Growing up in a South Suburb of Chicago in the late 1980s, I first learned about the death penalty when the American serial killer, Ted Bundy, was put to death by the electric chair. Despite being young, his name and his awful crimes were something that I have always remembered.
Hours before his execution, a Christian Evangelist named Dr. James Dobson spoke with Bundy in a taped interview. Since the content was adult and dealt a lot with Bundy’s addiction to pornography, I never heard or saw anything from this interview, I just knew that a very sick and bad person was no longer around.
From this, my very impressionable mind was made up and I do believe my opinion on the death penalty was established. Since Dr. Dobson was a Christian and was not, from my memory, speaking out against Bundy’s execution, I took the event to mean that those who truly commit heinous crimes have to be put to death to ensure the safety of others. My young mind could wrap itself around the notion of eradicating evil, in the name of death. And it did so for the next twenty years.
It seemed logical that you end the life of one who showed no respect for others and who graphically and brutally could take the lives of innocent, young and defenseless people. It made sense to use death – in certain cases – to amend for death.
I felt this way until only this year.
When you think about it, the public rarely hears about criminals who are executed – unless terrible stories accompany their killing spree. Since the start of 2010, fifteen men and women have been put to death across the United States, mostly through lethal injection. These criminals face their due while the rest of the country is none the wiser let alone made to feel safer, except for - maybe - the victim’s family.
In March, one news headline caused me to take notice when I learned that a man in Virginia was executed by the electric chair. I had no idea the electric chair was still an option. The man had brutally killed two women, and I felt a sense of relief and safety knowing he was no longer a threat. His crimes made me sick to my stomach.
I shared this bit of news with a friend, not realizing he took an entirely different stance when it came to the death penalty. He explained how he felt killing for killing was wrong, no matter how heinous, evil and despicable the crime was.
I was flabbergasted.
Didn’t justice have to be done?
My friend agreed, but contended that locking someone away for life seemed like a good way to punish and to ensure that society would be safe from someone so dangerous and immoral.
For me, a lifetime in prison just didn’t seem enough.
Prison means you still get food and shelter. Your life goes on, albeit behind bars.
In contrast, how does that rectify the innocent ones who lost their lives and should still be alive?
Our discussion shook me to the core, because I realized how much I wanted to fight for what I considered justice. For what I thought was fair.
But in talking about justice and the dignity of life, I thought of how Christ came to love and die for all. Yes, we’re all sinners, but we’re not all killers. And yet, God sent Jesus to die for the good and the bad - those who would try to live uprightly, and those who would willfully choose the path of evil. It’s a radical love that makes no sense, and is anything but fair.
It stopped me in my thoughts, because I suddenly felt a release. By demanding a life for a life, I was trying to create justice on my terms. By releasing the need to see fairness this way, I found that God gave me peace to leave punishments to Him. In place of anger, I had remorse over our fallen human existence that tries and fails at every turn. Without Christ’s goodness, we are all capable of allowing ourselves to fall so deeply into sin that we lash out in the most brutal of ways.
Without true light, we are all in darkness. While we won’t all act out to the degree of killing another human - our depravity leads us down other roads of lust, anger, malice, etc.
Two examples that further clarified this realization, deal with responses of love brought about after incredible pain and loss.
Elisabeth Elliot is a Christian writer who shares her grief experience in “Through Gates of Splendor.” In the book, she recounts how her husband and four other men felt a call to reach the "lost" people of Ecuador in the early 1950s. After months of earning the tribe’s trust, the men were attacked and speared to death. Elliot’s husband left her as a widow and her daughter fatherless. While her grief was severe, Elliot eventually went with her daughter to Ecuador and spent two years as a missionary with the tribe that killed her husband. She wrote “God is God. I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice.”
To go back a bit further to the turn of the twentieth century, we have the devoted Italian Catholic martyr, Maria Goretti. At the age of 11, she barely survived an attack and stabbing by an attempted rapist. While in the hospital, she expressed forgiveness for her attacker and the desire to see him in Heaven. She died hours later. Her attacker was caught and put in jail, and eventually had a dream where Maria gave him flowers. When he was released, he went to Maria’s home and begged her mother for forgiveness. She forgave him and he changed his life, later becoming a laybrother.
Both families could have turned their back on these killers. With God’s help, they did not. They chose to let the killers live. And going one incredible step further, they forgave.
Will everyone repent their crime while being locked away? Only God knows. But they have a choice. As long as they breathe, they have that choice to turn from sin.
Taking another’s life as a way to bring justice is playing God, and it strips those on death row of another chance to choose God. And it strips us of the powerful freedom that comes from choosing to forgive.
While it is difficult and painful, if we lack the ability to forgive, we lack the ability to obey the words of Jesus in His prayer - “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”
Should evil be dealt with?
Those who sin great should be greatly disciplined.
But our anger and emotion toward their actions should not result in more death.
As St. Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us: “Where sin abounded, Grace abounded all the more.”
|< Prev||Next >|
|Written by : Anna Tesauro
Send a message to Anna Tesauro
Other articles by this author
- The Eye of the Storm (06 October 2009)
This month's Renlai
Help us keep the content of eRenlai free: take five minutes to make a donation
- Do I really have to pray for my enemies?
- A longer mindset for a short crisis
- Colombia: Full Peace Requires Full Justice
- Forgiveness by ritual
- The new frontier in abolishing the death penalty
- Leading the long road to abolition (TAEDP)
- A democratic society should not permit state violence!
- To harm is human, to forgive is divine
- Steak and Cobbler
- A review of "Beyond Hatred"
- Conference: Embrace the Pacific June 5th
- Amateurs in Tokyo - Reasonable Riots
- Obesity and Freedom
- Focus Response: Father Jacques Duraud, SJ on 'My God?'
- Dancing through the lens: Photographing the Pacific Festival of Arts
- Religious Colonialism: Cultural Loss in the Solomon Islands
- Shell Money, Dowries and the Skulls of Ancestors: The Living Traditions of the Solomon Islands
- The Langalanga People: "Natives" of the Man-made islands of the Solomons
- A Vibrant Culture with an Ugly Facade: Honiara and the Pacific Art Festival
- Swept away from Sinology by the Allure of Taiwan's Pacific coast
eRenlai provides a monthly newsletter that introduces you to the Focus and other articles.