Why I Oppose the Death Penalty: “The Talking Place: Discussing the Death Penalty” Forum on the Death Penalty, Fairbanks Alaska, March 22, 1997

November 30, 2018
Posted in Blog
November 30, 2018 Editor

Why I Oppose the Death Penalty: “The Talking Place: Discussing the Death Penalty” Forum on the Death Penalty, Fairbanks Alaska, March 22, 1997

wayne northey
Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.

Why I Oppose the Death Penalty: “The Talking Place: Discussing the Death Penalty” Forum on the Death Penalty, Fairbanks Alaska, March 22, 1997

WN: I was invited to dialogue with Dr. Richard Land of (later) “The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission” of the Southern Baptist Convention. The dialogue was organized by the Presbyterian Church in Alaska because debate was heating up in a state with no death penalty on the books.

The dialogue took place March 22, 1997 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It was teleconferenced throughout Alaska including into the Juneau legislature, and also translated simultaneously for the deaf. Questions were posed from the university audience and from the teleconferencing sites. There was a professionally produced video of the exchange made available to churches in Alaska. Parts I and II permitted a statement of my opposition to capital punishment. Part III dealt with specific biblical texts used erroneously, I argued, in defence of capital punishment.

Dr. Land, sadly, went on to become one of the most outspoken American evangelical voices in support of the War on Terror. See his tragic “Land Letter”.

When I was initially invited, it was to a “debate”. I refused to attend. I said that a debate reflects a “winners” and “losers” mentality that is of little use except possibly as entertainment. But I said I would take part if it was a “dialogue”. The event eventually was called “To the Talking Place”, based on a local aboriginal tradition of the entire community coming to “the talking place” to work out differences respectfully and communally.

” It involved a morning pre-session by a Religious Studies professor at the University on how to read the Bible. The dialogue was moderated by a local radio host. It was highly tasteful and respectful.

Afterwards, Dr. Land shared with me that he was seventh generation Texan. That growing up white in that state meant profound “unlearning” on racial issues alone. That when his then 18-year old son, a top university American football draft pick that year as I recall, discussed the “dirty little war” in Vietnam, Dr. Land told me that, contrary to his Southern Baptist preacher-father, he informed his son that if America otherwise was caught up in another war of that sort, he was duty-bound to burn his draft card! (Dr. Land’s father had warned he would be disowned if he ever burned his draft card during the Vietnam War.)

That Land in this light could ever have written such an incredibly anti-Christ missive as the “Land Letter,  shows the continued truth of Jeremiah 17:9, and of our own desperate need for “truth-telling” challenges throughout our lives. John Alexander observed in Your Money or Your Life that it is the rarest fundamentalist who believes that the inspiration of Scripture actually extends to the words of Jesus… So it seemed borne out once again in the life of Dr. Land..

Or as Douglas Frank warned in his sweeping historical/sociological/theological study of American Evangelicalism as it merged into the 20th century, entitled Less Than Conquerors: The Evangelical Quest for Power in the Early Twentieth Century:

Whether in auspicious or declining times, as we have seen, we [Evangelicals] display a tenacious commitment to self-deceit. It is true that we are those who like to think we heed Jeremiah’s words, ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.’ Our history, however, gives evidence of Jeremiah’s wisdom in adding these words: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:7, 9). In our very protests of trust in the Lord, we find occasion for our deepest self-deceits (p. 278).

My response to Dr. Land after hearing of his change of view in relation to Blacks, in relation to the Vietnam War, was: perhaps it was time to change “now” about the death penalty.

Sadly, Dr. Land’s “teachable moment” was seemingly entirely lost (except in his private thoughts?), and he only subsequently entrenched further in the great triple Christian West heresies of Just War, Just Deserts, and Just Hell of eternal conscious torment. A personal letter to him in response to the “Land Letter” went unacknowledged, unanswered. There is none so blind as they who will not see. (For us all a sobering spiritual truth repeatedly on the lips of the prophets, of Jesus!)

Please click on: Why I Oppose The Death Penalty

  1. [1]My wife and I discovered an identical process in Rwanda called gacaca courts, used in pre-colonial Rwanda, and revived in response to the 1994 genocide. Please see my “Rwandan Dispatches” (also in Volume Three of my Justice That Transforms series). Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
    The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below. My wife and I discovered an identical process in Rwanda called gacaca courts, used in pre-colonial Rwanda, and revived in response to the 1994 genocide. Please see my “Rwandan Dispatches” (also in Volume Three of my Justice That Transforms series).
  2. [2]See footnote 1 here. It continued:
    ‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”   The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed.  It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.  He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions. See footnote 1 here.
  3. [3]Incidentally, my two teen-aged boys at the time, upon viewing the video of the dialogue, said I won the “(non)debate” at the point Land informed me that no self-respecting Reformed scholar would ever argue as I do in Part III below. Upon that claim, I walked to my backpack in front of me, pulled out a copy of the Reformed Church of America Acts of Synod 1981, “Report 31: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT STUDY COMMITTEE”, Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church in North America, pp. 72-73, 448-91, ), and told him that six Reformed theologians had been commissioned to present their findings published in that book, and that most of my exegetical points of Part III were taken from that publication. Dr. Land fell silent then. Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
    Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).
    What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach. Incidentally, my two teen-aged boys at the time, upon viewing the video of the dialogue, said I won the “(non)debate” at the point Land informed me that no self-respecting Reformed scholar would ever argue as I do in Part III below. Upon that claim, I walked to my backpack in front of me, pulled out a copy of the Reformed Church of America Acts of Synod 1981, “Report 31: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT STUDY COMMITTEE”, Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church in North America, pp. 72-73, 448-91, ), and told him that six Reformed theologians had been commissioned to present their findings published in that book, and that most of my exegetical points of Part III were taken from that publication. Dr. Land fell silent then.
  4. [5]
  5. [4] The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". [5]He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
    Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.
  6. [6]A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
    In June [2017], the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
    It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.
    Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
    The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.
    To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.

Editor

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

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