Applauding Executions Might be American, but it is not Christian


[photo: alphadesigner]

I must admit I rarely comment in this manner about things that I did not see or hear firsthand, but like so many who might not have watched the GOP debate last night, my interest was piqued when I began to see tweets about the applause Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) received for his answer about Texas executions. Apparently when talking about the number of people who were executed in Texas under his watch, the audience expressed great approval in the form of applause and cheering.

Surely this could not be true.

To find out if it really happened, I posted a status update on FB asking if it was true. Now unless all the folks who responded watched a different debate or there was a serious conspiracy in play, the response was an overwhelming and consistent, “Yep, it happened.”  Yes indeed, the crowd gathered in Simi Valley for the GOP presidential primary debate applauded for the number of executions that have taken place in Texas during Perry’s time in office.

From Politico [ht: Leslie] – Rick Perry, who received tremendous applause from the in-house debate crowd at the mention by Brian Williams of the 234 people executed on his watch in Texas, defended his record:

“I never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful a very clear process in place,” he said, describing why he’s never second-guessed the guilt of any of the people executed on his watch.

“If you come into our state and you kill one of our children (or a police officer)….you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas and that is you will be executed.”

Asked about the applause, he said, “I think Americans understand justice.”

Not sure what emotion I feel most: anger, sadness, disappointment . . .

I have never taken on the topic of capitol punishment, but as most would expect, I am not in favor of it. But this is not really about the issue itself or even about Governor Perry, but about the applause and reaction. I simply believe that no matter the circumstance, it is never justified to applaud at the death of another human being. Period.

Granted, maybe I wouldn’t be so judgmental if the crowd was made up of murder victim families – though I know that not all families will/do respond with joy at the execution of even one who murdered a loved one – and while I would still disagree with the reaction, I could understand. But, unless someone forgot to tell the rest of the world, those who applauded were not such families, but people who were genuinely happy that 200+ convicted criminals were put to death in Texas.

One question that keeps swirling around in my head is, “What about those who burst into applause and also profess a Christian faith?” I can’t speak for other faith traditions, but I would be hard pressed to see where Jesus creates a gray area for this one. Even towards our deepest enemies, we are to show love. In fact, it is in the very act of being different than those who would commit evil in the world that we express the purest form of our faith and our understanding of community.

Now I rarely do it, but but let me drop a little scripture: one of my favorites . . . and one of the most difficult to live.

Romans 12: 9-21 (Today’s New International Version)

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Back to the applauders.

Again . . . anger, sadness and disappointment.

I guess this incident wouldn’t bother me so much if the Christian faith was not being so interwoven into the GOP primary race with a particular set of Christian values taking such a prominent place in today’s political discourse. But it is, and some of us need to keep telling a different story of faith. Revenge, payback and ultimate justice may work for the movies and it may indeed fall right in line with “American” triumphalism, but these are not Christian values. In fact, in the Romans passage above and in others, ultimate judgment lies with God and we must do all that we can to avoid giving into the emotionally and physically violent ways of the world.  What makes this all the more difficult is that we are not merely called to avoid revenge and repaying evil with evil, but we are challenged to go even further and show compassion and care for those who we believe do not even deserve it . . . our enemies.

Regardless of where you may stand on the issue of the death penalty, politics and faith, if you call yourself a Christian and this bothered you, let this be a reminder that we must keep telling a different story and we must  live a different life.  It would certainly be easier to give in to deep yearnings for revenge, to applaud at the death of our enemies and to think that our faith justifies both, but it does not.  In the face of evil we must not respond with revenge, judgement and more evil, but with hospitality, goodness and love. This way of life is not easy for anyone, nor is it a politically prudent stance to take, but I believe at the core of my soul, this way of life is a faithful one and one we must all try to live.

Peace.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    It’s a bit late to expect a response, but I’m not sure I see the important difference.  They’re applauding that all these executions are happening, are they not?  (As opposed, if I hear you right, the governor boasting about it) The criticism for the applause seems justified all the same. Am I missing something? (that’s an honest question)

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    Just coming back to this after a while away.  I was trying to figure out a way to give an alternative, since I don’t think “right to an abortion” (given the differences of opinion in whether it’s even killing a human being or not) is quite equivalent to executions, but definitely “having” an abortion (even given those differences of opinion) would indeed be much closer.  I don’t think announcing multiples (as per your example) is necessary, but you’ve definitely articulated what I was thinking much better than I was able to last week.  Thank you.

  • Frank

    Hey Jonathan! 

    1. Well original sin is something that we inherit and it is the inevitability of sinful choices. So even a baby needs Jesus. John MacArthur explains it well here: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Articles/A264

    2. I am not sure what you are asking here. Are you asking is it better for everyone to never be born at all and simply go straight to heaven? Clearly not as humanity would not exist yet it does. God must have a purpose for humanity. Are you saying that if babies go to heaven when they are aborted that gives someone the right to abort them?

    3. God granted us life and therefore God ultimately is the only one who has the right to take it away. So I should have phrased that differently. I should say that if someone does something that they know puts their life at risk they should have no expectations of keeping their life. So in regards to the death penalty if murder is punished by death and this is known and someone still chooses to commit murder they should have zero expectation of keeping their life. I am not saying that their life should be taken just that if you know the consequences of your actions and do them anyways, you have no excuse.

  • Jonathanhochan

    Several things.. 

    1. How does original sin play a role in the innocence of a baby? Does it? 
    2. If they are “the only truly innocent life” wouldn’t abortion be doing them a favor by sending them to heaven? 
    3. “Right to life”? Who really has the “right” to live? How does one “forfeit” their right to life? 

    I’m not advocating for any specific position on these. I’m just wondering about consistency in what you stated. 

  • Todd

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention.  I signed it and passed it on to my pastors to sign the clergy letter.

  • http://heartfout.typepad.com/blog/ Heartfout

     Not unless the man was unusually large, even by my standards. I’m not trained with guns, so if I had one I’d have a very high risk of hitting the girl instead, particularly if I’m so far away I cannot physically intervene myself. Furthermore, I would not attempt to kill him, but instead incapicate him long enough for the police and paramedics to arrive to arrest him and help the girl respectively.

  • Frank

    Heather see my response to Bruce above.

    Honestly I am confused by your position. If you are not sure when life begins how can you in good conscience support abortion? I have more respect for those who believe that a fetus is not a human life that support abortion. At least they don’t think they are killing a human.

  • Frank

    Good question Bruce. I think we should protect all life when possible. As an adult we make choices and it’s possible for someone to make a choice that forfeits their right to life. After all once a person has the ability to consciously make choices they cease to be innocent.

    An unborn child cannot make any choice. They did not choose to be conceived nor did they did not participate in the pleasure of the sexual act. Once conceived they are at the mercy of the woman who made her choice regarding the sexual act that produced the child. (obviously in the case of rape the woman had no choice.)

    Therefore the only truly innocent life is the unborn child. It should be a no-brainer to protect that life.

    It gets more complicated in the case of the adult life however it’s always better to err on the side of protecting even the guilty life. I was disturbed by the applause, though I understand it. Perhaps if we raised the value of all life, including the unborn, we would have the credibility to say the death penalty is wrong under all circumstances.

  • jean

    I understand that you are not approving celebrating death of others…I agree.  However, I’m not clear about where you stand on death penalty or war?  can you give clear and better understanding? thank you.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Thank you for taking the time to comment, but do you know my history with the murder of family members? I get why this is a hypothetical to use, but even if I did give you a “yes” to what one would do. My point is actually not about the death penalty , but our reaction to the death of another human being.  EVEN in self-defense or in a situation as you describe, Christians should not rejoice.

  • http://emilylhauserinmyhead.wordpress.com/ Emily L. Hauser/ellaesther

    Thank you so much! The whole case just fills me with such horror.

  • Elder Alden

    Not Christian to execute chid killers? Be real.   If you had a gun and saw a man stabbing a little girl to death would you shoot him?  I certainly would and I have a feeling a lot of people would do the same….Oh yes and  people who are Christians. 
    PS  what if it were your son or daughter?
    Elder

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    Thanks Jeremy.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/breyeschow/ Bruce Reyes-Chow

    So Frank I do ask this in all honesty because I think this would be helpful to know. Should we protect and respect all life or only life deemed as innocent? 


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