Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stoning Them Outside the City

The death penalty keeps coming up as an issue in political campaigns as it did last week when Gov. Rick Perry was questioned about the 234 death row executions in Texas during his term in office. Perry’s response was that he loses no sleep over his decisions regarding those executions or over the policies in Texas that have made it the leader in the nation in execution of convicted criminals.

Capital punishment is as old as mankind. Cain, after slaying his brother Abel, feared that he would be made to pay for his crime with his own life. God, the governor of heaven and earth at that time, commuted his sentence to “life with a mark upon him” and forbid him to be killed.

Later, when mere men were given the reigns of earthly government it became apparent that clemency was not stopping the violence. So the code of law given to Moses (and before him devised by Hammurabi in ancient Sumer) stipulated that those who took the life of others should be executed, most often by public stoning at, or just outside, the city gates. Other serious crimes, like adultery or various sacrileges were given the same sentence of death.

When a woman, caught in adultery, was brought to Jesus by men who wanted to prove him untrue to the precepts of the Mosaic Law, He did not refuse them the right to execute her but simply demanded that only those who were without sin do the stoning. There was no Rick Perry among them that day so, one by one, the woman’s accusers drifted away leaving her with the only person there who had the right – being without sin – to stone her. He forgave her, commanding her to sin no more.

This brief history of the death penalty within the Judeo-Christian tradition does not settle the issues of: 1) the efficacy of the death penalty as a deterrent to crime, 2) the death penalty as a just punishment for murder or other sins, or 3) the ability of human systems to devise a fool-proof way of determining the guilt or innocence of one accused of a capital crime. But it does point out that, in the two known instances when God was directly involved in the sentencing – with Cain in the Old Testament, and the woman caught in adultery in the New Testament – He refused to impose the death penalty. That should give some pause to those who make claim to be followers of God and believers in His Divine Son, Jesus Christ.

Unless, of course, you are the governor of a state that has devised a reasonable and thoughtful process to determine, without doubt, that the defendant is guilty as charged. Then you can execute a Bible-based solution without losing a wink of sleep. I would suggest though, that if one wishes to appeal to the Bible as the basis for their certainty regarding the justice of the death penalty, they should also follow the injunctions of the Law to the letter. Take them just outside the city limits and stone them to death.

And let the one who loses the least sleep over it cast the first stone.

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