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Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How Reading the Gospels Changed my View on the Death Penalty

"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.

Heavenly Father,

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,

Luke 23:32-34
(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."


  1. Beautifully written and thought provoking! If we consider that we are told that "ALL" of us have fallen short and that no one sin is worse than another (my belief) then I find the agility to judge one human not worthy of living over me very wrong. Then, like you said, we risk killing innocent people....why just the other day in the news a man who had been in prison 30 years was cleared of the crime he did the time for...why risk stealing another humans life, when we might be wrong. Wonderful post!

  2. WOW!! You really made me think. I am not sure I have changed my position of being for the death penalty, but you did raise some very interesting points!

  3. I totally agree with you Jessica. As I have mentioned before, I am not a religious man yet I see the words as they were meant to be seen. I don't agree with the death penalty as others do as I have seen here but let me say this...

    Unless the person who has committed the crime has been caught there and then in my home by me or the police, Yes I would be judge, jury and then executioner!

    After the fact?

    There is no point in a system that keeps them knowing their day will come. It is too cruel a sentence.

    Keep them in prison yes! But at the same time educate them.

    Cheers I say no

  4. I sometimes have to remind myself that I was not put on this earth to be a judge of another. God is the only One that will be doing the judging. I do agree that innocent people have died at the hands of government and I don't really know how I feel about the death penalty, especially when it comes to crimes involving children. Those are situations that I pray about.

  5. Jessica, thank you for taking a bold stand on your inner convictions. You make some valid and thought-provoking points here. I especially appreciate your take on Jesus’ point of view -
    how he was unjustly accused, and how he forgave his persecutors.

  6. Hi Jessica, this is a difficult and controversial topic. In South Africa we don't have the death penalty. It is a country with a very high crime rate and voilent murders are committed daily. People are crying to have the death penalty reinstituted.

    I can just say "Thank you,Lord" that I am not the person who have to make the decision to end a life!

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Lots of food for thought here.

    Jessica, we at THC are so glad you've joined the network. We love engaging in conversations about life, culture, work and family--and I know that we'll be blessed by the work you're doing, as in this very well-written post.


  8. Welcome to The High Calling, Jessica.

  9. A thoughtful and in-depth post on a difficult subject.

    And, we are glad you are part of the High Callign Family

  10. Thank you Dena, Sam and David...I feel very welcomed! :) I look forward to getting to know others who are part of The High Calling better and acquainted with everyone's blogs and sites :)

    ~abundant blessings in Christ,

  11. Thank you very much for your post and for posting it at http://www.facebook.com/pfadp. We invite everyone to join People of Faith Against the Death Penalty in our national work to help faith communities work to end the death penalty in our country. www.pfadp.org

  12. It was my pleasure...thank you for your comment and the information and help you provide others!

  13. We only have to look at what Jesus said about the death penalty to know what He thought about it and how Christians should view the death penalty. "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone."

  14. What a wise and beautiful post, Jessica! I agree with you when you say, "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."

    Of course, the flip side of this is that when we hate those who commit terrible crimes and celebrate their deaths on the injection table, we may well breed more disrespect for human life throughout society, and this, in turn, may produce more criminals who rob, rape, batter, and kill without compunction or remorse over the harm they're about to cause or have caused innocent people whose lives mean nothing to them.

    My biggest problem with the death penalty is the possibility of an imperfect legal system executing even one innocent person, as many think may have happened just last night in the case of Troy Davis who maintained, literally on his deathbed just moments before the end, that he was innocent.

    Yet, even if we could be certain that the accused was guilty, there is also the vexing, at least for me, ethical problem of whether anyone should be killed for any crime. For I believe that people commit crimes because their biopsychosocial nature inevitably causes them to at a given time and under a given set of circumstances, and if this is true and they HAD to commit the crime in question, is it fair and just to execute them for it any more than it would be fair or just to execute someone with chickenpox for manifesting a rash or someone with cancer for having a tumor?

    It's awfully difficult for me to see how it is.