How God's justice prevailed in Illinois

Gail Rice

March 24, 2011

Why does God’s sense of justice require that we eliminate capital punishment? Where did we come up with that conclusion? When God instituited capital punishment in the Pentateuch, was the process any fairer? Were there more safeguards? Old Testament prophets like Moses, Elijah called for capital punishments innumerable times. Yes, we are to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Not "defend the murderer, take up the cause of the rapist, plead the case of the serial killer". Moses delivered the law that said thou shalt not kill. Yet days later Moses ordered the Levites to kill their brothers and God ordered the killing of the Canaanites. As nearly every commentator will point out, Do not kill refers to murder. If you are a trinitarian, that was Jesus ordering the killing of the Caananites. I would think an arguement against capital punishment would be quite foreign to Old Testament prophets. I would add a hearty amen to rallying for fairness and equity. But I see no argument for banishing capital punishment within the pages of the old or new testament.

March 24, 2011

Christ: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17)

Paul: “But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Romans 13:4)

God Himself established the death penalty long before the law was given to Moses. He told Noah, “And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man” (Genesis 9:5).
This command has never been repealed. Not by the New Testament. Not by Paul. Not by Jesus Himself.

March 25, 2011

Christ's statement about fulfilling the law: does it mean keep the law on the books as is, status quo, or in his fulfillment, does he transform the law into a new reality? Lots of historic interp on this, and not just on death penalty.
Who pays for death penalty wrongly meted out---? Had Illinois aggressively pursued death penalty for capital crimes, had Illinois aggressively executed sentence, how many innocent lives would have been taken? Collateral damage occurs off the battlefield as well.

March 25, 2011

As Noone pointed out, the regulations regarding capital punishment were given by God (Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father) and predate the law and the prophets by thousands of years. Even after the law was fulfilled Paul points out that the power of the sword (capital punishment) is held by the state and must be respected because it is God’s agent to punish crime. The word sword that Paul uses is the word used for the executioners sword. Our responsibility is to lobby for fairness in its application. When God instituited capital punishment in the Pentateuch, was the process in some way fairer? Were there more safeguards or less? If this life were all there was, capital punishment would be doubly tragic. But this life is the merest wisp of a cloud on the way to eternity.

March 25, 2011

I agree with comment that the waiting...and waiting...for an execution..."hanging on the hope of execution" ... can slow down the
healing process. We all can agree that waiting can be very stressful. The quote from the woman against Ryan's commuting
death sentences included, "He's going to take it away from me." Yes, holding on to it. We, I believe will all do better to live with life without
parole. No more "waiting" and holding on to the hope of execution.

Colleen Blaney

March 25, 2011

I believe Christians are to trust and believe in God. Therefore, I'm of the mind that Christians should also believe it to be proper to leave the life of a man in God's hands.
Like Gail, my heart breaks at the anger and hate that builds up in those who are hurt by such a loss. If the death penalty is not available as a fuel for that hate, we may be better off.

William's Dad
March 25, 2011

You may see no argument for banishing capital punishment in the pages of the Bible, but here's what I see and how I choose to live as a follower of Jesus' teachings: Loving one another, even our enemies; and engaging in acts of forgiveness, even when it's hard to do so.

You cite scripture while ignoring the fact that some of us have to put that scriptural foundation into practice based on how God speaks to our hearts on a daily basis. To go from practicing our faith to performing it, if you will. When my son was shot and killed in 1997 the prosecutor came to me and told me he was going to seek the death penalty. At that point, I had to decide whether I was going to live by the Christian principles that I had been brought up to believe, or whether I was going to buy into his philosophy that "there are just some people in this world who shouldn't be allowed to live." It took less than a second for me to decide to go with God's precepts and I formally stated that I did not want the death penalty pursued in our case. I have never once regretted that decision.

Consequently, I reached a place where I could forgive the murderer and his two accomplices for their crime against me rather than seeking his death. And what came of that scripturally motivated action? A lifting of the terrible weight of holding hatred and anger in my heart for years. Being able to pray the Lord's Prayer (forgive us our trespasses...). Redemption of the life of one of the girls who assisted in the crime (and perhaps others that I do not know about) and when she leaves her incarceration in a few years she will leave as a forgiven Child of God and with a church to support her. A community who heard of the power of forgiveness in the media and was made better because of it. With the life in prison with no parole sentence, my family does not have to endure interminable appeals and at the end feel an obligation to watch someone die -- surely not a holy or transformative experience. And, because my family and I have been freed from the burden and re-traumatization that the death penalty places on families left behind, we have been able to do much good work that has been set before us that is making the world a better place for all of us.

Perhaps, to your way of thinking, I may have been justified in supporting this man's death, but I seriously doubt if good and holy things would have followed.

In answer to your question about safeguards, there actually were more than you know. When the Hebrews settled into cities and communities in the Promised Land, the practice of capital punishment all but stopped because the Rabbinical code regarding it became so strict that virtually none of today's death penalty cases would even begin to stand up to its rigors. So they, too, decided to live better than the law allowed.

The simple fact is, there is nothing at all "righteous" about righteous indignation. And if you are a trinitarian, then the "new commandment" Jesus gave his apostles in the upper room, to love one another as "I" have loved you, means that we must love each other in this world as God loves us. No less. To me, that means no death penalty. No advocating for the death of another. Forgiving them of their sins against me without reservation. And praying for their redemption every day and actively helping with that redemption when possible.

Exercising love and forgiveness is a humbler and gentler way of living than holding onto Old Testament justice and being filled with righteous indignation, but I believe it is God's way for me, and for all of us, to aspire to live in the world today. And, if I may be so bold, it is also the only truly effective means of evangelism.

March 25, 2011

"Our responsibility is to lobby for fairness in its application"---absolutely. The little-mentioned, little-heard side of the pro/con issue.

March 25, 2011

I would think an arguement against capital punishment would be quite foreign to Old Testament prophets.

I think the concept of life imprisonment without parole would also be quite foreign to Old Testament prophets.

(Moreover, I think the concept of a society without slavery would be quite foreign to Old Testament prophets. If the lifestyle of the ancient Near East is now being taken as normative, we've got some rather large changes to make, no?)

March 26, 2011

Jcarpenter asks, “Who pays for the death penalty wrongly meted out?” The ones who pay the most, of course, are the ones who are wrongly executed, and their families and loved ones. There is strong evidence of innocence for at least nine men executed since 1976.

Second, the people who pay are the wrongly convicted exonerees – 138 of them so far; 20 from Illinois. Many have spent decades on death row. Even if they receive large financial settlements later, no amount of money can make up for all they have lost while in prison. Many exonerees in the U.S. have organized under the group Witness to Innocence, and their compelling stories have helped abolition efforts in several states. Those who think the death penalty is reasonably fair should spend a few hours listening to just one of these exonerees, who put a human face on a fatally flawed system.

Third, there are the innocent people who are still on death row, who have not yet been exonerated. Prison is a pretty hellish place to be, but it is even more horrific for those who are innocent. Prosecutors are generally not eager to open up cases and entertain appeals even when there is strong evidence that a death row inmate is wrongly convicted. Randy Steidl, Illinois’ 18th exoneree, who campaigned with me for Illinois’ abolition, was framed by state police who paid witnesses to lie about him. The one state policeman who doggedly investigated his case was terribly harassed and threatened.

And finally, even if every executed murderer was guilty, we all pay for the death penalty – you, me, and every taxpayer in every death penalty state. Any death penalty sentence is staggeringly more expensive than a sentence of life without parole. Since 2003, Illinois has spent over $100 million extra on death penalty cases. This money from the Capital Litigation Trust Fund will now go into a fund for increased law enforcement and services for murder victims’ family members, both of which have been greatly cut in the past. This money can help prevent crime, keep us safer, and give murder victims’ family members the help they need. I have always thought that Christ and the testimony of the Church throughout the centuries would call us to spend large amounts of money to protect and help the vulnerable rather than to execute a small number of murderers.

March 30, 2011

As a Christian I believe the death penalty should prevail.

Josh Larsen
TC Staff
March 30, 2011

Thanks for weighing in Skeeter - care to expand a bit and share your reasons?

April 6, 2011

Although I am very concerned about injustice in the application of the death penalty, not to mention the possibility of the death penalty being used as thin cover for getting rid of "undesirables" on the part of the state, I still come to the conclusion that God taught Israel that the death penalty needed to be available as punishment for certain crimes. Why? God places such high value on human life (after all human beings alone bear the image of God) that he protects humans from destroying each other by instituting the death penalty. If God did not so value human life, he presumably would have made murder a non-capital crime, or no crime at all. He does not do that, however. Exodus 21:14 says, "But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death." (NIV) It's pretty clear. God demands the death penalty for murder under his law. In the end this trumps my stomach-churning qualms about the way the death sentence is handed down by our judicial system, and the horror of the actual execution of criminals.

There are a number of metaphors and constructs (overt and covert) which govern the way our society thinks of human beings: citizens, cogs in a machine, most evolved animals, and so on. By standing for the death penalty, we say that all of these ways of thinking of humans are finally inadequate. Man is special because he is created in God's image, and we must protect that image in the earth by putting to death all those who would erase that image through murder.

I'm sure I'll be popular on this list for holding this view ;-). But that's the way I see it.

April 8, 2011

Again, I would urge those who are proponents of capital punishment based on the Bible to really dig into what the Bible says about it, in both the Old and New Testaments. I know of no better resource than "Capital Punishment and the Bible" by Gardner C. Hanks for a comprehensive Biblical treatment of capital punishment.

July 1, 2011

Actually, if one studies Jewish legal procedures regarding the death penalty, you will find that there were in fact many more safeguards than what we have today in most states. The Torah required the eyewitness account of at least 2 independent witnesses to establish any charge before the Sanhedrin. The death penalty in America is typically upheld with no eyewitness accounts, only circumstantial evidence or DNA evidence. This is far less than the Torah's righteous standard. When compared to the Torah, our death penalty system is clearly unrighteous.

The cases of Moses/Levites, Joshua/Canaanites, and Elijah/priests of Baal simply do not apply to this issue. These men were prophets and hence spoke the authoritative will of God. The American court system falls far short of prophetic insight.

Brian Murphy
July 1, 2011

I agree, although I'm not sure if I'm comfortable calling it "God's justice"

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