Fourteen bishops of the Anglican Church in the Province of the West Indies, meeting in the House of Bishops and Provincial Standing Committee in Nassau, Bahamas, November 11-14, under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Rev Drexel Gomez, have registered their opposition to the death penalty, while calling for intervention by government and cooperation of the Church as part of civil society, to deal with the situation which facilitates the upsurge of crime and violence in the Caribbean region.
In a communiqué dated November 14, the West Indian Bishops state that they are "of one mind in calling our people to stand with us in our opposition to the death penalty".
1. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:
Ah, they are being nicer than God…except to the victims. The Scripture, the Word of God, quite clearly calls for the death penalty for certain offenses. We may quibble and argue about cultural relevance and which crimes deserve capital punishment, but on the fundamental issue of the death penalty itself, God has been quite clear. God authorizes governments to administer the death penalty.
Note that, other than their brief foray into eisogesis when they reference the Lord’s teaching on “an eye for an eye”, they are conspicuously silent on the numerous references in Scripture that clearly demonstrate God’s support and indeed commands concerning the death penalty.
So, is their agenda religious and in keeping with Scripture, or is it political and merely using proof texts to support their politics?
In the end, what will God say to those who deny justice for the victims of crime and that proclaim by their words and deeds that they are “nicer than God”?
November 28, 1:53 pm | [comment link]
2. Jeremy Bonner wrote:
Sick and Tired,
In the case of capital punishment do we not need to address:
a. Is a justice system capable of 100 percent accuracy in death penalty cases?
and b. Are there situations in which there is no possibility of redemption?
The answer to the first would seem to be no, if a number of recently overturned judgments is any guide. So if we embrace the death penalty then we have to accept a certain number (however small) of false executions in the public interest. Doesn’t sound very appealing.
If we answer yes to the second question are we not claiming a degree of perspicuity reserved only to God?
Also, can you supply a New Testament text that enjoins Christians to embrace the death penalty. I can’t think of one myself.
Catholic and Reformed
November 28, 3:26 pm | [comment link]
3. Br. Michael wrote:
So was God wrong to specify the death penalty in the OT? Or does the NT set this aside? The death penalty was administered by human governments in the OT too. I don’t think we can so blithly disregard the OT texts.
November 28, 3:47 pm | [comment link]
4. Mark Johnson wrote:
#1 would seem to be in favor of a Sharia-Law type of system - allowing the religious interpretations of one group/sect to determine the law for all to live under. Terrifying to ponder.
November 28, 3:53 pm | [comment link]
5. Jeremy Bonner wrote:
I knew as soon as I posted that someone would detect latent Marcionism.
I suppose I should have asked: Are the Old Testament injunctions permissive or prescriptive?
And my practical questions still stand.
November 28, 3:57 pm | [comment link]
6. Ad Orientem wrote:
Re # 1 and the article in general…
Sick & Tired,
From a post on my blog Jan 05 2007… (Note some of the references are linked in the actual blog entry.)
In recent days the death penalty has been brought back into the news through a series of events both here and abroad. Most prominently in Iraq Saddam Hussein was hanged for crimes against humanity. Here in the United States both California and Florida have suspended executions following botched lethal injections and scandalous stories in the press. New York last year effectively abolished the death penalty after ten years and over a hundred million dollars spent in capital prosecutions without a single execution. The state’s highest court invalidated a part of the death penalty law and the state legislature decided it was not worth trying to reinstate it. And just this week New Jersey’s bi-partisan commission on capital punishment returned an almost unanimous (with one dissent) recommendation to the state legislature that NJ abolish the death penalty. There are nine people on death row there and no one has been electrocuted since 1963 in the garden state.
Over at Sacramentum Vitae Mike Liccione has posted an article on the death penalty that is definitely worth reading. I still think that Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote the best short essay on the DP from a Catholic point of view though. The lead comment on Mike’s article posted by Deacon Bresnahan asks how many guards have been killed by lifers over the years, this being the crux of his argument in favor of capital punishment. In our Hollywood oriented society it’s easy to confuse movies for reality. But in reality that sort of thing is unbelievably rare.
In answer to his query I can state that homicide in general has one of the lowest rates of recidivism of any crime. And although the rare exceptions always make for sensational (and tragic) headlines, the fact is that intentional murder by life sentenced inmates is so rare that its frequency of occurrence is statistically insignificant. For those inmates who are determined to be a threat there are places they can be kept with relative safety. So called super max prisons are the best option for dealing with the violent inmate.
My own feeling on this subject have evolved in recent years. Up until probably about five years ago I was a strong supporter of capital punishment. However the more I have read on the subject the less I like it. Today I am generally opposed to capital punishment in this country for the following reasons…
1. It has no deterrent value. This has been unanimously established by so many exhaustive studies that I feel safe in stating it is not a matter of opinion but rather of fact. I am not aware of a single serious study which has produced any credible evidence supporting a deterrent effect for executions.
2. The danger of miscarriage of justice has been established in recent years to be so great that in all but those very rare cases where there is absolutely zero doubt of guilt, the use of the DP is too risky.
3.. What passes for due process in those states which regularly carry out executions is extremely questionable with few or no standards for competent criminal defense and appellate rights. By contrast in those states where strict standards exist for competent legal council and effective appellant review few or no executions have occurred.
4. It has also been shown repeatedly that there is a direct relationship between the race, class and resources of defendants and the likelihood of facing a death sentence. The electric chair should not be reserved for those who can’t afford the best lawyers or who were not fortunate in choosing their parents or ethnicity.
5. The cost of capital punishment vastly exceeds the cost of incarceration for life. This can not be altered without reducing access to the appellate system which further increases the already unacceptable likelihood of a miscarriage of justice.
6. Adjudication of capital cases has been tying our legal and court system in knots for far too long. Even in those states where executions are common it is rare for an inmate to be killed in less then five years from the date of his sentence, and it is not uncommon for these cases to drag on for decades.
7. In this country the availability of life without parole (LWOP) and super maximum security facilities renders the death penalty unnecessary as a means for neutralizing dangerous offenders.
8. Although one may not dismiss the need for just punishment as one of the moral ends of the legal system it can not outweigh the preceding factors. Retributive justice by itself can not justify endangering innocent lives or the tremendous cost to society both in its moral values and also its public treasure by attempting to sustain this system solely for the benefit of exacting “proportionate justice.”
Given the aforementioned points, I think that it is time to relegate the death penalty to the history books and move forward with more enlightened and effective sanctions for offenders. In some countries there may not yet exist the conditions that permit the safe and long term incarceration of dangerous criminals. In those situations capital punishment may still be a rare necessity. However, here that is no longer the case. Although I am not aware of Orthodoxy having ever spoken on the matter with one voice, I feel comfortable in saying that there seems to be a broad consensus in the Church today that the death penalty is generally not compatible with Christian ethics. Although the Roman Catholic Church has dissected the issue with its customary precise and legalistic approach, its view is essentially the same as that of most Orthodox including myself. The basic thrust is this. Deliberate killing is not moral except (possibly) in those rare cases of self defense where lesser means are not available to end the threat. This is not the case in the United States and thus the death penalty is no longer moral.
Under the mercy,
An Orthodox Christian
November 28, 4:16 pm | [comment link]
7. Calvin wrote:
In all seriousness,
I think the presence of the Death Penalty in OT Israel is one of those areas to be understood as a tragic necessity in a fallen world. It can be understood as part of the civil law which yes, along with the ceremonial law, fades with the coming of Christ. Why? Because with God breaking into this world to restore creation we are to hold out hope for all peoples. This doesn’t mean we let criminals go running free—far from it. We are meant now to be people who stand watching the dawn of new creation. We are meant to be a people who look to that world described in Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel—that world where the justice of God reigns in every heart, where the lion lies down with the lamb, where sin, darkness, and _death_ are totally gone and God will wipe away every tear from every eye. Part of being in that coming Kingdom in the here and now means holding out a kind of hope that looks downright idiotic to this world.
In this Kingdom (in which we Christians are already citizens) we will live without death. The immediate presence of God does not allow it. Therefore we are to eschew anything tainted with the culture of death - abortion, war, and the death penalty. This is not touchy feely talk or liberal Episcopalian talk. Benedict XVI and the late John Paul the Great spoke about the relativistic darkness that is sweeping Europe and threatens America too. I pray we orthodox don’t forget that our love of life includes the life of people we might find extremely distasteful. While I certainly don’t advocate letting criminals run free, I worry that if I can’t forgive I will not be forgiven.
The most powerful illustration of the Fall and Original Sin I’ve ever encountered is the image of Death Row. And we’re all sitting on, no matter who we are.
November 28, 4:30 pm | [comment link]
8. Br. Michael wrote:
Jeremy, I admit to being conflicted on this. But reading 6’s comment are you and he not doing what we accuse the revisionists of doing? Conforming scripture to today’s western (liberal?) moral code or because it does not sit well with some modern sensibilities?
God puts a very high value on human life. Do we know better than God? How does one make restitution for a murder one commits? I don’t think in such a case God was necessarily interested in rehabilitation. What is justice for the victim for whom there is no restitution possible?
As far as 4 is concerned, secular values shift with the wind, according to time and place and culture, and what is enlightened today is tomorrow’s barbarity.
November 28, 4:40 pm | [comment link]
9. Ad Orientem wrote:
Re # 8
Do you support the DP for ALL offenses mandated in the OT? If not, then are you not guilty of exactly what you accuse myself and Calvin of?
Under the mercy,
An Orthodox Christian
November 28, 4:44 pm | [comment link]
10. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:
#4 Mark Johnson,
“…Sharia-Law type of system - allowing the religious interpretations of one group/sect to determine the law for all to live under. Terrifying to ponder.”
You seem to have no trouble “allowing the religious interpretations of one group”, in this case it is the 14 bishops of the Anglican Church in the Province of the West Indies, to “determine the law for all to live under”; so long as they agree with you.
If you really meant what you said about being terrified by the religious interpretations of one group/sect being used to determine the law for all to live under, you would be saying something to the effect of: “I wish all these Bishops would just shut up and let the courts and the legislatures decide about the death penalty.” But, it seems that you have no objection to their inserting themselves in the political process.
How very curious.
November 28, 5:39 pm | [comment link]
11. Br. Michael wrote:
9, we are all guilty of this is some way are we not? But, we are not the ancient state of Israel and we are not charged with upholding the Mosaic Law.
However all the points you raise for doing away with the death penalty are all utilitarian and secular and reflect modern liberal thought. That’s fine. Like I said I am conflicted. Yet, on a principled basis, how we assign imprisonment for a murder? What is the value of a life? 5, 10, 20 years? How do you restore a murdered spouse? And then there is the murder of the unborn for which there is no penalty.
November 28, 5:57 pm | [comment link]
12. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:
#2 Jeremy Bonner,
Was the Old Testament justice system capable of 100 percent accuracy in death penalty cases?
Did God say to forego the death penalty if there were situations in which there was a possibility of redemption?
The Old Testament is still the Word of God, but to humor you I will provide a New Testament text that enjoins Christians to embrace the death penalty.
For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:4
Here, the sword is the power of death and it is used by God’s servant [the government] as an agent of wrath [not redemption] to bring punishment [the power of death inherent in the sword] on the wrongdoer [regardless of potential for redemption].
November 28, 6:04 pm | [comment link]
13. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:
BTW, the death penalty in the Scriptures is not about deterence. It is about punishment.
November 28, 6:07 pm | [comment link]
14. Jeremy Bonner wrote:
Sick and Tired,
If the death penalty is intended for punishment, then what are the Christian moral implications of its infliction on the wrongly convicted?
Did God say to forego the death penalty if there were situations in which there was a possibility of redemption?
I bow to your superior Scriptural knowledge, but isn’t that implied by some of Our Lord’s pronouncements in the Gospels?
And if many of today’s governments are to be conceived as “God’s servant,” I have to say they’re doing a lousy job.
November 28, 6:20 pm | [comment link]
15. Daniel wrote:
What are the good bishops’ views on abortion? Logically and theologically, they can only be against the death penalty in all cases if they are also against abortion in all cases. You can’t outlaw the taking of guilty lives if you also permit the taking of innocent lives.
November 28, 6:21 pm | [comment link]
16. Br. Michael wrote:
14, but then can anyone be punished? You draw line at the death penalty, but how about 30 years for a worngful conviction? If the criteria is 100% certainty then why punish anyone?
Are we not secretely glad that there are non-Christians to do the dirty work so we can be safe while we criticize them?
These are not easy questions and they are something that we must pray over and wrestle with.
November 28, 7:16 pm | [comment link]
17. Laocoon wrote:
I’m all in favor of the death penalty, provided (a) it’s death by stoning, and (b) only those who have no sin are permitted to cast any stones. Actually, I’m willing to flex a little on (a), provided we then change the language of (b) to match the method of (a).
November 28, 7:18 pm | [comment link]
18. Calvin wrote:
Are you under the impression that the bishops of the West Indies are pro-choice?
Archbishop Drexel Gomex has consistently criticized TEC as have most of Anglican voices coming out of the Province of the West Indies, a province part of the Global South. Far, far from liberal, this province (last I checked) is still reticent about women’s ordination.
Does opposing the culture death (as Benedict XVI and John Paul II did) make one a liberal?
Thanks for bringing up the relationship between abortion and the death penality—there is no difference. Because of Original Sin, there are no innocent people. We don’t get to take life into our hands—only Our Father in Heaven, the ruler of every life.
But, as I wrote above, that doesn’t mean we can’t lock someone up for life….
November 28, 8:07 pm | [comment link]
19. Calvin wrote:
Your point is brillant! It was Jesus’ exactly!
There are no Innocent people! We’re all guilty.
What we have to do is lock up those folks who pose immediate danger and yes indeed pray for reconcilliation.
Is this liberal or heretical? Did I miss something?
November 28, 8:10 pm | [comment link]