Tookie Williams was executed last night, at the stroke of midnight. I do not know enough of the facts to judge whether or not California was just, nor do I want to comment on the Tookie Williams case. My view is that the death penalty is just, especially in American jurisprudence, but Christians should oppose the death penalty. Here is my line of thinking and I’d like to know where some of you stand on this one.
Oh, and don’t forget to vote on the poll. I’ll vote later on today.
Second, the Cities of Refuge provided for
I conclude from these two sets of evidence that the death penalty is legislated in the Torah and that the death penalty is understood in the Bible as just. I see no reason to pretend that the Torah is barbaric: there is logical force in “human for human.”
But, there are other considerations that point to a purple theology and another way:
Third, Jesus clearly undermines the lex talionis. Not because Jesus didn’t believe in justice, or that the death penalty was unjust. Here’s what Jesus says:
Matt. 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
The Torah of Moses specified justifiable revenge; Jesus contends that his followers are to extend grace. He knows what justice permits; he just doesn’t think that is the way to proceed for his community of faith. Yes, he seems to be saying, the lex talionis is just, but among my followers there will not be the pursuit of revenge.
Grace and forgiveness unleash the power of God that re-makes humans. That is the way of Jesus.
Fifth, the system of embracing grace in the Bible sabotages the system of justice. God’s love for us restores us by forgiving us. God’s grace is a system in which revenge is denied and punishment absorbed. Cracked Eikons are restored to be glory-producing Eikons as a result of this gospel.
The reason Christians should oppose the death penalty is because they believe that (1) humans are Eikons of God who, because of the redemptive work of the trinitarian God in the Cross, Resurrection, and Pentecost, (2) can be restored to union with God and communion with others. Christians can oppose the death penalty because they have hope and believe that God’s grace can undo what has been done and remake the criminal into a person he or she was not previously.
I do think life imprisonment is just, but I see no reason to go any further than that: of course, it is not just to keep someone alive who has murdered another human (who is also an Eikon), but the system of grace taught by Jesus deconstructs the system of justice by taking it to an entirely new level. Not the level of offense and punishment, but the level of offense and punishment-with-redemption.
We should write to our senators to oppose the death penalty.