Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Vengeance is mine," saith Arnold

Last night, in the most secretive part of the nighttime, Stanley "Tookie" Williams was put to death in California. He was the cofounder of the Crips street gang and was convicted of murdering four people. Since then he had become a leading advocate against gang violence. He had written books advocating for kids to steer clear of gangs and had been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace prize. But that is all over now. He was put to death last night. (The pope does something right, finally).

I guess I am curious of thoughts in the midwest (or elsewhere) on the death penalty. Is this justice? Can Christians participate in the killing of criminals?

I guess I am surprised that more Christians didn't stand up to the state in this case, a man who was working out his redemption by trying to right some past wrongs. Is there no room for reform in our system? The man was an advocate against gang violence, and yet this seemed to be ignored--especially by "the Terminator." What I am not surprised at is that once again our governmental system showed its true colors. We do not live in a democracy when the opinion of one Arnold S. overrides a petition of over 50,000 signatures and many more voices. THAT does not surprise me. But the fact that the church was silent once again, especially in a case of killing a man who was working on redemption, does. Maybe I just need to lower my expectations.

Can Christians support the death penalty? Is this our sense of justice or is a just punishment something else for us? Where does redemption fit into this schema for the church? Does the church always hold out hope for a transformed life, and thus abstain from putting anyone to death? Just some food for thought.

"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you executed me..."


At 12/14/2005 8:07 AM, Blogger Dusty said...

The sad part is that Christians do support executions and war. We, at least most of us on here, are pretty "liberal" on these issues. I think it is sad that someone who miraculously did become reformed in this awful system, was still executed.

My mentor has a quote in his office that says, "let the Christians of the world agree not to kill each other." That would probably have stopped the execution last night, and would send a lot of troops home immediately. However, most people believe this is justice.

sad but true

At 12/14/2005 10:38 AM, Anonymous damon barnum said...

WHat if the petition of the obviously overwhelming majority of 50,000 people were to prohibit Chrsitian worship with penalty of life in prison. It's not that i necessarily agree or disagree with the death penalty, but come on do you really want to use a petition of 50000 people as an arguement. Aren't you esentially saying that since there's a 50000 person petition against it, there is a x-million person petition saying people are fine with it? Right, where the justice and democricy in that?

At 12/14/2005 10:41 AM, Anonymous Damon Barnum said...

The following is the intro to Amos in the Message Remix. I'm wondering if you all think of yourselves as prophets. I know most of you and love you all and not intending for this to be a "do you think you're better than us" question. I'm just wondering

More people are exploited and abused in thecause of religion than any other way. Sex, money, and power all take a back seat to religion as a source of evil.Region is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or orginization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sactioning a cause r a project, anything goes. The history, worldwide, of religion fueled hate, killing and oppression is staggering. The biblical prophets are in the front line of those doing something about it. The biblical prophets continue to be the most powerful and effective voices ever heard on this earth for keeping religion honest, humble and compassionate. Prophets sniff our injustice, especially injustice that is dressed up as religious garb. They sniff in out a mile away. Prophets see through hypocricy, especially hypocricy that assumes a religious pose. Prophets are not impressed by position, power, or authority. They aren't taken in by numbers, size, or appearences of success.

They pay little attention to what men and women say about God or do for God. They listen to God and rigoriously test all human language and action against what they hear. Among these prophets, Amos towers as a defender of the downtrodden poor and accuser of the powerful rich who use God's name to legitimize their sin.

At 12/14/2005 11:19 AM, Blogger Dusty said...

The petition really was not what did much for me...The fact that JESUS would have defended this man's life indicates that we should be too. You have to ignore the Gospels and cling to the old testament to justify the death penalty, but then, do you really want to live under the law?

I am not sure about the prophet thing. I think I spend more time offering commentary on what is happening, and not on what will happen. So, not prophetic in that sense. I will let Jake respond to the prophet thing, because I am not sure much about how that all works...

At 12/14/2005 11:53 AM, Blogger Joni said...

Quick thoughts: First to Dusty, most of prophecy has to do with what was going on at the time, and not what would happen in the future. Books like Amos spend quite a bit of time dealing with the injustice of society and how it was not pleasing to God, and then devote a little bit to what the consequences of all that might be if things didn't change. So don't sell yourself short, my friend! ;)

Second, while not a face-painting fan of the death penalty myself, I did read a book recently (recommended by my Criminal Law professor) that touches briefly on why some Christians may find the death penalty appropriate in some cases. It's really short--just an overview--but you might find it interesting: "Getting Even: Forgiveness and Its Limits" by Jeffrie Murphy (a philosophy of law prof. at ASU, I think).

At 12/14/2005 11:54 AM, Anonymous Damon Barnum said...

my only point in the petition thing is that if it's not really the issue at all why bring it up? If you have a point, make the point, this isn't a story problem where we need to sift though things to find the real issue. Maybe i'm off...

At 12/14/2005 1:56 PM, Blogger Dusty said...

For some people that could be impressive, but Damon, I don't think bringing up the idea of 50,000 people wanting Christians being killed doesn't hold much water. Because one is entirely hypothetical.

Also, 50,000 is a substantial number, especially if it was all within the state, since I think Californians would have been the only ones signing such a petition.

I, as mentioned above, am more concerned by the principle, but I will let Ryan defend himself...He is a big boy!

At 12/14/2005 2:23 PM, Anonymous Damon said...

I understand the concept of Jesus not wanting to kill people and it make sense, but would he also want someone to live a miserable life on death row? I mean, "...when I made a mistake, you didn't forgive me"? Really how far do we take it? How do you mesh Romans 13:1-7 with your stance/view/belief?

At 12/14/2005 2:24 PM, Anonymous damon said...

oh yeah...check this out it's great!!

At 12/14/2005 4:42 PM, Blogger adam said...

Some of my thoughts in three sentences or less:

The issue of Stanley - I am disappointed in the system.

The issue of the Penalty - I agree with your conclusions Dusty, but believe it is generally more complicated than Jesus and the Apostles said to love. I mean in the NT Paul was still exhorting slavery in the name of Christ, so love has got to be a little complicated.

On being prophets - In the context of this board, I don't think so because we are all the 'Choir' here. I see myself as participating in a dialogue with friends.

On 'the pope did something right, finally' - I really hope that was a joke, otherwise what the #$%@! are you talking about. I don't mean to get inflamatory here, but honestly...

At 12/14/2005 11:10 PM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

wow...i need a more consistent internet access to police you all.

i would point out that all Christians are more or less called to be prophets. The Spirit is on all of flesh. We are to be aware of the times and speak the truth of God to each other and to whoever else is listening. Of course there are still special moments of "prophetic words" but I wouldn't claim to have ever uttered one of those. Damon, I can't believe you actually found something in Eugene Peterson that I like. Good work.

Elsewhere, regarding petitions, I'm actually with Damon on this one too...There's nothing worse than appealing to popular opinion regarding issues like justice. I can't imagine what would happen if Americans all had a vote in justice after 9/11. That being said, it is relevant to Ryan's post, because it shows how screwed up a system is when these things are not really taken into consideration. Finally, I would defend Ryan's, and everyone else posting on here, right to present as many story problems as possible on here. If there's one thing I hate it is being to the point...CARRY ON!! Life is more like story problems than equations.

Alright, what else...on Tookie..
here's what the gov. said, and pretty much answers Ryan's question regarding why Christians didn't speak up:
"Without an apology and atonement for these senseless and brutal killings there can be no redemption"
He's referring to Tookie's unwillingess to confess to the four murders he was convicted of. No apologies means no forgiveness. This is american christianity. atonement must be this the heart of the faith?

Finally, to be even more spread out in responding, I would argue that this is not the first good thing the pope has done. I have more of a problem with catholic doctrine than his desire to see the church actually be consistent...

At 12/14/2005 11:32 PM, Blogger Ryan L. Hansen said...

So much to address in so little time:

Thanks for the comments, I think this could be a fruitful discussion.

First, Damon, on the petition. This was really a side issue, I was just commenting on how a lack of democracy really stood out the other day. I was contrasting this with my surprise in the inaction of the church. I think the hypothetical petition is really off the issue. Anyway, if a petition prohibited Christian worship it wouldn't matter to me. I don't really believe in petitions (like I said, it was really a side issue). What I do believe in is how Christians live their lives. This was the main issue for me. Can Christians support and serve on a jury that recommends and be on a staff that carries out the death penalty?

Secondly, on the prophets thing you may want to refer to Numbers 11.29 and 1 Cor. 14.1-5. These seem to say that all of God's people are called to be prophets--it builds up the body. The word "prophetic" has been tossed around so casually and carelessly these days that it has become worn out. Being prophetic is a lot more than speaking out for a cause or protesting with "civil disobedience." Especially in the church, I think prophecy has to take on an aspect of discipleship and common life. Using civil disobedience tactics within the church is not prophetic.

Thirdly, referring to "I made a mistake and you didn't forgive me"--how far do we take it? I think we should at least take it as far as scripture takes it. I was not making up the prison reference, I was just parodying it to show how far this incident missed the mark of faithful Christian discipleship.

Fourthly, a lot of damage has been done by reading Romans 13.1-7 out of context. Trust me, ask the Jews, or our anabaptist friends (cough*Jake*cough). I just did a paper on this. Christians are not to participate in deeds of darkness because for them the night is gone (Rom 13.11-13)America is still ashamed of their death penalty--they do it in the middle of the night--deeds of the night anyone?). Christians ethics always only flow out of the lorship of Jesus Christ (Rom 13.14), to him allegiance is due and when allegiances conflict we must follow Christ. Besides, just before 13.1-7, Paul has told Christians not to ever take vengeance. How then can they take up the state's vengeance making--these offices or vocations conflict. We MUST read Romans 13.1-7 very carefully, especially because it is so different from the rest of the material on the authorities in Pauline texts.

Joni, I am very busy with finishing up school right now and have no money to buy the book, would you summarize some insights from the book about Christians and the death penalty here, if you wouldn't mind?

Adam, I think the slavery issue is more nuanced in Paul. Paul was not advocating slavery, the system was slavery and there was no liberal democracy government to participate in to change that system. However, in the church Paul liberated slaves in that these slaves were Christian borthers and sisters with their Christian owners. To treat them any differently was a disgrace to the body. So no, I don't think Paul advocated slavery. I also don't think he was an abolitionist in the 1900's sense of the word, but he certainly saw everything becoming new in Christ (gal 3.28).

And, about the pope, that was mainly a joke. I have been frustrated that he became pope in such a time as this and has not focused efforts on embracing the peace of Christ in relation to the war and torture that has gone on in Iraq (and now Europe), nor has he been attentive to genocide in many African nations; rather he has seen fit to focus on the tertiary (at best) issue of homosexuality. This frustrates me. So a jab yes, but a jab with some substance behind it. Certainly no offense was meant.

At 12/15/2005 9:21 AM, Anonymous Damon Barnum said...

I want to thanks the kind folks here at MM for this forum, it's actually very freeing. For a long time I have been a flag waving hannity/limbaugh/southern baptist (so to speak)conservative. I have recently been 'softened' up by a good friend here where i live and some amazing authors. This is a great place to fellowship with other believers who have some different views and who will express them openly, candidly, and brotherly (or sisterly). Keep up the good work and Happy Holidays.

At 12/15/2005 12:30 PM, Blogger Liza said...

Jumping on the bandwagon late in the discussion here, I will say that I have struggled with this issue of capital punishment since I saw "Dead Man Walking" in high school. I say for myself that I simply can't support taking life, at any level, for any reason. However, not everyone shares my convictions/morals/belief system/pacifism, and I don't feel that I can, or should, force my opinions or beliefs on others. I cannot tell the mother, thirsting for vengeance over her dead child, that the man who put a bullet into his brain won't be held accountable for that act. And my level of desired accountability, and hers, are probably very different. Her child is dead. And I can't argue in the face of that.

This is, I suppose, one of the things that makes Christians, those called to be disciples, different from the rest of the world. That we would turn the other cheek ourselves, and get slapped twice if need be, and go willingly to the lions. And never lift a hand in our own defense. And stop the jailer before he kills himself, reassuring that we are all here, standing free in our ruined cells. We did not run away. This is the mystery of grace revealed in a life, and the truth of love- laying down our lives for our friends. And friends indeed our enemies may even be, if we are loving them as we love ourselves. In this way, perhaps Tookie's death is a modern sort of martyrdom.

And give it up for these Christians in Austria- I found this at the end of the article linked in the original posting of this discussion. These kids make me laugh in spite of myself.


In Graz, Schwarzenegger’s hometown, local Greens said they would file a petition to remove the governor’s name from the southern city’s Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium. A Christian political group went even further, suggesting it be renamed the “Stanley Tookie Williams Stadium.”

“Mr. Williams had converted and, unlike Mr. Schwarzenegger, opposed every form of violence,” said Richard Schadauer, the chairman of the Association of Christianity and Social Democracy.

At 12/15/2005 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

martyrdom? Support the death penalty or not, I wont argue that issue- its a tough one. But let's not attribute honor to a man undeserving.

Honor a man who dies for the sake of the Lord, not one who was put to death for the atonement of his disgusting, unrepented crimes.

At 12/15/2005 4:43 PM, Blogger Jake Sikora said...

well, i hate to agree and disagree at the same time, but i would have to share anonymous' concern about use of the word martyrdom, however i think i understand and am sympathetic to liza's concern regarding tookie's death. I think the point that's being driven home here is that Tookie's death was not atonement, in fact no death is atonement except for Christ's, this is an essential core of the Christian faith, starting with Paul and the book of Hebrews were we learn that sacrifice is never necessary again. It becomes possible to act radically and forgive someone like tookie (even if he never apologized for anything or had no change of life) because God first forgave us "while we were still sinners." i'm still, however, concerned with using the word martyr here, primarily because of the pressing situation with the CPTers in Iraq. Being killed by the state (or anyone else) actively pursuing the way of Jesus Christ is probably the only time we should use the word. That being said, Anonymous you seem to be overstating your case here, calling this death atonement is in fact to lessen the work of Christ.

At 12/15/2005 7:53 PM, Blogger Joni said...

Ryan, I'd love to give you a summary, but it'll have to wait at least until next week. I too am finishing up with school (last law school exam tomorrow!), plus I left the book home over Thanksgiving. I want to have it in front of me so I present Murphy's reasoning in a fair light. But I will try to get to it.

At 12/16/2005 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I said atonement I was not refering to the work of the cross, but the broader (secular) meaning of the word. Amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong; expiation. The death penalty is one way the secular courts of America choose to attempt to make amends or reparation for crimes.

I was in no way intending to take away from Christ's atonement. I understand your concern with the use of that word though, thanks for the comment.

At 12/16/2005 3:46 PM, Blogger Andy said...

oh anonymous, please reveal yourself so that we can all be friends.

At 12/18/2005 12:22 PM, Blogger Liza said...

Duly noted, anony. And Jake, thanks for defending my point before I could. Actually, I used the word in a slightly tongue-in-cheek fashion, which I realize you couldn't see my tongue in my cheek because this is on the internet. oh well. but I maintain my point, while agreeing with everybody. how diplomatic of me.

At 12/18/2005 11:29 PM, Blogger jonny said...

Just to add a my little bit about democracy and the law:

While California has a long history of using capital punishment, the current death penalty statute operates under the auspices of Proposition 7 passed way back in 1978.

Under the law, all death penalty cases must be reviewed by the state supreme court. After that, a number of appeals can be brought before other courts (state and federal) as well.

I'm not saying it's a perfect law. I'm not even saying it's a good one. (Because of the state’s supreme court must review each case, there are over 600 inmates on death row in CA; I could only find evidence of 12 executions in CA since 1978, presumably because the supreme court hasn't been very eager to review cases.) But as far as democracy is concerned, it's the law of the land until California's population decides on something different.

Which doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon when some two-thirds of CA voters still favor the death penalty for serious crimes. (

Like I said, it's not perfect. And it's probably not even all that good. But it is democracy, nonetheless.

At 1/01/2006 4:13 PM, Anonymous Antipelagian said...

I definitely think Tookie should have been spared....

Had he miraculously brought his victims back to life. That would have been just on his part. Since this didn't happen, justice had to be served for the people.

Making "amends" without admition of guilt is not being redeemed. Vain moralism is not the solution. Execution isn't an attempt at reforming individuals: it's elimination of law breakers.


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