Wednesday, November 17, 2010

 

The hardest question

My second talk yesterday went really well here in Atlanta at the Kairos Conference-- some times I am better than others, and I had a good flow going, I think. It was unusual for me to be speaking to an audience that agrees with me about the death penalty, and that raised a special problem. I never want to leave an audience with just "I agree with your beliefs!" Here, I tried to offer some angles and challenges people may not have thought of yet.

Even with that sympathetic audience, I did have a hard question, one that I have heard before: "Are you comparing Jesus to a murderer?"

The answer, as always, was "yes, I am." Even though one may have committed an unspeakable awful act and the other is our savior, yes, I am. I do so at the invitation of Christ himself, who said that when we visit those in prison, we visit him. He did not say "when we visit those in prison who are innocent."

It's a hard question, and a difficult answer. I am glad it is asked, and never certain I am right.

Last night, part of the conference was a concert at Ebenezer Baptist Church (which was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s church) by Sweet Honey in the Rock. It was a full house, and a great concert which was fulfilling and comforting and the perfect way to end a good and long day.

Comments:
With the two high profile home invasion murder trials (Petit in CT and Billings down here in FL) the call for blood revenge is at fever pitch. I am certain in other venues your reception would not have been as understanding (and heavy snacks could become downright dangerous). My feelings on this issue are complicated. I will have to read your book, my friend.
 
Alan (and anyone else in Razorland) - care to share your thoughts on the topic? I'd be interested to read them.

Some of my fellow judge advocates were talking about the Petit case today at lunch, and the topic of capital punishment came up. Ordinarily, I'm against the death penalty - I think life without parole works just fine, and I'd like to think that the People/State/Government can and should take the moral high ground and say "we're not stooping to more killing."

On the other hand, there seem to be those crimes that are damn near unforgivable. The Petit case is one. The Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 are others. I haven't been in the position of having to ask for the death penalty, so I'm not going to act like I've been there, done that. However, despite my overall opposition to capital punishment, I don't believe that it was somehow wrong to execute McVeigh, and I don't think it's wrong to execute the Petit or Billings murderers.

As cold-blooded and barbaric as it may sound, retribution is one of the goals of sentencing, and whether you agree with capital punishment or not, it's certainly one way to take retribution against the worst offenders.
 
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