Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal
In John 8:1-8 we find Jesus at a courthouse teaching. While there they brought him a person condemned to death. It is clear her sentence was death by stoning according to the laws. It is also clear Jesus never disputes that the woman is guilty. He also stands between the executioners and the sentenced. He does not challenge her guilty verdict; he challenges her death sentence.
We can quarrel about the places where Jesus might not have been clear, or worse, those issues he did not speak on at all. However, in this case he is clear.
Sadly, our current government has chosen to reinstate the death penalty at the Federal level. They have made their choice.
As far as I have been able to find there is no evidence that the Death Penalty serves as a deterrent to terrible crimes. In our country carrying the sentence out is slow, costly and even then, we have killed innocent people. At the same time, there is no question that, aside from the innocent killed, those sentenced to death have committed heinous crimes. Is it justice to become what we are intending to punish?
We Americans do have a romanticized notion of swift justice. This lust has blinded us to the fact that we have often used the word justice as a façade for racial prejudice, hate, revenge, retribution, and more. We often escape in front of a screen for a couple of hours where justice is served swiftly and accurately. Always to the deserving, by mostly attractive men who are too honorable to wait for the corrupt and slow system. There is nothing swifter in our romanticized eye for an eye world than the death penalty. It is clear, quick, final and it feels good to make them pay. It does not matter that the death penalty does not deter crime. Many of us simply want to make THEM pay.
We have grown comfortable with seeking retribution or revenge and calling it justice.
This earthly sense of justice feels good and leaves us with a very satisfying sense of having received payback.
In response to my position I often hear the comment, “you’re only against it because it hasn’t been your daughter raped or your mother killed.” I do wonder how I would respond, and I don’t know. Is revenge the only response?
When Charles Roberts IV shot 10 girls and killed 5, the families of the girls and their Amish community found another way. The Amish outnumbered mourners at Robert’s funeral and they visited his family to share in their grief together. I have no reason to think that if Roberts had survived these same mourners would have asked for his death.
It makes sense to want strong deterrents to heinous crimes. We should have strong consequences for evil acts. Christ did come to end our eye for an eye sense of retribution.
Is Capital punishment really that bad? Yes, because it is the result of our “us vs. them” world of separation. Our history of humanity has taught us that this type of separation has always ended with the powerful doing its best to destroy the weaker side.
I believe that reinstituting the death penalty is yet another cruel step moving us closer to the Rome of Jesus’ time and away from our Christian principles.
Watching this journey closely is important because we are living historic times in our country and especially for Christians. Previously, Christians have allowed themselves to be carried by fear into a world of retribution, vengeance and hate. Germany, The Balkans, Rwanda and others were all mainly Christian countries who, step by step, followed the path of hate that led them from alienating the other to genocide. Am I comparing us to them? Yes. Will we end in the same place?
Will we be good, obedient citizens and go along? Or will we stand with Jesus against this practice that does not deter horrible crimes but does satisfy our darkest desires for revenge? Will be stand between the hate and the victim and firmly love both?
This is not an easy choice. We will pay a price for standing on the side of love for all, perpetrator and victim. But if we do not, this path leads to open hate and pain that lasts decades.
So, let us remind each other that we all have blame to carry as well as grace and the call to repent and sin no more.
In hope that Love does prevail when wielded firmly and generously,
Executive Minister, EBA