As Easter is upon us (2015) 400+ Roman Catholics and “Evangelical” leaders have written a letter calling on the end to the death penalty. The list of prominent signers includes Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking,” Lynne Hybels, wife of Bill Hybels, Willowcreek Church and a former vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Contemporary efforts to do away with Capital Punishment are rooted in emotion and exception. Ordinary folks don’t like to think about their government killing people in their name. Activists point to the abuses and mistakes to prove the fallibility of the system, drawing the only conclusion they can tolerate: Eliminate Capital Punishment.
The latest statistics indicate just under half of all prison inmates are black. However, the largest percentage are incarcerated in Northern and Western prisons, not the South. High population areas like New York and Northern New Jersey as well as unsuspecting states like Iowa, Vermont and Wisconsin lead the pack.
The experts are convinced we need to focus more on prevention and correction, than on incarceration and punishment. This is why we did away with Penitentiaries in favor of Correctional Facilities. One focused on a prisoner doing penance: considering his plight and circumstance, while the other sought to rehabilitate.
However, what do you accomplish by eliminating the Death Penalty? You eliminate the power of ALL law. The State that cannot punish to the max, has no moral authority to punish at all. Citizens may do as they please, knowing they are safe. They will live. In living there is hope. In the changing morality of a people there may even be reprieve.
God established capital punishment just after The Flood. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.’ Gen. 9:6
It was a time without human government. There were only 8 souls on all the Earth. There would be more. Unless something changed, these new folks would repeat the patterns of the ante-deluvians, creating another lawless, corrupt, immoral society. Capital Punishment is God’s means for keeping this under control.
With the Mosaic Law, 1500 / 2000 years later, God spelled out how the process was to work. Initially, it was the ‘near-kinsman’ who would be honor-bound to provide justice for his fallen brother. Cain worried about this, soon after his parents were cast out of The Garden (Gen. 4). Under Law the threshold was far greater.
To convict a person of a capital crime, there would need to be 2 or 3 witnesses. Each witness had to have seen the others, as they too witnessed the crime. Each witness would have had to at least try and intercede to stop it.
No witnesses? No conviction. The supposed criminal would go free. Would he be welcomed back into the community? That depends. One of the first things I learned as Reserve Police Officer and Chaplain, was that scofflaws return. Watching officers either let someone go or, in a search, lose them altogether, I marveled at their philosophic response. Asking, I learned: “Oh, he’ll be back!”
Regular offenders are just that: regular. Miss them here, they will pop up there, at another time. When that happens you can charge them for the first offense as well.
The second thing I learned was that approximately 10% of the population is responsible for 90% of the crime, in that community. One of the difficulties police officers have is separating the two. If they are not careful they can treat an ordinary citizen as a scofflaw and create all sorts of problems.
The arguments for doing away with the Death Penalty, include:
– abuse within the system: police officers, attorneys, judges, etc.
– testimonies of witnesses [which lawyers / judges largely discount]
– disproportionate number of poor or minorities in the prisons
– the brutality of the punishment
In an enlightened society, these are reprehensible and point to the need to do away with the penalty.
Ques: How do you measure ‘enlightened?’ Our society is every bit as violent as it ever has been! Every day we learn of some terrible thing someone has done to another — often vulnerable — person. Mothers, Fathers, Criminals, Lovers, Bankers, Teenagers, Preachers, Police Officers, Judges, and the list goes on. At every level of society there lurks evil in the hearts of mankind.
Is there a disproportionate number of minorities and poor in prisons? Yes. Does that prove we are an unjust and/or prejudiced society? No. It only suggests there are more of these folks doing crimes, than are others. It would take a serious / objective Study of Crime in America to indicate what was really the truth.
Given the weakness of Church in America; of the Nuclear Family; of the lack of Fathers in the Black community, and now in every community, it is amazing we don’t have more folks in prison. Of course, we would except we keep letting people out, as we raise the bar — simply because of the cost of incarceration.
What are the Catholic and Evangelicals doing to slow the tide of crime in society? The Bible teaches us the only thing available is The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ! It, alone, changes the heart. The heart that is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things! (Jer. 17:9)
How many churches are preaching that Gospel? How many churches are inculcating biblical values? How many offer weekly support in terms of prayer and discipleship? How many are actually teaching The Bible to their members? How many pastors are visiting their folks and praying with them? How many are available as moral patterns, for families and young people?
Before we do away with the Death Penalty, let’s pass a law that ALL churches MUST preach and teach The Bible; MUST preach The Gospel; MUST inculcate the sense of ‘family’ among the membership.
Then let’s pass a law that ALL Americans MUST attend Church, regularly.
If we’re not serious about creating a safe, moral, stable, secure social environment, why are we so willing to eliminate the only tool we have to keep people in line?
Of course, we WON’T pass a law that forces everyone to go to Church. So, we’re stuck with the possibility of immoral attorneys, careless police officers and investigators and over-worked judges. So, don’t be surprised when the system is not perfect!