Sunday, May 04, 2014
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?