Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sports and the Death Penalty

And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?
Luke 18:8

I should not listen to talk radio. There is something intrinsically toxic about it.

This morning, in the few minutes that it takes me to drive to work, I was listening to Sports talk. It should have been harmless enough. The Celtics won last night in Cleveland. It was the first time they had beaten the Cavaliers in Cleveland since who knows when? And the World Series begins tonight. Good stuff.

But instead, one of the hosts was talking about the news, reading what he said was an “uplifting” story in the morning paper. “This,” he said, “will lift your spirits!” And then he read the following story from the Associated Press:

The mastermind of the 2002 Washington, D.C.-area sniper attacks will die by lethal injection next month, Virginia officials said Tuesday.

John Allen Muhammad declined to choose between lethal injection and electrocution, so under state law the method defaults to lethal injection, Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor said.

Talk radio is always about entertainment, so there is always an element of acting in the presentation, but he was clearly happy about the news. And he thought that the rest of us should also be happy. And really believed it was uplifting. A triumph of justice and righteousness.

I did not feel uplifted.

It is very difficult to study the teachings of Jesus with any seriousness and think that he would support the death penalty. Biblical support for the death penalty is problematic even if you don’t read beyond Malachi 4:6. Once you get to the Sermon on the Mount, only a highly selective reading of Scripture will yield support for a policy that puts people to death for their crimes.

In spite of the biblical evidence, Christians have debated the death penalty for ages. And history tells us that some (so called) Christians have even used the death penalty to enforce their theological doctrines. But it is impossible to have even a passing encounter with the biblical witness and think that the prospect of putting someone to death should “lift your spirits.”

Of course, the morning sports talk guys don’t advertise themselves as Christians, but my guess is that if asked, that would be their answer.

What troubles me most about he morning sports talkers making light of the death penalty is that it reveals (again) the vast gulf between the teachings of Jesus and our popular culture.

1 comment:

  1. I think the United Methodist Discipline has an excellent comment on the death penalty (under its Social Principles section) ..."We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings."

    On a more practical level I think a major problem with the death penalty is that sometimes we execute the wrong person! I believe RI abandoned the death penalty because they did execute a man later found to be innocent. Also it was not too long ago that a former police officer (convicted of murdering his ex-wife) was released from a life sentence after new evidence came forward that he was innocent. You can't do that if you execute people. There is also the huge moral problem of executing those with diminished mental capacity.

    The radio bit also reminded me of a Facebook conversation I had last August. I had to scroll back to find it. This is not all of it (and I changed the names) but here are some comments ...

    It starts with Mary: "What a horror that Scotland is releasing the only man jailed for the bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbee Scotland. A compassionate release because this Libyan monster has advanced prostate cancer. Where was the compassion for all the people on that flight including Americans in December 1988, when they were all killed? ... still letting the terrorists have their way.

    Keith: It depends how far advanced it is. I agree that he should not be "let out" so he can get out and walk around free with a year or two to live. However, watching someone die in the last stages of cancer is a terrible, terrible thing. I would let him go if he was essentially immoblie, bed ridden and only has a week or so to live.

    Arguably those who do not show compassion may need compassion the most. If we can't show compassion for him, then we should show compassion for his family. Let them be with their loved one when he dies. I think people are jailed so they cannot do any harm. I do not think it should be for revenge. If we make him (and others) suffer out of revenge, then how are we any different than he is?

    ---- various other comments were made back and forth among different people... At one point I argued that I assumed if we kept him locked up we would show compassion by giving him pain medication why not offer the compassion to his family to see him ... ----

    It then ended with ...

    Betty: It's in God's hand now.

    Joe: ... It's too late now...he's free physically ... but spiritually, I agree with Betty he will be meeting his maker soon. Hopefully, the "downstairs" lever will be pulled.


    Is it a "spiritual" answer to accept what we view as injustice now and hope then be judged by God hoping the person in question will be thrown into Hell?

    Iroic how Hell as place of "just punishment" is a Christian concept.