Forgiveness: The Missing Element
A medieval legend states that Jesus and the eleven Apostles were having a discussion in heaven prior to commemorating the Last Supper. A tomb-like silence engulfs the room after the door suddenly flies open and Judas enters the banquet hall. Christ, however, immediately arises, embraces Judas with a holy kiss and says, "We have waited for thee."
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult concepts of Christianity, both for personal and societal injustices. Retaliatory acts for perceived injustices are perpetrated daily, while blood feuds between families are legendary. Organized thugs on both the right and left of the political spectrum feed upon the fear, hate and prejudice of people who cannot forgive past wrongs.
In fact, we don't have to go too far to see examples of intolerance towards men and women on death row-many of them go to church with us each week. There are far too many people within the Christian community who see no conflict between Christ's message of love and forgiveness and their support of the death penalty.
This bifurcated thinking must be reconciled; yet, how do you reconcile Christ praying for forgiveness for the people crucifying him with one of his modern-day followers arguing that a person should euthanized for a crime they may not have committed?
Prior to converting the general public to support the abolition of the death penalty, we need to have an open discussion with people in our church who support the death penalty. Here are a few questions that might be used to begin a discussion of the death penalty with Christians who favor capital punishment:
Is It Supported In Gospels? What specific sections of the Gospels can you cite that leads you to believe that Jesus supports the death penalty?
Are Innocent People Executed? What recourse is available to people who are executed, but later evidence determines their innocence. How do you restore life? Currently 142 people have been released from death row because evidence-including DNA-has surfaced that proved their innocence. As one survivor of the death penalty stated,
"You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can't release him from the grave."
Is Race And Poor Legal Representation A Factor? What can be done to insure that race is not a factor in seeking the death penalty and that competent legal representation is provided at the trial level. Being able to hire your own attorney-rather than being assigned a public defender-greatly influences how your case proceeds.
Is All Life Is Sacred? If all life is sacred then should there be degrees of punishment for murders? Recently, a man in Nashville killed his landlord and then decapitated him with a shovel. He pleaded guilty and received 25 years in prison. However, prisons across the country have men and women awaiting execution for less heinous crimes. Who is wise enough to make the distinction on which crime deserves death and another a few years in jail? It's this type of inequity that fuels the needs for abolition of the death penalty.
No one argues that punishment for a crime should be overlooked, but compounding the problem by committing state-sanctioned murder borders on the foolish. We must follow Jesus who stated that he had been sent "to proclaim freedom for the prisoners."
In the last few months, discussions have commenced across the country on the propriety of retaining the death penalty. This discussion is needed, especially in a country that prides itself on being a world leader.
Christians need to be at the forefront of this movement in each state. We need to suspend our judgments about retribution and focus on preventing the state from taking the life of another human being.
Death Penalty Abolition Action Group
"Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are." ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer