In The Name of God: Morality and Capital Punishment

Bible and Justice

by Joshua on September 26, 2011

On September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was put to death by the state of Georgia. A three-drug cocktail was used. First, pentobarbital put Davis in a coma; second, pancuronium bromide paralyzed his body; and finally, potassium chloride stopped his heart. Within 15 minutes Davis was dead. A somber end to a saga that lasted more than twenty years.

This case did not die with Troy Davis. We know there was a tremendous amount of doubt as to whether he was guilty of murdering Georgia police officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. We know there was no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime, only witness testimony. And we know seven of nine witnesses have recanted their testimony, some saying they were pressured by police to provide false accounts.

I am certain that legal analysts, anti-death penalty crusaders, and curious individuals will sift through mountains of evidence and re-litigate the case through books and journals. And while I believe that a consensus will emerge that Troy Davis should not have been executed, I know that nothing anyone ever says or does will bring him back and right the wrong perpetrated by the state of Georgia.

This brings me to a bigger question. Why do we kill? Why do we, as a society, choose to take the life of an individual who has submitted, is locked behind bars, and is no threat to the public?

Suppose for a moment that Troy Davis really was guilty. He had been safely locked away in a maximum security prison for more than twenty years. He never tried to escape. He never threatened or abused any of his jailers. At the time of his execution, he was shackled and surrounded by armed guards. He was completely defenseless. Why kill an unarmed and defenseless man more than twenty years after his alleged crime?

Is it really to deter more killing? Is it how we seek justice to honor the victims of killers? Why do we do it?

As a Christian, it pains me to write this, but I think we execute people in this country because we believe we are doing God’s work. We live in a Christian nation with a ruling class that is beholden to religious interests.

President Obama refused to intervene on behalf of Troy Davis. In fact, the president would not comment on the case, even as students were arrested in front of his home while protesting to get his attention. I have no doubt that the president’s advisers warned him to stay away from this case. The political cost for getting involved could have ended his presidency.

George Bush signed 152 death warrants in only five years as governor of Texas. His record of execution on demand only made him a more attractive presidential candidate.

Bill Clinton transformed himself from anti-death penalty to pro-death penalty before running for president in 1992. Clinton learned important lessons from Michael Dukakis’s failed run for president in 1988.

Dukakis famously declared during a presidential debate that he would not support the death penalty even for someone who had hypothetically raped and killed his wife. Dukakis was branded by the American public as too soft to be president. American voters have always demanded leaders who are willing to pull the trigger. Literally. This is especially true in the Bible Belt where executions are most common.

The south has long had a troubled and conflicting history with God and violence. Legend has it that Orval Faubus, former governor of Arkansas, would throw fundraisers to help death row inmates appeal their sentences before sending them to the electric chair. Faubus couldn’t publicly oppose the death penalty because he knew all too well that the public would boot him out of office.

Americans have always loved a good lynching. It isn’t in our DNA and it isn’t in the water. Our political ancestors in Europe have long since abolished the death penalty. So have our neighbors to the north and south. So why, then, does America continue to execute our own citizens? We do so because we follow a perverted version of biblical interpretation.

We have convinced ourselves that the Old Testament instructs us to take “an eye for an eye.” Yet, we selectively ignore Christ’s Sermon on the Mount where he teaches forgiveness and redemption. In Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus says:

You have heard that it was said, “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Our Christian defense of the death penalty is based on false theology. Why is it that atheists and secularists have left my Christian brothers and sisters in the dust when it comes to morality and goodness?

The reality is that more than 70% of all the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. As Americans, we face the awful distinction of being among the top five nations in killing our prisoners, along with China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen.

After centuries of barbarism and killing, the Catholic Church has learned painful lessons and is now firmly against the death penalty. I hope one day my Christian brothers and sisters will find similar enlightenment and end this misguided attempt at serving as God’s instrument of death.

It is too late to save Troy Davis. It is not yet too late to save ourselves.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria October 3, 2011 at 12:54 am

This really got me thinking. Thanks for writing it.

Reply

Joshua October 19, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Thanks for commenting!

Reply

Betty Ayala October 19, 2011 at 4:58 pm

So if you are against killing you must also be against abortion – seeing that you are a Christian. So why did you support Obama? Something I always wanted to ask Christians who voted for him.

Reply

Joshua October 19, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Great question. I supported Obama because I believed his foreign policy would be more responsible than McCain’s. I thought Obama would bring our troops home. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened.

The abortion issue is difficult. At what point between conception and birth does the soul actually enter the human form? Old school Jewish and Christian theologies suggest that the point when the soul enters is the 2-3 month mark when the gestational phase begins – embryo becomes fetus.

I’m not sure what to think here. I trust God to sort these things out. However, I do know that no aborted fetus will ever go to hell. I remain concerned that we are killing men, women, and children with our wars and our death penalties. Among them, I believe, are souls that could have been saved had we not intervened. Eventually we will have to answer to God for this.

Reply

Betty Ayala October 21, 2011 at 9:02 pm

The soul is there from the moment of conception. If you read Psalm 139 it says “My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.” In order to have days written done for you – you must be a “you”. If you believe all the aborted babies go to Heaven – then you are that they already have a soul, otherwise how could they go to Heaven? It would be like saying a table or chair that does not have a soul could go to Heaven. I believe in the death penalty and letting God “sort out” all the evil deeds of men who need to be accountable for what they do. As for wars well, they will continue until the Lord returns to the earth. I pray for all who battle in wars for their salvation.

Reply

Joshua October 23, 2011 at 10:32 pm

The reference to Psalm 139 is a common evangelical argument. I don’t agree with your interpretation. Exodus 21 draws a distinction between homicide and the killing of an unborn child. Further, there is no explicit mention of abortion in the Bible, even though abortion as practice was common during biblical times. Wouldn’t the Bible condemn abortion, at least in passing, if the soul truly exists in a fertilized egg?

I get it. People want to justify their support of atrocities such as chosen war and capital punishment. Pointing out that other people are bad too because they support abortion isn’t a winning argument. It’s a distraction, plain and simple. Either the death penalty is right and should apply in all relevant cases, or the death penalty is wrong and should be abolished. Lateral issues such as abortion should not factor into the the perceived morality of one’s positon on the death penalty.

Reply

Maria October 25, 2011 at 1:08 am

I don’t understand why people can care so much about abortion and so little about war. It does seem like they are trying to distract themselves from realities in which they are actual participants.

Reply

Rose October 25, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Mari… I know that war is a horrible thing and we do care about it… but I think our nation alone has killed millions and millions of baby… and I’m not sure how accurate the facts are below… but even if they’re a bit off… those numbers are staggering. Not too long ago, there was an interesting program on TV which dealt with the issue that our country the in the last couple of decades has killed over 50 million babies… do you know how many precious lives were destroyed because in so many cases they were an “inconvenience”??????
Killing, whether in name of greed, power, hatred, or just plain inconvenience is just plain wrong. We can not create life.. and therefore, have no right to take it away either.

Why women have abortions
1% of all abortions occur because of rape or incest; 6% of abortions occur because of potential health problems regarding either the mother or child, and 93% of all abortions occur for social reasons (i.e. the child is unwanted or inconvenient).
WORLDWIDE

Number of abortions per year: Approximately 42 Million
Number of abortions per day: Approximately 115,000

Where abortions occur:
83% of all abortions are obtained in developing countries and 17% occur in developed countries.

© Copyright 1996-2008, The Alan Guttmacher Institute. (www.agi-usa.org)

UNITED STATES

Number of abortions per year: 1.37 Million (1996)
Number of abortions per day: Approximately 3,700

Who’s having abortions (age)?
52% of women obtaining abortions in the U.S. are younger than 25: Women aged 20-24 obtain 32% of all abortions; Teenagers obtain 20% and girls under 15 account for 1.2%.

Who’s having abortions (race)?
While white women obtain 60% of all abortions, their abortion rate is well below that of minority women. Black women are more than 3 times as likely as white women to have an abortion, and Hispanic women are roughly 2 times as likely.

Who’s having abortions (marital status)?
64.4% of all abortions are performed on never-married women; Married women account for 18.4% of all abortions and divorced women obtain 9.4%.

Who’s having abortions (religion)?
Women identifying themselves as Protestants obtain 37.4% of all abortions in the U.S.; Catholic women account for 31.3%, Jewish women account for 1.3%, and women with no religious affiliation obtain 23.7% of all abortions. 18% of all abortions are performed on women who identify themselves as “Born-again/Evangelical”.

Who’s having abortions (income)?
Women with family incomes less than $15,000 obtain 28.7% of all abortions; Women with family incomes between $15,000 and $29,999 obtain 19.5%; Women with family incomes between $30,000 and $59,999 obtain 38.0%; Women with family incomes over $60,000 obtain 13.8%.

Why women have abortions
1% of all abortions occur because of rape or incest; 6% of abortions occur because of potential health problems regarding either the mother or child, and 93% of all abortions occur for social reasons (i.e. the child is unwanted or inconvenient).

At what gestational ages are abortions performed:
52% of all abortions occur before the 9th week of pregnancy, 25% happen between the 9th & 10th week, 12% happen between the 11th and 12th week, 6% happen between the 13th & 15th week, 4% happen between the 16th & 20th week, and 1% of all abortions (16,450/yr.) happen after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Likelihood of abortion:
An estimated 43% of all women will have at least 1 abortion by the time they are 45 years old. 47% of all abortions are performed on women who have had at least one previous abortion.

Abortion coverage:
48% of all abortion facilities provide services after the 12th week of pregnancy. 9 in 10 managed care plans routinely cover abortion or provide limited coverage. About 14% of all abortions in the United States are paid for with public funds, virtually all of which are state funds. 16 states (CA, CT, HI, ED, IL, MA , MD, MD, MN, MT, NJ, NM, NY, OR, VT, WA and WV) pay for abortions for some poor women.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: