April 10, 2014 Editor

Against The Death Penalty

Christian and Secular Arguments Against Capital Punishment, Gardner C. Hanks, Herald Press, 1997; 208 pages

After this review was published in 1998 in a local Christian newspaper, I received a phone call from a then M2/W2 volunteer with a curious surname: “Bullett”. He needed to talk with me immediately! When he came to my office, he was adamant that I was, with this book, “out to lunch”! He quoted the Bible, in particular Genesis 9 and Romans 13. He could not imagine that anyone could interpret those “plain” Scriptures differently from categorically supporting the death penalty. Even when I told him of my experience with and research of “debating” the issue in Alaska with Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention (see: Capital Punishment Dialogue (with Dr. Richard Land)), he was adamant that I was so wrong! The discussion after some time was going nowhere. I encouraged him to read the “Capital Punishment Dialogue” paper. He said he might sometime, but never asked for a copy…

However, something amazing then occurred. He told me that when he had first been matched to a man in prison, he had told our Volunteer Coordinator Jim Wilson that under no circumstances would he visit a murderer. Such deserved capital punishment and no Christian consideration. But Jim offered him such a match nonetheless. “And now I’m visiting my second murderer”, he confided. “And guess what. I don’t want the death penalty for either of these.”

Some observations:

  • Theology is function of human and divine intersection.  In theory the volunteer held a “theology” in favour of capital punishment.  But in reality, due to his human encounter with two murderers, he in reality held to a theology against the death penalty.  Thank God for the human dimension of theological formation!  In the Master/Apprentice relationship, there is ever creative space for serendipity (another word for grace).
  • Our faith ever can rise above the best and worst of our theologies.  Thank God!  Many Christians visit prisoners with a “satisfaction atonement” theory (if they knew) imbibed from their churches and dominant in Western Christianity, that embraces retribution, including the death penalty.  But they show compassion and mercy nonetheless to those their theology says should be treated to/like hell.
  • If the Bible is read like a law book, it will never be read rightly.  “Law” is the setting for the gem stones of “grace and truth” (John 1).  If “law” is uppermost as prescription, it is deadly; if description of natural history in its ubiquitous scapegoating (see: René Girard and Violence), it can be life-transforming!
  • Our hearts deeply yearn for grace.  Once experienced, that “pearl of great price”, we can never cease from wanting to pass it on!  If we do not pass it on, it is “hell”!  Such is the point of the story at the end of Matthew 18.
  • An excerpt:

    Eleven years after the Canadian Parliament decisively voted against the return of the death penalty,the Reform Party of Canada has decided to make this issue a major thrust in 1998. [This never materialized. But the Reform Party’s reincarnation in Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party brought sweeping retributive changes to Canadian justice. See “Responses to the 2011 Omnibus Bill C-10, “Safe Streets and Communities Act”, and similar legislation” on the “Restorative Justice Links” page of this website.] The book’s appearance therefore, though directed towards and informed by current American reality, is timely for Canadians too. The cold-blooded execution of Karla Faye Tucker, born-again Christian, is further pointer to the book’s timeliness.

    The title gives away its thrust. Of interest to Christian readers is, Hanks’ own conversion is traceable to the leadership taken by Christians in their opposition to capital punishment. He was impressed by their powerful witness to “an executed Lord”. Six months after their action in which he participated opposing the execution of John Spenkelink (May, 1979 in Florida), “I became a Christian”, the author tells us. Further, “My friendships with death row inmates and with family members of other men on death row have convinced me more than ever that the death penalty is opposed to everything the God I love and worship stands for (p. 15).” His book is evangelistic in witness to his love for that executed Lord besides being apologetic against the death penalty.

    Please click on: Against The Death Penalty

    Genre: Human RIghts, New Testament Theology, Restorative Justice, Retributive Justice, Theology
    Subjects: (bad) theology, capital punishment, death penalty, judgment, Politics
    1. [1]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.
    2. [2]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.
    3. [3]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.
    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.


    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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