A reply to “Death penalty foes won’t take a stand in Colorado”

Anyone reading this blog already knows what happened in Aurora, CO, so I won’t bother reviewing it for you. Instead, we move forward to the new developments, the court transcripts, and my personal favorites, the opinion pieces.

At the risk of being insensitive to the very real tragedy of these events and the fact that they happened to real and actual people, I can’t help but read about them, and what people say about them, and then forming opinions on my own. It’s almost enjoyable, discourse and whatnot (not that I really do much in the way of back and forth discussion on most matters).

One such article, written by Jonah Goldberg, brings up a very interesting point, one I hadn’t actually thought about until reading it. For those who aren’t going to read it, I’ll do my best to summarize: anti death penalty advocates aren’t going to speak up about this case because it’s not one they think will go well for them. And I think he might be right.

Almost a year ago, Troy Davis was executed for murder. The days leading up to it were filled with all kinds of arguments against his execution, and its pretty clear the author is referencing this very event when he says: “Death penalty opponents are fairly mercenary about when to express their outrage. When questions of guilt can be muddied in the media; when the facts are old and hard to look up; when the witnesses are dead; when statistics can be deployed to buttress the charge of institutional racism: These are just a few of the times when opponents loudly insist the death penalty must go.”

Goldberg brings up another good point, without entirely meaning to: the primary argument against Davis’ execution was that he didn’t do it, or that there wasn’t sufficient evidence of his wrongdoing to warrant execution, or that he only received the death penalty because he was black man.

I’m no expert on the subject, but these sorts of arguments seem to be where most anti death penalty tend to go. Sometimes they bring up mental illness or unusual circumstances, but the usual case is “we can’t be so certain of it that it’s worth killing them”. Or racism. The arguments that it is always wrong in every circumstance never seems quite as loud or popular.

Well, guess I’ll go ahead and be unpopular (I’ve been through high school so I’m used to it) and say that I oppose the death penalty in every circumstance. Including this one. I’ve discussed my feelings about it before, and since then I have refined my thoughts.

I wasn’t always opposed to it. When I was younger it just made perfect sense to me; kill off the bad people and make the world a better place, or at least show the bad people that we aren’t going to put up with them. After becoming a Christian six years ago I still thought it was the right thing to do. God told Noah that if a person or animal takes a human life they are to be killed themselves, and this principle is reinforced with the covenant God makes with the Israelites.

Recently, however, I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means to follow Jesus, and what precisely we are called to do as his disciples. While Jesus did a lot of great things for people, the single most important act was sacrificing himself for us so that our sins can be forgiven, thus allowing us to dwell forever with God. Likewise, while Christians are called to do a number of things, including helping the poor and sick and each other and making full use of what God has given us, our single most important task is to seek out the lost and tell them the good news about Jesus. Everything else we do is inconsequential. I say that a man whose only worthwhile deed in life is leading one other person to Christ has led a more fulfilling life than a man who has done everything but share the gospel with another.

And here is a very simple fact: you can’t share the gospel to a dead man. You can’t reach out to the lost if they have already lost their heart beat. You can’t read John 3:16 to a man in a dark concrete box who is denied any contact with another human being for the rest of his life.

Furthermore, you’re going to have a very hard time inviting a man to church who, after making a couple of very big mistakes, has been locked up with hundreds of ill-tempered, aggressive, and violent men. Bad company corrupts good character, so how much more will bad company corrupt an already shaky character? Do you think our correctional facilities actually correct anyone?

Obviously we can’t just let violent and larcenous people roam free, but our current system of justice is based on retribution and shame, not reform. In a way, we don’t really want them to reform, we want to watch them squirm and suffer forever. In our misguided attempts at building heaven here on Earth, we have invariably created thousands of miniature hells.

I’m not a religious authority, but I firmly believe that no Christian should support any institution or behavior that makes it more difficult to share the gospel. That includes the death penalty, or locking up prisoners with no one but other prisoners for company. I do not think there should be any exceptions to this. Jesus died to save James Holmes just as surely as he died to save me or Billy Graham or Saul of Tarsus or Joseph Stalin or any arbitrary list of people you can think of.

Obviously this argument isn’t going to do much for anyone who isn’t a Christian, but maybe you will nevertheless agree that there is a better way to do things than the way we do them now.

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3 Responses to A reply to “Death penalty foes won’t take a stand in Colorado”

  1. I grew up without religion and slowly became Agnostic. Although I do not share in your belief of a savior, I so share in the belief that comes with it. There are many reasons people fight against the death penalty. Some of them are valid. Some of them are a little weaker. But when you come down to it, the simple truth is that the death penalty will bring the death count of this tragedy from 12 to 13. I feel that we only worsen a tragedy by allowing the state to increase the body count.

  2. Ben R says:

    Do you know about the Son of Sam killer? He’s one of the main reasons that I share your perspective. Look up some interview of him on YouTube. Both chilling and heart-warming.

  3. Thank you for this important discussion. As an
    abolitionist, of course I’m opposed to the use of the
    death sentence, let alone an actual execution, for the
    perpetrator of the Aurora mass shooting. Assuming the
    person is legally sane, life without parole would be
    the just sentence. The horrors of this crime can’t be
    expressed in words, nor the horrors of a society which
    would seek to placate either its sense of outrage or
    fear of likewise senseless mass shootings in the
    future by an act of human sacrifice.

    Often it may seem a losing battle to speak out against
    the ethos of revenge after one of these heinous
    crimes, but I see it was my duty, as likewise when I
    was 11 years old and opposed the execution of Adolf
    Eichmann. And on August 8 of that same year, 1962, I
    likewise opposed the triple execution of Elizabeth
    Duncan (“Ma Duncan”), Luis Moya, and Augustine
    Baldonado for the murder of Duncan’s daughter-in-law
    Olga Duncan. It seems that Elizabeth Duncan was
    jealous that her daughter-in-law had taken her beloved
    son from her, and so hired her two Mexican
    codefendants to kill this innocent victim. I won’t go
    into all the horrible details Olga Duncan’s abduction
    and murder (she was pregnant at the time) by Moya and
    Baldonado, who meant to kill her quickly but botched
    the assignment with torturous results.

    If one is opposed in principle to having the state
    kill subdued prisoners in order to exact revenge,
    carry out a ritual of “therapeutic killing” which
    supposedly satisfies the family members and friends of
    the original victims (many of whom are actually death
    penalty opponents), or give the public the idea that
    another sacrificial death has somehow placated the
    spirit of violence that might otherwise result in more
    mass shooting incidents, then I think one has the duty
    to speak out, even when it might not be political
    profitable.

    Of course, the typical person on Death Row is not
    necessarily a highly-publicized mass shooting suspect,
    let alone a war criminal such as Adolf Eichmann. At
    the same, I must emphasize that this typical condemned
    prisoner is unlikely to be factually innocent — the
    140 Death Row exonerations are a small if significant
    proportion of the total number of death sentences.

    For me, the unique mitigating circumstances in each
    case are the main focus, whether I’m involved in
    supporting legal advocacy or in ethical arguments.
    There’s something human about each of these people
    that provides a good reason not to kill them, although
    the facts of the crimes generally give ample reason
    for being sure that these people spend the rest of
    their natural lives in some custodial situation.

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