Bible, death penalty and consistency
By Bryan Fulwider
Botched executions, exonerations and recent sentencing decisions mean that 2015 has already seen an array of news articles and opinions in the Orlando Sentinel about capital punishment.
As a board member of Innocence Project Florida, I’m concerned by much of what I read because I’m acutely aware of how many people undeservedly end up on death row.
As a member of the Christian clergy, I’m concerned by the glibness with which a few cherry-picked biblical mandates, originally given millennia ago, are dogmatically held up as the model for today.
A recent Sentinel letter writer asked “How can the death penalty be anti-Christian when it is demanded by God; and Jesus is God?”
Indeed, in the Christian scriptures, Jesus said: “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
And, remember, Jesus also said that “…if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell.”
On what basis do we decide what’s hyperbole and what’s mandate?
We run into similar problems in the Torah. In Leviticus we read that “anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death.” But the same penalty is prescribed for adultery, blasphemy, certain forms of rape, cursing or striking a parent, incorrigibility, bestiality, Sabbath breaking, abandoning the faith, same-sex intercourse, prostitution (if you’re a priest’s daughter), and the list goes on.
But more than that, specific forms of execution are carefully prescribed for certain sins or crimes. In fact, even the location for the execution may be spelled out, as well as who the executioner must be.
The fact is, the Bible’s list of justifiable reasons for execution, and the manner, place and personnel for doing it, are, with only an exception or two, deemed to be outmoded even by most fundamentalist Christians. Yet to be consistent, we should apply it all.
Or we should rethink even those cherry-picked exceptions to which we’ve so tenaciously clung.
The Rev. Bryan Fulwider is one of the Three Wise Guys on the WMFE 90.7 FM radio program Friends Talking Faith.