Let’s Hear It for Execution!

It’s been getting lots of buzz today that last night, in a Republican presidential debate (that I did not watch), Rick Perry invoked the crowd to an ovation for…execution!  Live blogging the debate, Andrew Sullivan wrote,

9.48 pm. A spontaneous round of applause for executing people! And Perry shows no remorse, not even a tiny smidgen of reflection, especially when we know for certain that he signed the death warrant for an innocent man. Here’s why I find it impossible to be a Republican: any crowd that instantly cheers the execution of 234 individuals is a crowd I want to flee, not join. This is the crowd that believes in torture and executions. Can you imagine the torture that Perry would authorize? Thank God he’s doing so poorly tonight. (via Live-Blogging The Third GOP Debate – The Dish | By Andrew Sullivan – The Daily Beast.)

Today, fellow Patheos blogger, Bruce Reyes-Chow weighs in,

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.

Like Bruce, I am vehemently anti-death penalty.  I also think that our prison system is one of the most broken aspects of our society.  But I’m a bit at a loss about what to do about it.

  • http://www.postyesterdaychurch.blogspot.com Josh

    “I offer the many positions regularly thought of as ‘right wing’ which are based on, or involve, a serious misreading of scripture: … Support for the death penalty (opposed by many of the early church fathers)” (N.T. Wright, The Last Word, pp. 106-107).

  • http://getoutfromunderit.blogspot.com Andy Sherwin

    It was fascinating to watch these vehemently tea party folks, who unironically claim proprietary ownership of Christianity, catcall a man who told a nation that he did not struggle once with the government-mandated death of 234 people.

    Government: too stupid to manage healthcare, awesome enough to kill!

    • Scot Miller

      Absolutely right!

      • http://drewdowns.wordpress.com Drew Downs+

        Well said!

  • Steve

    Thanks for sharing this Tony. I am not very political in my writing or opinions but am very concerned that someone like Perry is being considered for President by any rational, educated or sensible person. His comments on other topics are equally troubling

  • DanS

    Maybe a few Christians actually think the Old and New Testament have something to say that need not be reinterpreted to mean the opposite of what it says:

    Genesis 9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

    Romans 13:4 “…for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

    Did Jesus repudiate the Old Testament? Is Paul anti-Jesus? Or is utopian sentiment the only revelation of truth in this alternate universe of the Christian left?

    • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

      Paul’s words are not about capitol punishment. If you read the entire passage you’ll see that he is discouraging Christians from rising up in violent rebellion against the state. This wan’t a group of Christians who were debating capitol punishment, but an oppressed minority who were debating whether or not to start a coup. Please don’t claim to not reinterpret the Bible just so you can go on an reinterpret the Bible.

      Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

      • http://xjm716.wordpress.com/ John Mulholland

        Paul is still stating that the government has a role in wielding the sword. Honestly, I am torn on the issue. Regardless of my personal feelings, the state indeed has the power to execute.

        • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

          Yeah but not as a defense. This is like a mother telling her child “if you touch the stove you’ll get burned.” Nothing about Paul’s words act as a defense for Christian support of Government violence. His context is of a completely different sort that has nothing to do with giving the government a free pass at violence. Check out Yoder’s Politics of Jesus for a good walk through on this passage.

          • https://twitter.com/#!/david_pickett David

            John, you write as if “the government” were some authoritative entity apart from yourself. While I assume you don’t hold elected office, do you really consider the actions of the government something other than the actions (as an extension) of “we, the people?”

      • Matt Purdum

        Even if you support capital punishment, you do not pplaud zealously for hundreds of executions. Even if you oppose Obamacare you do not believe we should just “let people die” and applaud for it. I’m deeply frightened that such bloodthirstiness is raging in a group of people who are seriously trying to take over my country. Every Christian must resist this with all the courage, strength and vigor that God can give us. Ever y Christian must take every opportunity to make it as clear as possible to others that such raging bloodthirstiness is not Christianity but is in fact diametrically the opposite of Christianity.

  • http://www.knightopia.com/blog Steve K.

    Tony, we all need to start becoming engaged in reforming our criminal justice system, because it is so deeply broken. The first thing we need to do is just start giving a damn and find out what’s really going on in our prison system. Start by caring, read up, get involved (all of us, myself included).

    • http://drewdowns.wordpress.com Drew Downs+

      Yes!

      I also think that one thing that holds us back is fear of precedent or the ripple effect. One of the reasons death row inmates are so rarely pardoned is that we fear the entire enterprise looking compromised, even though the entire enterprise is compromised toward conviction and punishment.

      Another issue is the human element. Perhaps this is a good place to start. I read an article a couple months ago that said inmates up for parole have something like a 75% success rate in the morning and an 80% success rate in the afternoon, but from 11:00 am until noon, it is 0%. Judges show no mercy when they’re hungry! What it reveals is not intentional corruption, but institutional embarrassment that we are in fact humans! What if we started there–that we are human and trying to figure out what is best?

  • DanS

    JoeyS. The issue is capital punishment by the state, not violent resistance to the government. Paul is saying the state wields a sword to punish the evildoer and that Christians are generally right to have a healthy fear of punishment by the state if they do wrong. Paul is adressing exactly the issue – capital punishment. Paul was affirming that the state has the right to wield the sword, which is what Rick Perry and many others believe is necessary in a fallen world. When murder of an innocent occurs, both the Old and New Testament affirm that the appropriate punishment can include capital punishment. I am not reinterpreting scripture here.

    For the record, I would prefer capital punishment be used primarily for multiple offenders (Bundy, Dahmer) and not for a single crime of passion. But I am quite comfortable with the view that Genesis 9:6 expresses a principle that still has value in a fallen world.

    • JoeyS

      Again, the Roman Christians were not debating whether or not to be “ok” with CP. As a powerless minority it was not even on their radar. You can’t read your own political agenda on top of the context.

    • Adam

      The issue isn’t if we should grant the State the right to use capital punishment. The issue is what a faithful response to capital punishment looks like. I think that Hauerwas and Yoder have this right. You have to read Romans 13 in context of Romans 12.
      And, although we all like to think we’re not reinterpreting scripture, this was written to a small group of Early Christians trying to figure out how to respond to the violence of the Empire. If you’re trying to use it for the post-Constantinian Empire we are apart of today, that involves some reinterpretation. It’s also interesting to note that this scripture has been used to justify horrendous crimes against humanity, including the Holocaust.
      It’s difficult for me to read the Sermon on the Mount as well as the account of Jesus and Peter in the garden (“No more of this…If you live by the sword…”) and see how we as people trying to figure out how to be faithful to Jesus should get psyched when a man who claims to be on the same faithful journey we are proudly announces how many people have been put to death under his watch. Especially in light of the recent man who was wrongfully put to death.
      One last thing. This is an issue of what we think the Crucifixion means. Maybe it means that the Noahnic covenant was fulfilled, and Jesus actually died on their behalf so they didn’t have to?

      • http://drewdowns.wordpress.com Drew Downs+

        Perfect!

  • Steve Chastain

    This discussion further proves why the Bible is completely irrelevant when it comes to being the final word on social issues… and could be improperly used to justify any type of legislation one wants to impose.

    You can’t legislate morality.

  • Chuck

    Remember, no politician ever lost an election by being for the death penalty.

  • DanS

    Joey. You can’t read the context in violation of the text. If I grant that Paul is writing to Christians who are persecuted by a militaristic Roman state that does not change what the text says. ““…for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

    Paul did not write “I urge Christians to bear patiently under the unjust rule of governments”. He wrote that Governments “bear the sword”. Why? “They are God’s servants” as “agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. Which phrases of the text I am misinterpreting? Which part of the text is erased by the context of Roman occupation of Israel? Which part of the text is being forced into another meaning by conservative ideology?

    Or which phrases would be bent to mean the opposite of what the vocabulary, grammar and syntax demand by a pacifist presupposition? Answer “God’s agent” to “bear the sword” to “bring punishment on the wrongdoer”. And why does this matter. Again, because men are created in God’s image, to shed man’s blood is a crime. How serious a crime? His (the murderer’s) blood shall be shed “by man”.

    There are many ways application of this has to be nuanced, to be sure. Safeguards must exist as much as humanly possible for wrongful accusations. Not all “killing” is premeditated murder. Not every murder is a mass murder by a psychopathic maniac. But to suggest, as the original post does, that a Christian can never support the death penalty when there are strong evidences in both the Old and New Testaments that God himself commanded the death penalty in limited cases, is absurd, violates the text and slanders the faith of many genuine believers across many centuries and many cultures.

    • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

      As has already been alluded to, this has to be nestled in its context to have any meaning. This is not an independent diatribe on state affairs but an epistle to an oppressed minority. As a “chunk” Romans 12 and 13 (all of it) fit together. Take 12:19, for instance, where Christians are told to leave the exercising of vengeance to God. Considering this is in the same passage as Romans 13:4, if we assume that 13:4 supports state violence, the only consistent option is to assume that Christians can have no participation in government as that would be a violation of the earlier command. Or, Romans 13:4 is to be understood in a different light than you suggest.

      To take it further, how might a Christian understand the Nazi government’s use of the sword? Divinely sanctioned? I doubt you would say that. But the text gives us no criteria for distinguishing between powers – it simply says that if there is an authority and they use the sword then we can’t speak against it – it is established by God. Where in the text does it suggest otherwise? Yoder describes an approach to this view where Christians differentiate between good and bad governments. The problem is that the text gives us no grounds on which to call one government good and one bad. Who is the judge and where is the tipping point?

      Yoder also points out that Romans doesn’t say He “ordains” it says that he “orders” or “arranges in order.” He makes this important distinction:

      “A given government is not mandated or saved or made a channel of the will of God; it is simply lined up, used by God in his ordering of the cosmos. It does not mean that what men in government do is good human behavior. As we noted, the librarian does not approve of the content of a book he shelves; God did not approve morally of the brutality whereby Assyria chastised Israel (Isa. 10).”

      Given that these 7 verses sit in a specific context and are written to a specific group of people we can’t assume that it is meant to be a universal declaration about how Christ followers understand the state’s use of violence. Either governments can use the sword and Christians just choose not to participate, there are good and bad governments but we’re given no criteria from which to judge one from the other, or this passage is about the immediate context of the Roman Christians who are trying to figure out how to survive as a persecuted minority.

      Let’s not forget that this Paul character was beheaded by the Roman government. He didn’t write Romans 13 in ignorance to Jeremiah 2 where we are told that the state’s justice is perverted in light of the revelation from God. Not to mention, as soon as we look at the early church we see a group of folks largely committed to avoiding government or state support. Origin wrote 8 books refuting a state official who said that Christians should participate in the government through military offices. His main point was that Christians by their very nature do more service to the state because they are all priests and that enacting God’s will would, in the end, be the best for the state because the will of God is ultimately good.

  • Pierce Withers

    Wasn’t Jesus also executed by his governor?


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