Death Penalty, Divine Law, Universal Reality

Pursuing the death penalty is currently in vogue for Trump oriented republican GOP. It is one issue among several that is used to promote rallying the base, getting votes, being perceived as tough, and stoking the Fire of class warfare.

Never-mind that justice of life in prison is the greater punishment. Never-mind that death penalty cases cost society more in legal resources than letting the villain rot in jail. Never mind that the families of victims suffer for years following the legal folly wars rather then swift application of life imprisonments with no parole. The in vogue GOP vote getter is let’s make a statement locally and bring back execution by firing squad:

https://www.npr.org/2021/05/20/998600135/south-carolina-reinstates-firing-squad-but-not-without-legal-challenges

American opinion has shifted as of 2019 with an upward trajectory:

Gallup Poll—For First Time, Majority of Americans Prefer Life Sentence To Capital Punishment

The Republican GOP is moving in many states to eliminate ballot initiatives where the public can vote on one issue up or down. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/22/us/politics/republican-ballot-initiatives-democrats.html?referringSource=articleShare. They are fearful of their own base switching positions on the death penalty and other issues.

The National Association of Evangelical Christianity starts out with a neutral statement affirming conscientious commitment of both streams of Christian ethical thought. The position statement then points out however, that the American system of justice is incapable of carrying out Capital punishment in a manner that is ethical or safe enough to not kill innocent people: https://www.nae.net/capital-punishment-2/ .

Economically and ethically the Death Penalty is a losing proposition. Still the GOP clings to this issue.

My faith is clearer on Capital punishment, but only recently. Pope Francis released an encyclical in 2020 finally stating capital punishment is wrong: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/committees/death_penalty_representation/publications/project_blog/pope-francis-encyclical-death-penalty-opposition/.

Hopefully you and I will never be in the position to weigh with a prosecutor if we wish to pursue the death penalty against a villain who murdered someone we love. That gives us some objectivity for a moment. However, we are still very much by the power of our democracy responsible for Death Penalty law and application in the United States – Pro or Con.

As a follower of Catholicism I am theologically bound by the Popes Encyclical. Spiritually however, as a member of the faith, I am also bound to oppose my own faith if I come to believe we are at odds with divine law or even universal reality. The latter is a nod to Catholicism as our faith is limited to upholding the Christian ideal – not the day to day human reality of what circumstances prescribe. In the case of the death penalty however, we have the ability to oppose it theologically and as a universal reality – we have other legitimate choices for justice to be served. Seventy percent (70%) have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

It isn’t pretty aging and dying in prison: https://theappeal.org/death-by-incarceration-pennsylvania-photo-essay/. These human beings are invisible to us: https://www.penalreform.org/blog/elderly-life-sentenced-prisoners-a-forgotten-and-invisible/.

Incoherently I almost wish every life timer inmate had access to ending there life 7 days after self-request. Lock them up, toss away the key, let them decide to wait for human decay or check out sooner by state assisted suicide.

I would be dead wrong. Ultimately, in my faith there is no villain. The radical life of Christ and the radical calling of Christianity treats the villain as if he were my brother, as if he were me.

Christ modeled this by preaching the beatitudes (spiritual ideals unlocking the mystery of a holy life) and by dying on the cross (carrying the sins of all men including the very villains that crucified him).

In the gospel of Matthew (5:38) Jesus offers the following words:

The universal reality is we will not let murderers go free to murder again when we can stop the violence by using life term incarceration or the death penalty. The divine law is we will not take life when we have other alternatives.

Instinctually though, when faced with heinous crimes, we want swift and violent justice. The villain must be executed. The villain is not worthy of divine law. The villain is not of us, he/she is something other, an aberration – an animal.

We do not want to accept the villain as one of our own, as our brother, as ourselves. We do not want to turn the other cheek. We do not want to find it in our souls to treat the villain with mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and even love. We don’t want to hear we can do this while still keeping society safe. We want immediate and final justice now, not justice differed to God’s judgement. We want blood now. That emotion is what the GOP counts on to get your vote – the blood vote.

Politics aside, the GOP supporters and the Villains are my brothers in Christ. Radical Christianity calls me to absorb sin and absorb violence for the sake of the savior. There is no “other” or Villain. How can I do that in this world?

It is just as hard now as it was in Christ time. We cannot be silent. We must oppose political parties or policies that promote degrading human dignity while not harboring hatred or ill-will to those supporting the travesties of unjust governance. We must protect the public from murderers (even legal murderers) without hating the murderer.

I am far short of living this ideal in words or in actions. I am hopeful my fellow man and my God can show me mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for my hurtful words, omission of action, and other shortcomings I possess.

The assault on human dignity feels relentless to me. The humanness in us seeks heroes and villains for every issue. With that as the starting point we almost always fail to meet each other’s expectations, never mind meeting a higher ethical or spiritual bar.

We can eliminate the death penalty in the United States. One note, one conversation, one vote at a time.

You can start here regardless of your political ideology, but especially if your a red state: https://www.ncadp.org/action. Renounce the death penalty without giving up your party or demanding justice when justice is due.

Imagine a justice system designed with mercy, compassion, and rehabilitation in mind – even for lifers who will never leave the prison : https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=d7bb68ee71b5413e838a906dcd5b4124 walls. The Danish are leading the industry in services and architecture: https://www.archpaper.com/2017/12/denmark-prison-rehabilitation-architecture/.

I would rather anyone getting out of prison be exposed to humane living with dignity and respect then further indoctrination into degradation and suffering. Those experiencing the latter only come out meaner and further testify against us with more crime and violence.

Catholics have long known Prison Ministries are vital: https://www.catholicprisonministries.org/. There is a soul within all of us worthy of saving. As one body in Christ (or one collective humanity) we suffer as one and are called to carry each other’s weight when needed. Some might say we carry the collective cross of humanity on our shoulders as Christians. Others might say we are doing a terrible job of carrying our own cross, never mind that of our brothers. Both statements are true. Within each of us lies the potential for good and evil. How do we orient our words, actions, and political affiliations to seek the good above evil in all things?

Rest in Peace? – January 18, 2018

It is only January 16th today.  Anthony Shore has been convicted of 5 heinous crimes (rape and murder) of young girls between the ages of 9 and 21.  His conviction was November 15, 2004 some nine years after his last known victim.  He is scheduled to be executed in Texas on Thursday, January 18, 2018 at 6 P.M.[i]   He himself has asked for the death penalty and has a history of abusing his second wife’s children as well.[ii]   Although he has a family and children – no one is going to his execution.

The Catholic Church’s teaching as of today does not absolutely rule out the death penalty – though Pope Francis has stated that “It is necessary therefore to restate that, however grave the crime that may be committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”[iii]

Now imagine the great state of Texas has a conflict of interest and the court appoints you to fly in and fill one of the following roles:

  • Confessor and consoler: you are provided the authority by your church and by the legal system to spend several hours with Anthony to console, to listen to his evil deeds, and if he is genuinely penitent provide confession so God may show him mercy.
  • Executioner: Without guidance or counsel you alone will be the hand that pushes the needle or pulls the lever that brings death to Anthony.  At 6 P.M. you alone can perform the execution or you can dictate life in prison.  Your decision will be final either way.

imagesLetha

What role would you choose?  What would you do?

And if not the executioner, how do you answer the question from Anthony – what do you want the executioner to choose on Thursday?  And if you avoided the executioner role on spiritual grounds are you guilty nonetheless in that you had the power to take that role and dictate life in prison?  Or responsible to the victims and their families for not taking on the task of executioner and leaving it to chance of another person – perhaps not as inclined to take a life?

As consoler, can you genuinely find it in yourself to practice the mercy and love of Jesus Christ towards this vile human being who himself as requested the death penalty?

This is a very straight forward case of the highest degree.  There is no legal ambiguity by man’s laws or standards.  Race or IQ is not an issue.  No claim of insanity has been made.

Whatever role you chose you would have to, if you are a person of faith, consider the victims and their families as well.    Perhaps on your knees you may pray:

“O God, we pray for those who have been murdered on the streets of our city. We commit to your loving care those who have died, beseeching you to receive their souls into the mercy of your love. Comfort their loved ones who mourn. Enable them to meet the lonely and painful days ahead in the strength of your love. Let the love that you have made known to us lead us to create safer streets for all to walk upon. Amen.”[iv]

If you are a heroic prayer, you may even find the strength and inspiration to pray for Anthony, for the Anthony underneath the layers of evil and sin, for the innocent Anthony before his heart and actions became corrupted and gave way to horrible actions.

If you are a saint, you would be able to pray to God and provide consolation and healing to all involved, to find meaning in suffering, and to shoulder the immensity of pain, anger and rage  that these crimes evoke from our most primal instincts. You would act decisively and perhaps unexpectedly in a manner that leaves everyone speechless and changed forever.

Anthony will be executed in three days.    I am against the death penalty based on moral and political grounds given the frailty of our legal system to get it right.[v]  1032 people were executed on 2016 excluding China where it is believed thousands are executed every year.[vi]  Many of these executions are not for the serious crimes committed by Anthony or possess the legal due process and certainty of this case.  Egypt was recently in the news for a growing rate of systematic use of the death penalty and achieving the dubious claim in the New York Times of having “Execution Tuesdays.”

My opposition is not as high as that of Pope Francis that is opposed regardless of the crime.  I have human affections that weigh heavily on wanting justice in Anthony’s case while recognizing I am seeing this situation through the eyes of being a man and not through the lens of God.   I am not that confident that anger and emotion, if put in the eye of the storm, would not have me throwing the proverbial switch?   Much less has driven me over the edge of sanity and beyond God’s intentions.

In today’s world we are all witnesses and participants to death penalty executions.  Some would argue that every execution is an execution of Jesus, of God, of faith?   There is no “blame free zone.”  We support the death penalty or we do not support the death penalty.  As much as I may want to have “a la cart” options – sometimes it just boils down to a straight forward decision:  I am willing to pull the switch or I am not:

chair

Where do you stand?

Consoler or executioner?

Anthony has stood trial and been convicted.  Now, we are on trial as people of God on how we choose to handle the problem of evil.  How will we be judged collectively and individually?   What is the right thing to do with Anthony Shore and the Two thousand, eight hundred and sixteen others on Death row today in the United States alone?

contemplation

[i] http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/death_row/dr_info/shoreanthony.html

[ii] http://www.theforgivenessfoundation.org/index.php/scheduled-executions/40-news/general/4323-texas-gives-anthony-shore-execution-date-of-october-18-2017

[iii] https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/10/11/pope-francis-death-penalty-contrary-gospel

[iv] http://www.beliefnet.com/prayers/multifaith/death/prayer-for-those-murdered.aspx#UxAosp7VZr8fEZBH.99

[v] https://www.innocenceproject.org/

[vi] https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/death-penalty/

 

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