the ending of your own life (and note that Matthew 5:38-42 deals with personal retaliation not civil crimes.) For crying out loud! The victim is the one who deserves your PITY not the one who committed the crime! I can forgive those who insult me and even those who wrong me, however, those who murder are liable to be executed which is justice (and I would like to see you bring up ONE passage which clearly teaches that capital punishment is no longer in effect.)

“And, the guilty, unrepentant sinner has an eternity to feel justice for their sin at God's hand.”

Yes, however I would like to say that if you wish to use this argument, it can just as easily be applied to the OT as the NT. And sending someone to rot in Hell is much worse then sticking them in some little prison cell for the rest of their life.

Sir Aaron said...

The point of the story of Ananias and Sapphira is that there wasn't some new dispensation of justice in the NT. God's justice didn't change in the "new covenant." It also shows that the death penalty, in and of itself, is not wrong. Now, if you want to argue that our justice system cannot justly determine guilt, then that is another problem that we should deal with from a Biblical worldview.

If you use Jesus' interaction with the woman to argue against the death penalty then you must use it also to argue against any criminal punishment for any crime. As was already stated, the whole episode was a trap. First of all, punishment for adultery required a trial with at least two witnesses testifying against the accused. Secondarily, the man should have also been brought up on charges but they didn't do that. Lastly, we have no idea what Jesus wrote in the dirt.

Sir Aaron said...

CR:

I have some difficulty with the interpretation of Genesis 9:6 as a strict commandment to mankind to deliver the death penalty.

I'm pro death penalty and believe that the Bible is clear that the death penalty for murder is just and since we are commanded to be just then it follows we would therefore desire to implement the proscribed penalty.

I am, however, open-minded towards your view.

Solameanie said...

Sir Aaron,

Not sure why some make the choices they do. I've heard several, including: the inmate is against capital punishment, and the more gruesome, the better, so a political objective could be accomplished. Other inmates actually think lethal injection would be worse, because you would be so sedated you couldn't scream out in agony if you were in agony. They might refuse hanging because it's culturally insulting, or the idea occurs to them that they might hang there a while before dying. Who knows?

The main point is that the death penalty is intended to accomplish two objectives. One is that the criminal is dead. The second is to send a message to society. And, as Dan points out, we can add a third which ought to be the first. Because it is biblical.

I tend to prefer the chair as a method because of the appropriate horror of it, at least in these hyper feminized times. It ought to make people blanch. Considering that stoning to death was the method in the Mosaic Law, the chair seems quite a bit quicker. With the exception of occasional botches, when you have 2,400 volts run from your brain to your calves, death is believed to result in 1/240th of a second because the current depolarizes the brain.

I suppose -- if I had to be honest -- there is a mystique about the chair, probably due to the crime dramas of the 1930s and 40s. I love film noir. You seldom can watch one without at least one reference to the chair. That shows the impact it had on the nation's psyche. Watch "Angels With Dirty Faces" with James Cagney, and the scene where they're dragging him to the chair. The point of the scene is that criminals love to beat their chests and brag about how tough they are, but one sight of the chair and all that melts out. There is some debate over whether Cagney's character acted the coward because that's what the priest wanted him to do for the sake of the kids who idolized him, but I tend to think it was because he finally saw death staring him in the face, and he buckled.

Nathan said...

I'll come back for another bite of the cherry.

I don't think Calvin's doctrine of government carries much weight in a western democracy - he engaged in the creation of a post-Catholic theocracy. The point I'm making about government is that we should be identifying more with nations surrounding Israel than with Israel when it comes to law and order.

I'm happy to suggest that if a theocracy existed, if a church could win for itself the right to hand down law and order on its members, then yes - the death penalty is appropriate.

I think it's appropriate to give the government that power too.

What I'm trying to get at is that just because a government has that tool at its disposal, it doesn't follow that it should use it by necessity. Consider, for example, Nathan's interaction with David after he committed adultery and murder - David said himself "this man is worthy of death" - and God was merciful.

Surely mercy must triumph over justice - and surely a merciful government is something we should be pursuing over and above a just government. It's not that justice is not a concern, it's just a low bar to set.

And to make my point about the Noahic law again - the idea that this was "pre God's people" is a little skewiff - pre Israel yes, but it was given to Noah as the leader of God's people in humanity's second start. I don't think this can be applied universally. I would suggest that it, like the Jewish law, applies to those people and nations wanting to serve the Lord.

Stan McCullars said...

Nathan, Regarding the woman who had been caught in adultery, that story (John 7:53-8:11) in all likelihood is not part of Scripture but was rather added long after the fact. While the event may have, in fact, occurred I would be hesitant to use this apocryphal passage to determine doctrine.

Surely mercy must triumph over justice

Don't tell that to those who are thrown into the lake of fire.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14-15 ESV)

Nathan said...

"Surely mercy must triumph over justice "

I think it's contextually clear that I'm talking about human actions. God is just. That this killer deserves death is not in question - the question is whether because he deserves it we must kill him.

CR said...

Nathan,

The Noahic covenant can be applied universally and it must be applied universally. The language in Scriptures is clear. God says "Behold I establish my covenant with you and your OFFSPRING AFTER YOU..."

It is irrespective if people want to serve God or not.

Nathan said...

CR - I disagree - I think the offspring referred to is, like everything else in the Old Testament, related to the people of God.

I'd like to see you start applying it universally. I'd be interested to see how that goes.

You should also take Matthew 5 into account at that point.
Lets kill all those who are angry with their brothers too.

I wonder if we're fighting the wrong battle here and being a bit Pharisaical in our approach. To focus on justice alone and miss mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23) is to not do the law justice.

CR said...

Nathan,

You are grabbing at straws and letting your anti-death penalty views influence how you view Scripture.

Moses was clear when he penned Genesis and he clearly stated offspring. The covenant that God made, note, was not with just man, but all living creatures including animals. When God says never again shall ALL flesh be cut off by the waters He means all flesh. Every man bears the image of God, not just the people of God. From EVERY beast and EVERY man, (the Scripture uses every) God requires this reckoning.

"We" are not fighting any battle. No one is "just" focusing on justice or "missing" mercy. Certainly God is not "missing" it as the just penalty any sin is capital punishment. But under the Mosaic covenant there were only 35 or so capital crimes and now for all humanity God only requires capital punishment for one crime.

You may think God's reckoning is harsh and if you were God maybe you would have it another way, but I would remind you everytime you're tempted to think what you would do if you were God, remind yourself this, you are not God, and you are not God because you are not Holy.

reuben// said...

CR, I challenged your understanding of the present universality of this above and you have not responded to me. any reason why?

Nathan said...

CR.

At no point have I said I'm anti the death penalty. In fact I said:

"That this killer deserves death is not in question - the question is whether because he deserves it we must kill him."

I am in favour of the death penalty - but I believe the objections raised are worthy of consideration.

I'm also in favour of waiving the right to carry out the death penalty in certain cases.

If a victim's family forgives the criminal is it right to waive the penalty at that point?

The logic of your last post is hard to follow. I think there are some words missing.

Can you clarify - are we to eat our meat well done? Which part of the Noahic covenant has carried over? I'm not sure that because the "flesh" is universal the "offspring" has to be too...

I'm not trying to pretend I'm God here - I'm suggesting your understanding of what God would do is flawed based on what Jesus* did, and what God did when David committed adultery and murder - just because a sentence is just doesn't mean the sentence "must" be carried out.

*Depending on your view of the authority of John 7:53 - 8:11.

The fact that the wages of sin is death doesn't mean we're to be the ones running around paying those wages, or even ensuring they get paid.

CR said...

I've been away using my iPhone to comment so I may have missed a few words, but there's nothing wrong with my logic. First, it's not my logic, it's God's Word and He couldn't be anymore clearer.


Oh yeah, also, the red liquid you see in rare meat is not blood. It's myoglobin protein from the muscles and not hemoglobin from blood.

I really have nothing new to say. My case has been made from Scriptures.

reuben// said...

Well CR, maybe you could think about this a little bit harder?

Regardless of the obvious: noah wouldn't have known the difference between the different kinds of red stuff...let me put it another way. Do you consider yourself or anyone else free to eat blood sausage? You know, food with the real haemoglobin-y red stuff.

Sir Aaron said...

what exactly is your point about blood and how it relates to this post?

reuben// said...

Have you read back over the comments?

I am proposing that CR can't make the claim that capital punishment is mandated for all people at all time if he doesn't also apply the blood prohibition consistently.

His argument arises from Genesis 9 being addressed to Noah, which in CR's understanding makes it universal in scope. In Genesis 9, God not only instructs on capital punishment but also on eating meat with it's blood in it.

If CR were to apply his reading of genesis 9 consistently he should be willing to say that all people everywhere are prohibited from eating animal blood. to be fully consistent he should also assert that governments everywhere are bound to enforce such a prohibition on eating animal blood.

I am asking if he is willing to make such an unusual case!

If not, and he is willing to confine the blood prohibition to a particular nation and time (which i think he ought to), then I would argue that he needs to do the same with capital punishment.

DJP said...

I think things have trickled off enough that we can sum, and close:

There is only one, pan-Biblical standard of justice: restitution (cf. Exodus 22:1-14; Luke 19:8)

There is only one, pan-Biblical standard of restitution (justice) for murder: that is the life of the murderer (Genesis 9:6).

Though Jesus changed dietary requirements, He not only never changed this standard, but now entrusts the responsibility of capital judgment to the state (Romans 13:4), whose purpose of existence is to "punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good" (1 Peter 2:13-14).

Human life is worth just as much today as it was in Noah's day (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9).

To suggest that Christians should (defy God's Word and justice and) oppose the death penalty is to suggest that the Cross somehow devalues human life, which is absurd.

Opponents really had nothing to offer that didn't instantly collapse. Every argument against the Biblical standard eo ipso was an argument against every court, every law, every penalty, and all justice; they just weren't willing to trace down their own reasoning.

So I think we're left with two choices:

1. Consult what the Word says about murder and justice — in which case the course is clear.

2. Set the Word aside, be guided by gauzy, noble-sounding sentiments and emotions (for the perpetrator, not the victim) — in which case, good luck with godless, nihilistic chaos.

Until the next time it comes up.