"In 2003, George Ryan, Republican governor of Illinois, called for a moratorium on the death penalty. Persuaded by the work of law students exposing race and class discrimination, he called for a halt on executions. Though his political career was tainted by scandal, the 2003 moratorium affirmed and fueled the fire of many Christians and other abolitionists who are working for restorative justice and for an end to the death penalty."
~ Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, p. 103
My views on the death penalty have flip-flopped through the years. As new information has been presented and digested my view on the intricate problem of what to do with the most violent and vile on the earth, has changed. I think one of the strongest arguments anti-death penalty proponents have made is the fact through the advance in forensic technology many on death row awaiting execution have been cleared of all guilt. That, for sure, is an alarming fact. That our government might be guilty of not just punishing offenders by ending their lives, but murdering innocent people because of faults in our system.
I'm not going to make this a controversy per se on my blog. I just think it's important to think, to consider...and to pray about this sad and violent reality. The more I dive deeper in the gospel, the more I start to question those who wear the label "christian" but who cry out "murder murder!" at the condemned all too loudly from the rooftops.
Would Jesus join in the blood thirsty cry of the crowds, yelling "murder"!, when a prisoner was about to be executed? Kind of interesting how our Lord and Savior found himself in precisely the same place of those who many of us Christians and others in society like to condemn. He found himself walking towards his death, sentenced and judged unfairly, and ready to be put to death. Like so many in the past, and so many today who are awaiting their life's ends at the hands of our government.
What did Jesus do? He asked God to forgive his executioners! Wow. How amazingly radical. What love!
We all know Jesus was innocent. Pilate repeatedly argues with the people that he is, but because of the persistence of the majority he weakly relents to their demands. What is Jesus' views towards the real criminals who are executed at his side? Does he think they deserve it, and he doesn't?...Does he recognize a distinction? Amidst his pain and unfair circumstances does he condemn the guilty, like those in the crowd?
There is an interesting conversation that occurs between Jesus and the two men that were to die beside him.
One of the prisoners shows belief in Jesus' claim and says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus responds back by saying, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42-43)
To say that he would see that criminal in Paradise, sure doesn't sound like condemnation to me.
The gospel says that Jesus died for all of our sins. And that without Jesus we'd all deserve condemnation and death. Jesus reached out to the most marginalized and suffering in society and he brought hope, love and compassion. Perhaps if more of us dropped our bullhorns and became beacons of life, giving hope to the hopeless, shining out our lights boldly in a world of darkness; vanquishing hate, making fear and ignorance retreat, perhaps the sad reality of the death penalty, would become a reality of the past, as love would conquer.
I'm not diminishing the horrible pain and suffering that individuals inflict on others and their families. I can't imagine enduring some of the crimes that so many have had to endure. I'm just saying that we might want to rethink our strategy. I've never heard of a circumstance where evil was able to eradicate evil. But I have seen examples of love triumphing over evil.
There is so much pain, division, hate, ignorance and fear in this world. We pray that through all of that you give us the courage and the strength to go boldly out in places of darkness and shine Your light of love, for all to see, and experience. May we present your gospel of love, of peace and of hope to others and may Your Spirit usher them in to accepting the blood sacrifice of Christ.
May love never cease to triumph over the powers of darkness. May we live out your gospel with gentle hearts and helping hands. Through our lives, may your love walk upon this earth and help heal the hearts of its people. We pray for peace in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in other parts of the world that experience violence and fear. We pray protection over our brothers and sisters who are persecuted for loving Christ. May you cover our brothers and sisters from one end of the globe to the other with a blanket of peace and give them the strength to pursue your Will in their lives. May we all fulfill the plans you have for us.
In Jesus' name,Amen.
(32) Two others, who were criminals, were led away to put to death with him. (33) And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. (34) And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."