Christians, let’s stop encouraging people to kill other people.
— dave kludt (@dckludt) May 1, 2014
What a silly, absurd, and heart-wrenching thing to have to say in a tweet or blog post.
The tweet is in response to a sad article on CNN’s Belief Blog today from a leader within conservative American Christianity in support of the death penalty. It’s an article that strives for balance but fails to make a “Christian” argument (in the etymological sense of the word – relating to or resembling Christ). There is very little “Jesus” in this article which encourages Christians to “rightly” and “justly” support the killing of other human beings.
In my first college semester, I took a seminar focused on the history of punishment. Our readings, lectures, and discussions focused on the way societies and cultures have viewed and used punishment throughout history – to control, to manipulate, to seek vengeance, to restore, to harm and to protect. We studied schematics of prisons, read Foucault’s haunting Discipline and Punishment and engaged historical viewpoints on punishment, crime, and violence. We talked about how penitentiary is rooted linguistically with penance and how rarely the two are connected in our country’s understanding and practice of justice.
One of our readings was Albert Camus’s Reflections on the Guillotine. Especially in light of Tennessee’s recent botched execution, his words are particularly appropriate:
When the extreme penalty simply causes vomiting on the part of the respectable citizen it is supposed to protect, how can anyone maintain that it is likely, as it ought to be, to bring more peace and order into the community? Rather, it is obviously no less repulsive than the crime, and this new murder, far from making amends for harm done to the social body, adds a new blot to the first one.
I’ve written before and still believe that
The death penalty says that:
- the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid
- some people are beyond redemption
- our prison system is incapable of protecting society from violent offenders
- ends can justify means
- the shedding of blood can mend broken hearts
- vengeance is ours.
The more time I spend looking at the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I wonder how out-of-place he’d feel in our world, or at least in the world of American Christianity, where we are encouraged by denominational leaders to pray and strive for a society that can perfect the art of justly killing our enemies.
You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.
If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?
Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.