Wednesday, July 11, 2007

South Dakota to Execute Murderer Today - Your Thoughts?

Elijah Page, who took part in the torture murder of a young Spearfish man in 2000, will be executed today.

We invite comments from Christians wrestling with the issue of capital punishment. We recognize that there are sincere, informed Christians on both sides of the capital punishment debate.

A few of our thoughts (offered not to close but to open discussion)...

  • Jesus did not see his church as the state. His first followers were "outsiders" when it came to political authority. Only later in history did Christianity get hold of the levers of political power, with mixed results. We must always be careful about articulating a "Christian political platform."
  • The New Testament assumes that the state will use deadly force against criminals. Romans 13 tells us that this is with God's permission.
  • But the New Testament does not "cheerlead" for executions. Following what God has revealed of His own personality, the Savior and his followers appeal to sinful people to repent. We don't think you would see Jesus at either demonstration outside the prison - He would not wave a "Capital punishment is murder!" placard nor would he be with the "Fry him!" crowd. His call is for the murderer to repent and find faith, because unrepentant murderers are among those who will suffer God's judgment.
  • In Elijah Page's case, he is indisputably guilty of a horrible crime. We can't see into his soul - we can only pray that his last days have led him to repentance and true faith in Jesus Christ, the only one who can wipe away such a stain from a human soul.


Anonymous said...

Although I understand those Christians who believe that scripture supports capital punishmen, and though I actually believe that a swift and sure execution policy deters violent crime, I do not approve of capital punishment. Instead, I prefer life with no possibility of parole for those guilty of murder, and those guilty of child sexual abuse. The surety of life without the possibility of parole for murderers [which we do not presently have] allows citizens to receive the defense of life and liberty that our constitution promises that the government will provide.

First, I simply do not trust the state having the power of capital punishment over its citizens. My philosophy of appropriate limited government stems from my deep distrust of power concentrated in the hands of the state, rather than spread out in the hands of free individuals. I do not think the state either competent or good and thus I want it to have as little power as possible while carrying out its duties under our constitution.

But more importantly, I believe that a swift and sure execution cuts off the chance for repentance and reception of the gospel of Jesus Christ, particularly in the young -- death and execution have so much less meaning for young fatherless violent criminals. They simply do not have the maturity to grasp eternity and the great value of life on earth.

I say all of the above, knowing that most people who believe the same gospel do not agree with me, knowing that the arguments are strong in favor of capital punishment -- and knowing that Christians can disagree on this matter with honor.


Kevin said...

I used to be a liberal on the subject and argue how could the murder make up for murder. I actually became politically more conservative before I began to take my faith seriously, during that time I was agnostic about this issue. When I took the Scripture seriously I saw that it was ordained in Gen 9:6 long before Mosaic law which only re-enforced it. Then I was staunchly for it.

At this point I'm more agnostic again on the subject, but leaning towards support. There are two issues that haunt me, the racial uneven mix of who gets what punishment in all crimes (statistically we've been proven pretty bad when looking at same crime, first offense then race), so justice issue come to mind and all the Biblical mandates and cries against injustices. So I'd support a moratorium until we figure how those issues are addressed.

Lessor but a unique challenge was given by Catholics for Life, which say that as long as there is a chance for a person to repent we need to give that space. I can be a little to Calvinistic (thinking "I" in TULIP) to accept that, but it new angle for me to ponder.


Anonymous said...

Unless one is a Marcionite, it is indisputable that God commands the death penalty for certain crimes, and the civil authorities will answer to Him in that matter.

It is equally clear that the standards of evidence for conviction are much higher than we have today "two or more eyewitnesses who agree in their testimony" and who by testifying, make themselves liable of the same punishment if it be found that they lied under oath.

If we were to follow that high standard of evidence, then to not execute those rightly found guilty would be rebellion against God. As it is, we don't follow those rules of evidence, and innocent people are occasionally executed, which ought not to be. As I recall it said that Jefferson said "better that 10 guilty men go free, than one innocent man perish."

Anonymous said...

Actually it is quite disputable that "God commands the death penalty for certain crimes" in countries outside of His theocracy, Israel . . . but I have no intentions of disputing it with you. Others have done so quite well enough already.

And no, it has precisely zip to do with Marcion's heretical rejection of the Old Testament, although if it will make you feel better to call a Christian's knowledge that the commands of God for the government of Israel's country do not apply to all other governments "Marcionism", that is fine by me.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Sarah, Have you seen the opening scene of the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie? In the name of the State, the official representative of the East India Company (representing mammon) suspends all legal rights, naming them one by one as each man, woman and child is hanged at the gallows.

History is full of examples of the State's authority being used to line the pockets of vested interests.

Anonymous said...

This is surely one of the most difficult issues in our society today, and one on which I have no clear position or answer. In my younger days I was staunchly pro-death penalty, as I believed it to be an appropriate punishment for the nost heinous of crimes in society. Since that time, though, such information as the number of cases that have been overturned on DNA evidence, and cases of prosecutorial abuse such as the one documented in Grisham's "An Innocent Man", make me question its use and application in our society. I'm not sure how much I buy into the racial issues, because I've never seen the death-row racial disparity statistics compared side-by-side with the statistics on the racial composition of all offenders. If the numbers match up, then I'm not sure this is an issue, but if they do not...then maybe there is the same kind of issue we have with recent DOJ statistics on traffic stops per racial group, which show a significant disparity. So, as a concept in a vacuum, I suppose I do believe that there are some few individuals who are so far outside what is acceptable behaviour and rationality in society that execution might be deemed appropriate. On the other hand, there are just too many questions for me to feel at all comfortable about how it is being meted out in America in 2007. And I have no proposals on what would be acceptable.

Anonymous said...

I'm north of the border, so this debate is mostly theoritical for me. My objection is that there is only one perfect Judge and he is perfect because he has all of the facts. Human judges can and do make mistakes. Juries can be swayed by great orators or by charming witnesses.

Simply put, I don't think that human judges should be put in the position to recommend such a penalty to the state. There are a few clear cut cases such as Jeffrey Dahmer or Paul Bernardo where I may agree with the death penalty, but the majority are not so clear. Every year there are high-profile wrongful conviction cases overturned, some dating back to the 50s. We cannot provide restitution or ask forgiveness of that person after their execution.

I had not considered Sarah's excellent point that execution also cuts short the time available to repent.

Anonymous said...

Just read an article in the morning paper about a man murdering his wife. This man had previously been convicted of murder and rape, served his time and now out. Now murdered his wife and slashed her sister and son, both now in hospital. The headline says "Murderer allegedly slays wife" His name is Jesus Jihad.
We cannot get genuine life in prison without possibility of parole. Eventually they are paroled. And kill again.

Anonymous said...

Here's another question to consider in this debate. It seems to me that execution is, in some sense at least, much more merciful than "life without possibility of parole". If I were guilty, and you asked me which I preferred, I would choose execution. Of course, the key there is "if I were guilty". And then we're back to the question of how much we trust the state. Aaaaagh!

Anonymous said...

RE: "We cannot get genuine life in prison without possibility of parole. Eventually they are paroled. And kill again."

You name one of the reasons why I don't talk much about my opposition to the death penalty -- the state has not seemed to express any interest in actually maintaining a life-without-parole sentence, and as a result, we are choosing for innocent life to be taken or abused over guilty life.

If it is truly a choice between the child rapist or the murderer 1) leaving prison and doing it again, or 2) execution, then I choose the latter, simply because I believe that the state's duty under the constitution is to protect first and foremost law-abiding citizens.

BUT -- I believe that the state has the power [if not the interest in] of creating genuine life in prison without possibility of parole. For some reason, it has not done so, and hence we have your valid argument that "since the state does not protect its law-abiding citizens, we will need to kill the murderer."

It's extremely depressing to me. I prefer to 1) protect law abiding citizens, especially children, and 2) allow criminals to live in order for them to have the opportunity of repentance and relationship with Jesus Christ.


Anonymous said...

One of the things that I think is done properly here in Canada is the "dangerous offender" designation. Dangerous offenders are not eligible for parole. After a certain time, usually 15 years served on a life sentence, the prisoner is eligible to apply to have his status reviewed. Most of the dangerous offenders apply, and most of them do not succeed in having the decision reversed. This is not the same as no possibility of parole, but it is almost no probability of parole.

Anonymous said...

"If it is truly a choice between the child rapist or the murderer 1) leaving prison and doing it again, or 2) execution, then I choose the latter, simply because I believe that the state's duty under the constitution is to protect first and foremost law-abiding citizens."

I also have an abiding distrust of the power of government. Unfortunately, it includes a distrust that government will keep dangerous felons in a place where they cannot cause further harm to innocent citizens. I live in California where, every few years, Charles Manson comes up for parole. Although I don't think it likely that it would be granted, just the remote possibility that it could happen, given the extremely liberal bent of many judges and politicians here, is scary.

I fully agree that the evidentiary standards for capital cases should be very high to prevent, as far as possible, execution of someone wrongfully convicted. However, this still needs to be balanced against protecting other innocent people from psychopaths like Manson.

TLF+ said...

Thanks, all, for your thoughtful comments and for those who linked our post.

bill in ottawa, always feel welcome. God "planed" parts of the Northern Plains and the Great White North with the same glaciers.

At our mid-week Holy Communion today, we prayed for the repose of Chester Alan Poage (the victim), the comfort of his family and friends, and for Elijah Page to have true repentance.

Alice C. Linsley said...

God bless you, Fr. Timothy. This blog is a good thing. May it be blessed.

Anonymous said...

I am late to this discussion, but want to offer some views from one who formerly believed that being a pro-life Christian had to include opposition to the death penalty, but who now thinks that support for it is entirely consistent with being pro-life.

Consider this quote from J. Daryl Charles' article "The Sword of Justice" from Touchstone magazine:

"The impulse toward retribution is innate in humanity, but it is by no means a 'lower' impulse; rather, it sets us apart as moral agents. To treat men or nations, however severely, because they in fact should have known better—and they do know better—is to treat them as human beings, endowed with dignity and moral agency. A society unwilling to direct retributive justice toward those who murder in cold blood is a society that has deserted its responsibility to uphold the unique value of human life."

I believe this goes to the heart of the matter, and assigning moral responsibility through the administration of retributive justice to criminals is actually an affirmation of their dignity and worth, as well as that of their victims. Being held accountable safeguards our humanity. Of course, in the case of capital punishment, this does not extend to those who have acted in a diminished capacity, and the arrival at a just verdict and sentence must take into account mitigating, as well as aggravating, factors. But there are some crimes so heinous that the ultimate sanction is appropriate. In recent years, we here in Florida have had to confront two crimes of almost unimaginable evil, where young girls were abducted, raped, and murdered, one of them by being buried alive. There ages were 11 and 9. Both perpetrators have now been tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. That is as it should be.

I also support limited government, and sufficiently enlightened citizens should be wary of the power we give to the state. But the administration of justice is surely one of those things that must be properly a function of government, no matter how imperfectly government may sometimes discharge its duties. There can be no "private" justice where the law is concerned. We have a responsibility to see that justice does not degenerate to the level of simple vengeance on the one hand, or a lax permissiveness on the other, but we must rely upon the role of the State in doing so.

As for the spiritual welfare of those who have been condemned to death, I believe that their fate is safely in God's hands. A predestination based on God's foreknowledge is our assurance that all those who are destined to be saved will be, and that they will have sufficient opportunity to come to faith and repentance while awaiting execution. A fairly lengthy appeals process in all capital cases is further guarantee of such opportunity. Those who do remain invincibly ignorant of the gospel, through no fault of their own, may nevertheless find themselves the objects of God's mercy, provided that they have at least repented of their crimes.

I believe that capital punishment will eventually be abolished throughout the United States. But when that happens, I do not believe it will happen for the sake of the noble reasons that might be offered by pro-life Christians who disagree with me. A society that will accept the genocidal slaughter of unborn children in the wombs of their own mothers, and the grisly horror that we refer to as partial birth abortion, does not, for the most part, base its decisions on respect for human life. When abolition of the death penalty does come about, I fear that it will simply represent the abdication of moral responsibility in one more area of our common life. And the blood of innocent victims will cry out, without hope of adequate redress in this fallen world.


TLF+ said...

Thank you, episcopalienated, for your wonderful offering of reason and passion.

Your last paragraph really struck me. So many efforts to stop capital punishment are done thorough procedural gimmickry. Not that procedural justice is unimportant (it is how we are protected from the excesses of the state). But, in the case of capital punishment, delaying an execution by tortuous legal wrangling avoids the public discussion of the big questions that the nation needs to engage.

It really is a legislative question - one of several that we routinely punt to the courts. A procedural bandaid is slapped on, but the big issues go unaddressed.

Anonymous said...

I read recently that in America, the average life sentence turns out to be less than 10 yrs. Coupled with the fact that a majority of crimes are committed by repeat offenders; leads me to support the death penalty. The death penalty would be alot more effective as a deterrent if it was actually carried out, instead of how it is in most states now-endless appeals and if they ever are put to death it is at least 20 years later. I also don't give any credence to the argument that serving a life sentence is actually more punishing-how many of the thousands on death row have you heard clamoring to be put to death because they just can't stand it anymore??