Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Scripture and the death penalty

Most days of the week a local person is allowed to write an editorial for the Rapid City Journal. This is a fairly new development and I think the columnists were plucked from the folks who wrote many letters to the editor each week. Only one of them, in my judgement anyway, is not a far right or far left voice. When I say far, I mean far.

The fellow that writes each Tuesday certainly holds fringe positions on the far right. I remember reading scary letters from him almost every day in the paper before I moved away two years ago. He appears to be the type of person who approves of the murder of physicians who perform abortions, for example. His vitriol is directed also at GLBT folks as well as divorced people, those who educate their children in public schools as well as those who send their kids to kindergarten, etc. He cloaks his rhetoric of hate with the shawl of fundamentalist religion.

I bring this up due to a flagrant misuse of Holy Scripture in this week's rant, er, editorial. I am unable to find a link to it (probably a good thing), so I'll paste in the offensive part. But, allow me to place the passage in context. He is describing why he favors the death penalty for Elijah Page, a fellow who admittedly committed an extremely brutal murder seven years ago, and who is scheduled to be executed for the same tomorrow evening. This is the first execution in South Dakota in 60 years, and Page has said he wants to die for this crime.

Whatever one's feelings are about the death penalty, I hate it when Holy Scripture is "cherry picked" to say something it was not intended to say. In the offending piece, that is done in spades.

The first portion of the piece is spent detailing the brutality (and it was brutal, involving torture, dismemberment, etc.) of the murder. No one denies that this was an exceptionally horrible crime. But then he says, "Capital punishment is Scriptural according to Genesis 9:6, Matthew 26:52, and Romans 13:4, to cite a few references. Also, recent studies once again point to the deterrent effect of the death penalty. (From me: this fellow is very fond of refering to "recent studies" without ever citing a particular study.)
When someone steals, they should repay.
When someone destroys, they should replace.
When someone murders, the closest they can come to making
amends is giving up their own life.
In doing so, they affirm the sacred value of the life they wrongfully took."

Look up the cited verses of Holy Scripture. In the Matthew passage, Christ is chastising Peter for cutting off the ear of the slave of the High Priest. I understand this verse in its context to mean that killing or injuring is wrong. I don't have my books (since they still are in the storage facility) to do a thorough exegesis, but I am stunned to see it used as a defense for the death penalty. I'm equally stunned to see that use applied to the Romans passage. I read that as part of the pericope of Romans 13:1-7 that deals with the relationship of church and state; if God is God of all, then God is greater than the state. I see the phrase "execute wrath", ie punish, but I see nothing about executing a person.

About the Genesis passage--we now have mercy through Christ. Still, one has to read the entire context, which is Genesis 9.4-6. Also, in his last little blurb, I can't for the life of me see why the death of someone who hurts me would be the only thing that would affirm the value of my life. For example, I seem to remember someone else who thought I was worth dying for--Christ.

I am disturbed when I see Scripture twisted to justify exclusion of any kind, but this takes the cake. Thanks for allowing ME to rant.

No comments: