Sunday, September 11, 2011

Capital Punishment - a Thought or Two

I am an advocate of life-sentences, without parole. Since there are too many mistakes made in capital cases, and since many capital cases deal with people who can't afford top-notch attorneys, and since it's been demonstrated that prosecutor offices tend to "close" a case too quickly to get a conviction, I opt for prison, rather than the death penalty. Though I remain convinced that a "state" has the right to take a criminal's life - that law and Scripture allow for it. But as Paul noted, just because something is permissible doesn't mean we should do it. Wisdom, as least mine, indicates imprisonment as a safer means of punishment that accomplishes the same as capital punishment (remove the offender from society) without the chance of a mistake. I also believe that capital punishment stains the character of a nation, and all those who participate in it - police, judges and juries, defenders and prosecutors, and the people who finally have to pull the levers.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Applauding for Executions

When Gov. Perry of Texas was questioned about the 234 executions in his state at the September 7 GOP debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, the audience broke out into loud applause.

I am stunned by this.

As a Christian, I follow an executed man. 

As I read the story, God choose the worst way to die, the lowest of all means of public shame and abandonment, because Jesus came to all who are abandoned, to be with all who are shamed, with and for all who are lost. Only there on the cross could God's love for all the world be fully demonstrated. In the lowest of all places where a human being might be found, God is there.

I imagine Pilate reporting to Caesar about the number of executions carried out in Galilee under his watch, and I can imagine the Roman Senate breaking out into applause.

I can understand why some would applaud the death of 234 people; yes, there are some who love the smell of blood. But anyone who takes Jesus and his cross seriously, I can't imagine them joining in that applause. 

We must remember what justice means in the Bible - putting things back together again in the right way - restoring the lost - helping the fallen - giving life, offering the second chance and forgiving many times. 

Capital punishment is never justice - because it restores nothing. It might be legal, and I suppose one can make a legal case for it, but capital punishment is vengeance in its final form - there is no going back, life cannot be restored for either the victim or the perpetrator, and vengeance only stains the soul all the more - the soul of those who want it, who make the decisions, who carry out the executions, and the soul of a nation that uses it.

Life imprisonment is the only acceptable alternative of punishment for a capital offense.

I have long stood against capital punishment - I can't imagine Jesus ever approving of it, who himself was the innocent victim of capital punishment. In spite of all our safeguards, too many innocent people die at the hand of the state. 

As a Christian, I cannot support it, and even more, I must do what I can to rid the land of this foul practice.

And, please, don't quote the Bible at me on this one.

I know all the relevant verses, and all the related history.

If you want to live in an eye-for-an-eye, a tooth-for-a-tooth, kind of world, we'll all end up toothless and blind, and what good will that do?

Kindness is always in season!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

9/11 Commemoration - for Sunday at Calvary Presbyterian Church

The following statement will be read during a portion of the morning liturgy devoted to the memory of 9/11 ... at Calvary Presbyterian Church, Hawthorne, CA.

We are Christians, above all else.
Our greatest loyalty is to the kingdom of God.
Our highest hopes are anchored in Christ.
Our daily life is built upon the character of God - God at work in all things, in all things for good … because God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good.

September, 2001 … the church I served at the time, St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Livonia, MI, was geared up to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary on Sunday, September 16 - people, from far and wide, had planned to attend the festivities and give thanks to God Almighty. 

And then, Tuesday, September 11, a day of national sorrow.

Several former pastors and others were unable to attend because of airline shutdowns. What had been planned as a festival became, as well, a time of mourning and soul-searching. In some parts of the country, churches, synagogues and mosques were filled to overflowing, and for some weeks, and even months, thereafter, people sought hope and solace in God’s love.

Ten years later, our country has been shaken by the mortgage meltdown, massive banking failure, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, political gridlock, high unemployment, world-wide financial distress, the Bernie Madoff scandal, the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, and perplexing questions about our future.

History offers some guidance.

From the get-go, when Cain killed his brother Able, human beings have excelled in the ways of killing. Of all God’s creatures, we are tragically skilled in violence. From Japan’s pillaging of Nanking, Hitler’s Holocaust and the Allied bombing of Dresden - to tens of thousands of starving children around the world amidst the brutal wars of genocide we’ve witnessed in the last 25 years, it is not a pretty picture. We who claim the name of Christ must spend a lot of time on our knees, praying for humanity and praying for the nations, pledging ourselves to be “the children of God,” those who are peacemakers. 

As Christians in America, it’s vital that we remember September 11, but do so with grace and perspective, choosing to live out of our hope and our dreams for a better world.

Ten years after the World Trade Center buildings collapsed into the streets of Manhattan and nearly 3000 people lost their lives in the blink of an eye, we must do several things today:
  1. Honor the memory of that tragic day with prayers and hope.
  2. Pray for the families who lost loved ones.
  3. Pray for the ticket agents, air traffic controllers and air force pilots - the burdens of memory are great!
  4. Celebrate the power of human resilience - while the survivors all carry painful memories of that day, so many of them have worked their way through the tragedy to find new life. Their stories of victory and success are a testimony to human courage and an inspiration to us all to never, ever, give up!
  5. Recognize the dedication of the first responders - public servants devoted to the public good, who put themselves into harm’s way, because this is their calling, this is their duty, this is their life.
  6. Pray for our nation.
  7. Pray for all the nations of the world, because God’s love is for all the world, all the nations, and all the peoples.
  8. Pray for peace, and devote ourselves to the ideas and behaviors that contribute to peace on all levels of life - family, work, neighborhood, church and school.
  9. Remember that we’re a strong nation with deep resources, and we needn’t live in fear. Yes, bad things might happen; no one person, and no nation, is immune to such things. Better to live in courage and trust. Better to know that our lot on earth is far better than many, and that, truly, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
  10. Practice forgiveness … and if it has to be raw forgiveness, do it. Forgiveness is always the healing of the soul.
  11. Practice what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemy” - this is not a sentimental journey, but a decision to do what’s right - to seek reconciliation where possible; to avoid violence and vengeance; to admit wrongs and confess sins; to seek the high road to life.
  12. Promise to live for Christ all the more - growing up into the knowledge of God’s purpose and love revealed in Christ - the reconciliation of all the world.
  13. Link arms with women and men of faith all around the world - Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus - anyone who does kindness, loves justice, and walks humbly with their God.
  14. And with the love of Christ secure in our hearts, love our nation and guide it to the better future.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address ends with these stirring and noble words:
… that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Dear friends, dear Christian friends, walk in the footsteps of the Master - Go forth into the world in peace; Be of good courage; Hold fast to that which is good. Render to no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint hearted. Support the weak. Help the afflicted. Honor everyone. Love and serve the Lord.
And to God be the glory. Amen and Amen!