Death penalty is not a Christian value

Jim Atherton / MCT

As a Christian author, I’ve developed a strong working relationship with the Bible. It provokes the most interesting questions. For example, what do Moses, David and St. Paul have in common? In today’s America, they could all be on Death Row. Each committed or ordered brutal, premeditated murders.

Moses smashed in the head of an Egyptian with a rock and hid the body; David had a soldier killed so he could take the man's wife; Paul directed and oversaw the murder of early Christians.

I have two friends on Death Row in Florida, and they don’t have much in common with Moses, David or Paul. They were not raised in wealth, protected by elders, highly educated or prepared to lead. Instead, they were raised amid racism, poverty, neglect and violence.

Working with a Lutheran ministry, Death Row Support Project, I’ve been writing to these men for years, since my husband and I bought a place in Key West. I send, and receive from them, birthday and Christmas cards. They cheer for my books to succeed and worry when my husband or I get sick.

One of them is an engaged in a years-long program of anti-violence meditation and prayer. He has one child on the honor roll in school and another suffering with sickle-cell anemia, situations that cause him both pride and anguish. He and my husband tease each other unmercifully about their favorite sports teams.

Another, a Vietnam vet who saw some of the most brutal fighting of the war, is an accomplished — and published — artist. He sends exquisite illustrations, when he’s not too busy challenging me on Bible passages. He has spent most of his time on Death Row studying scripture and praying; he could send St. Jerome scurrying for his notes. I’ve been humbled by these men, amazed at their humanity and their capacity to care for others.

After the Newtown school shootings, each expressed horror and disbelief. I have a letter filled with sorrow and disgust at the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls.

While my friends did not have the advantages of Moses, David or Paul, they know all about these Biblical titans, and indeed, about the Bible; more, it seems, than most. So I am baffled by self-identified Christians who support legal execution. One cannot maintain fidelity with Jesus and the death penalty. As Jesus observed, we cannot serve two masters, particularly if one is life and the other death.

Jesus pulled no punches: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer … But love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Some Christians, self-righteous and thirsty for vengeance, conveniently forget the second part of the Bible — that part with Christ in it. Does this mean that society cannot act to protect itself? Of course not. But it cannot, waving the flag of Christianity, kill. And it certainly cannot support a governor evidently determined to build a reputation on his kill tally.

Gov. Scott boasts of 17 kills in under one term, six more than Jeb Bush, with the previous one-term record of 11 kills. In fact, having signed two new death warrants in the month since the hideously botched Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett, Scott may, in a single term, be going after Bush’s two-term record of 21 kills — while Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin stayed a scheduled execution in her state.

Even Bush had the decency to call a moratorium on executions in December 2006, two days after Angel N. Diaz’s execution by lethal injection went wrong.

These days, Bush, a likely presidential hopeful, has joined other conservative leaders in supporting “Right on Crime,” a mostly Republican initiative on prison reform. While some focus on the fiscal advantages of reform — the death penalty is excruciatingly expensive — a growing number of politicians see execution as racist, unconstitutional, ineffective and a moral violation of sanctity of life.

Or perhaps they’re just embarrassed that America is the only “civilized” nation still executing prisoners. In this we stand tall with bastions of democracy and freedom such as Iran, Somalia, Sudan, North Korea and China.

Another thing about Moses, David, and Paul: After punishing them, the only true Judge forgave them because they repented, as have many Death Row inmates. Will He forgive those murderers sanctioned by law who haven’t?

Marci Alborghetti is a Connecticut-based Christian writer and novelist.

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