Sunday, May 04, 2014

Death Penalty

A couple of weeks ago we solemnly acknowledged the crucifixion of Jesus on what Christians call Good Friday. It is good, not because Jesus was tortured and died, but because of our conviction that this was a moment of cosmic significance which reconciled humanity to God, even as God had identified with humanity in Jesus, the Christ.

We could easily forget that Jesus' death was a state-sanctioned public execution. He could have been summarily put to death by the Roman procurator, Pilate, but crucifixion was a slow and agonizing death in a public place. It discouraged sedition, Jesus' alleged crime, and even thievery, the conviction of the two alongside Jesus.

Nearly forty years ago Canada decided not to execute criminals anymore, no matter how heinous their crimes. The last execution in this country was actually in 1962, but the penalty still existed until its abolition in 1976. Despite all the concerns and protests that this would result in a jump in the murder rate, the opposite has been the case. People don't kill other people with thought for the penalty.

The United States is one of the last developed countries which allows capital punishment and some states still do execute criminals on a regular basis. But there is a growing awareness of how barbaric it is to kill as retribution and punishment. There is no simple or humans way of executing individuals and recently there have been cases of those receiving lethal injections who suffered as they died. Those who watched a recent botched execution in Oklahoma conceded that the death throes of the inmate were gruesome, but it hasn't changed the resolve of some to continue with capital punishment.

Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian, a Republican lawmaker who pushed to have state Supreme Court justices impeached for briefly halting Tuesday's execution, was unsparing. "I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions."

There is a certain irony that a man named Christian is content to have the convicted fed to the lions.

I have always been opposed to the death penalty, even though some deserve to die for their crimes. We should be outraged by the crimes of violence some commit. But my chaplaincy internship at Kingston Penitentiary during seminary actually deepened my opposition to the death penalty, and I met a lot of people who had done terrible things. I just figure that killing brutalizes the killer, even when it is the state which does the killing.

You may disagree. What are your thoughts?


Judy Mcknight said...

I do agree with you, David - the death penalty is not the answer - we do need to protect the general public from terrible brutal murderers, however, so security had better be really secure ! And no parole for the worst of the worst, at all! (And what does it do to the "officials" who actually have to carry out these death sentences? One cannot remain whole and healthy in soul and spirit when it is one's job to put criminals to death, no matter how "humane " the method.

roger said...

Well, what a topic to stir up a few responses!

I have to admit, I struggle with this one. I really do. My anger and outrage at the heinous crimes that are committed by monsters like...well we know who they are, I don't want to even mention their names, makes me support capital punishment.

On the other hand, I feel that it lets them off too easy. While their victims probably suffered excruciatingly in their last hours, the killers don't suffer nearly as much - even in the cases of "botched" executions.

It's interesting, David. Your occupation is such that probably at least 90% oppose the death penalty, whereas mine probably has an equal or higher percentage supporting it.

I acknowledge that you and Judy have good points....but at the end of the day, I probably fall in the camp of being a supporter. And that's even admitting that I don't necessarily believe capital punishment acts as a deterrent. I guess I simply don't think a killer should receive a lesser fate than an innocent victim.

Maybe I would feel more comfortable with life imprisonment if it truly were life, with no access to computers, TV's, university get the idea.

I don't expect too many on this blog to agree with me on this....but I'm just being honest.

Judy Mcknight said...

I agree with Roger's point about access to computers, TV, etc - and good food and medical care, an exercise program, etc., which a lot of our regular citizens don't have - but I think killing destroys the soul of the killer, whether it be "official" executioners or otherwise...and I still believe no one is outside of the chance of redemption by the grace of God ; we also know of people who have been wrongly convicted...

Frank said...

Agreed Judy.
No matter what we do, we simply cannot restore the victims to their families. We have to ask ourselves honestly: Is this about retribution and vengeance, or genuine restoration and healing in our "justice" paradigm. How do we act and re-act faithfully, as Christians, to the needs of all of those so brutalized in these cases? This is always so very tough to contemplate.

David Mundy said...

Thanks for all these comments. I'm glad you weighed in with a "loyal opposition" response Roger. I know that being in law enforcement you often see the worst.

There was a editorial in the New York Times a couple of days ago that mused about the obvious importance of punishment and incarceration for crimes, without dehumanizing the society as a whole. When we take a look at the countries which still have capital punishment, virtually all of them are places we wouldn't want to live. Sadly, the United States may be one of them.

I would suggest that if we removed all opportunities for diversion and self-improvement for prison inmates it would imperil those who are guards and in other roles. It would create a level of desperation endangering everyone.