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November 29, 2007

Candidates asked "what would Jesus do" about the death penalty

Though I did not get a chance to watch the YouTube/CNN Republican debate last night, I saw highlights of the clip in which a young person asked the self-proclaimed Christian conservatives to answer the question "what would Jesus do" about the death penalty.  This entry from the Chicago Tribune's political blog provides more details on the question and the evasive answers given by two candidates.  When pressed for an answer, Mike Huckabee said "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office.  That's what Jesus would do." 

Because I find the intersection of religion and politics very interesting, I was sorry to hear that not all the candidates had to respond to this question.  (The great irony, of course, is that Jesus himself was subject to the death penalty, a point that I do not think was mentioned.)

Some related posts on victims, religion and the death penalty:

November 29, 2007 at 11:59 AM | Permalink


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Huckabee's reply was sheer brilliance. I greatly respect his refusal to reduce such a complex moral issue into a 30-second sound byte. It's also good to see he has a sense of humor about his faith. I'm seriously considering registering Republican so I can vote for him in the primary.

Posted by: Pistol Pete | Nov 29, 2007 12:10:53 PM

Clearly that kid who asked the question was a Democrat ringer who snuck in and got past the Republican Guard at the debate. The GOP writes all the debate questions and has actors or known GOP loyalists ask the questions. Clearly something went wrong last night.

Serious questions, or questions the GOP knows they can't answer (like this one) are not permitted. It's like asking a Repubican candidate if he would have gay sex to end the War on Terror.

Huckabee's answer was not brilliant, it was asinine. I hope you were being sarcastic, Pete (hard to tell sometimes over the net).

The only legitimate answer to the question for a pro-death penalty republican is as follows: "Jesus certainly would have been against the death penalty, but the separation of church and state means we don't make public policy based on religious beliefs." Of course, no republican would ever say that. But to not even concede Jesus would not only be against the death penalty but against prison and punishment in general (he'd forgive everyone) makes these people total assholes. Either they're assholes or they have no idea what Jesus stood for.

Posted by: bruce | Nov 29, 2007 12:33:35 PM

Huckabee needs a sense of humor about his faith. Taken as a whole, his interpretation of it is derisory. I can think of few less qualified by reason than he. But then reason doesn't seem to be a quality looked for in Presidents these days. Come to think of it, looking at this and similar blogs, it doesn't seem much of a quality looked for in some judicial circuits either. Frightening.

Posted by: peter | Nov 29, 2007 12:34:35 PM

Good point. Jesus submitted to the death penalty as did the Apostle Paul (who wrote that he would accept a death sentence if he had done anything worthy of it). Arguing that the Bible is anti-death penalty has always been a hard sell.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Nov 29, 2007 12:35:51 PM

Mr. Ruckman - an interesting point given that under today's accomplice liability jurisprudence, holding the coats of a group of men stoning another individual could in fact subject him to the death penalty.

With regards to Mr. Huckabee, it is nice to hear him acknowledge that it is a complex issue not suited to a thirty second soundbyte, however, just acknowledging it as a complex issue doesn't necessarily mean he's thought about it to any great lengths.

Posted by: Sawyer | Nov 29, 2007 1:27:49 PM

Clearly that kid who asked the question was a Democrat ringer who snuck in and got past the Republican Guard at the debate. The GOP writes all the debate questions and has actors or known GOP loyalists ask the questions. Clearly something went wrong last night.

Serious questions, or questions the GOP knows they can't answer (like this one) are not permitted. It's like asking a Repubican candidate if he would have gay sex to end the War on Terror.

Is this meant to be funny or is it serious?

Posted by: | Nov 29, 2007 2:11:31 PM

Why wasn't this question asked of Democratic candidates, all of whom claim to be Christians?

The answer is it is a question that makes little sense. Does anyone really believe that the questioner wants his President to act like Jesus? So why should it matter? It's like asking what Jesus would do about the estate tax--quite frankly, we have no idea, because Jesus didn't address that issue during his time on Earth.

It's more than a little pretentious for anyone to go around claiming they know how Jesus would handle a given issue without any record of how Jesus did handle that issue. Plus it's also demeaning to those who ascribe to Jesus's teachings to be asked to reduce their worldview into a 30-second soundbyte.

Posted by: Steve | Nov 29, 2007 2:35:23 PM

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Posted by: | Nov 29, 2007 2:46:45 PM

Steve: It's a little obtuse to suggest that you have no idea how Jesus would handle capital punishment. Are you some kind of Islamocommunist? My memory of Dweedle's Big Picture Book of The Bible is a bit rusty, but I do clearly recall the one story of the adulteress being brought to the crazy carpenter and those wacky Pharisees asking ol' hippie whether she should be stoned (i.e. capital punish-ed), since it's the LAW, y'know. Mr. Messiah, always ready with the Oscar Wilde riposte, says "yo Pharisee dudes, let he who is among ye without sin cast the first stone." After a few knowing nods from the disciples (self-satisfied bastards) who were used to their bro's rather thick platitudes, the slower Pharisees finally got it, since nobody is without sin there's not gonna be an After-Stoning Party tonight -- somebody better get the keg back to the liquor store and see if we can get a refund.

The reason nobody is asking the Dems, nor for that matter all of the Repubs, is because only a few of the candidates, like Huckablockhead, are wrapping themselves in the blood-stained cloak of holy Jesu. What this little boy is pointing out is that Huckabackwoodshick is a huge hypocrite. His answer wasn't brilliant, it was the cock crowing as he denied the truth. He's a fraud, which ain't surprising for a bumpkin politician from Arkansas, and he's also not a very good Christian if he likes the death penalty -- that is, unless he himself is devoid of sin.

Posted by: dweedle | Nov 29, 2007 3:17:08 PM

dweedle, I happen to agree with (most of) the content of your comment above, but I don't always. With that in mind, let me say (and I hope you take this for the compliment that it is intended to be), I occasionally think of Justice Scalia when I read your comments: I disagree a good portion of the time, and you're brusque at the very least, but your delivery never fails to entertain. :)

Posted by: | Nov 29, 2007 3:28:07 PM

dweedle, your memory of that episode in the life of Jesus is indeed a bit rusty. Go back and read it again (It's in John 8) and especially consider several things:

1) Who was missing? The adulterer. The Jewish law that the Pharisees mis-cited to Jesus said that both the adulterer and the adulteress had to be put to death. If the woman, as was claimed about her, was indeed "caught in the act," why didn't they bring her paramour out to Jesus as well?

2) Why did they want to stone her? The law again only prescribed that they be put to death; the special punishment of stoning was reserved for those who were espoused, not married, or were the daughter of a priest. So why did the Pharisees not obey the law?

3) Who asked Jesus if he approved of capital punishment? No one does. In fact, the Pharisees, as John records, were trying to trap Jesus into either defying Jewish law or demonstrating that he was a fraud when he hung around with the outcasts of society. Jesus's answer does not reflect upon the law or excuse the guilt of the adulteress, but neither does it encourage the prosecution or countenance the heat of the Pharisees.

Seriously, if that's the best you've got to stand on to *prove* that Jesus was against capital punishment, that's awfully weak.

Posted by: Steve | Nov 29, 2007 3:49:19 PM

Steve: that is a nice practiced answer that has nothing at all to do with what Ol' Hippie actually said regarding that particular, specific execution. If you think that Mr. Natural (33AD) was expressing his preference for firing squad or his theory of parties and accomplices, I would have to say you are awfully brave to call my *direct quote* (from God, no less) "weak" in the face of such intellectual flatulence as "The law again only prescribed that they be put to death; the special punishment of stoning was reserved for those who were espoused, not married, or were the daughter of a priest."

M'kay. To which Jesus Crispy answers "ye without sin"??

Pull the other one. Let me give you another historical, and perfectly appropriate capital punishment quote to respond to your illogical parsing of a completely clear statement:

"First, let us kill all the lawyers."

Personally, I have an intellectually coherent view about life and the legal taking of it, and therefore I support DP and abortion. Christians, who think that Christ's acts and words support the murdering of criminals (except those who kill abortion doctors, 'natch), either (a) don't read very well because they are backwoods hicks; or (b) are hypocrites.

You choose.

Posted by: dweedle | Nov 29, 2007 4:42:29 PM


I realize now that I assumed too much about your deductive powers. So let me simplify things for you.

All that stuff that went over your head about the Pharisees not following the law they were claiming to follow means this: Jesus wasn't pronouncing an edict against capital punishment for all time, he was pointing out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, who weren't at all concerned about carrying out the law, but instead were concerned with discrediting and humiliating Jesus, who they rightfully saw as a threat to the order they had cultivated in Israel.

Posted by: Steve | Nov 29, 2007 4:55:59 PM


I apologize for that last comment - I shouldn't have insulted you and I hope you'll forgive me.

Posted by: Steve | Nov 29, 2007 5:16:23 PM


Posted by: | Nov 29, 2007 5:20:29 PM

In my view, what Jesus would make of the death penalty has no place in a Presidential campaign. The Constitution forbids a religious test for public office, so fidelity to any particular religious view, Jesus's or otherwise, is inapposite to a person's qualifications to be President.

Whether one supports the death penalty does, of course, have a proper place in the campaign, because the death penalty is part of federal (and secular) law.

In that regard, there has never been a President who did not support it. This includes FDR (who, through the military, oversaw the hanging of several Nazis in the courtyard of the Department of Justice (see In re Quirin)); Eisenhower; Reagan; and Clinton (the McVeigh case as President and the Ricky Ray Rector case while Governor of Arkansas).

This is not all that surprising. According to the Gallup poll released last month, 69% of the public supports capital punishment. Indeed, majorities of every demographic group Gallup surveyed supported it, including liberals, women, non-whites and independents.

Public support of course does not prove that the death penalty is right, much less constitutional. In that regard, however, of the 112 Supreme Court justices in the nation's history, all but three (Brennan, Marshall and Blackmun) have viewed the DP, administered carefully (see Gregg) as passing muster under the Eighth Amendment. A Supreme Court consensus of 109 to 3 would seem considerably more relevant to an election under secular law for a secular office than "what would Jesus do?"

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 29, 2007 5:40:49 PM

Steve: say what you will, I forgive all that trespass me. ;) However, I think you miss *my* point that your response is a well known, stock answer that's been given for years on Johnny 8, one that discusses Ol' Hippie's *probable* liturgical motivations, and a *theorized* background of the clerical power-structure of old timey Palestine in great morbid detail... leaving out only one *tiny* little thing, the actual words out of his beardy mouth.

If Crispy had said, "whoa, now hold on a tick, you foolios think I just fell off a gord cart? I'm not fallin' for the old 'stoning under the wrong statute' trick! A ha!" then all of your detailed translations of "Zebidiah on Stoning Crimes" from the ancient Aramaic might be helpful background. But his actual words don't make no-kinda sense in the context you (and about a zillion other people) have claimed.

Absent somebody finding Ol' Hippie's AD33 day planner with "shoulda let them stone that bitch" scrawled in it, I think bringing in secondary sources is a bit of 2000 year-old stretch.

If we are to focus on what is actually there, in Johnny 8, this position seems a rather contrived interpretation whose only purpose is to avoid the conclusion that Crispy was a liberal criminal coddler. Contrary to this theory, if you wanna actually read the Bible verse, El Cristo gives no indication that He thought this was a "setup" as you suggest. That is *pure speculation*. In fact, not only does he not suggest a trap by the Pharisees, importantly, he also doesn't argue that the woman wasn't a filthy whore. The response, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her," only *validates* the judgment of the Pharisees on the woman. While I understand the popularity of this theory amongst people trying to correlate a 2000 year old fairy tale with REALLY SIMPLE WORDS to a completely contrary position, it's painful to watch the multiple contortions bloodthirsty Christians go throw on this one.

Bill: The point is that these politicians shouldn't be surprised by such questions when they invoke their Christianity for other political purposes. You can't have your imaginary buddy in the sky and, er... eat it too. Or something.

Posted by: dweedle | Nov 29, 2007 7:12:28 PM


I don't approve of candidates, Republican or Democrat, invoking religion. This is not because I disrespect religion; on the whole, I think that, as it has been practiced in the United States, it is a wholesome influence, encouraging benevolence and responsibility. It's because religion, or the lack thereof, is a private matter. Not everything is grist for the campaign mill. I don't want to know what candidate X prays about any more than I want to know whether he wears boxers or briefs.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 29, 2007 9:58:22 PM

Considering that Jesus said about those who stumble little children, "It's better for them never to have been born," I have a feeling He would not be against the death penalty for someone who kidnapps, rapes, and murders a child.

Posted by: global view | Nov 30, 2007 9:03:51 AM

Taking passages out of context to the Bible can support anything you want. Taking the teachings of Jesus Christ and the New Testament as a whole, it is clear that support for the death penalty is absolutely contrary to the teachings of Christianity. That is why you will find that most opponents of the death penalty primarily have religious objections - both from the right and the left - to its use. The fact that Jesus did not stop his execution was needed because he was sent as a sacrifice to bring forgiveness to the world - not a sign that God supported execution (everything else about the New Testament taken as a whole makes it clear). Remember that final judgment over people belongs to God alone according to Christianity - to substitute man's judgment for God's is beyond arrogance and clearly incompatable with Jesus's teachings.

Or to put it another way, "what part of 'thou shall not kill' do you fail to understand?"

Or perhaps Doug Marlette put it best in an editorial cartoon when he showed two kids reading the Bible and one saying to the other "And He forgave them even though they supported the death penalty and that is why they call it Good Friday."

And saying that we do not know what Jesus would think of the Estate Tax is pure ignorance -does "render unto Caeser" or "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven" or "the love of money is the root of all evil" ring a bell?

And I think that Tim Kaine, Virginia's Democratic governor gave a much better answer when asked about his opposition to the death penalty and abortion based on being Catholic during his campaign. That was, while I personally oppose these practices due to my religion, as governor of a state, I have the duty to enforce the law as it exists. Now there was a politician that I felt fine voting for.

Posted by: Zack | Nov 30, 2007 11:13:08 AM


I don't think I could disagree with you much more. Capital punishment doesn't substitute man's judgment for God's - if you believe the Bible, God is going to judge all, so merely because the state puts a murderer to death doesn't mean he somehow escapes God's judgment.

If you look at the progression of law, and especially capital punishment, in the Old Testament, it's clear that at the beginning, individuals were responsible for punishing those who trespassed against them, then the responsibility was broadened and placed on the "community," and finally, the responsibility was placed on the government. Now, if you believe that the Old Testament is somehow archaic and no longer applicable to the life of a Christian, then I think you're wrong. But even if you do, nowhere in the New Testament is there an explicit repudiation of the government-based form of capital punishment, dweedle's argument notwithstanding.

Re: Jesus and the estate tax - I think you've proven my point. None of those quotes that you proffer address the estate tax; rather, they address general principles with regard to money. Incidentally, "the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" is from 1 Timothy, and is not a direct quote of Jesus. It's more than a bit arrogant to presume that we know how Jesus would have felt about a specific form of taxation.

Posted by: Steve | Nov 30, 2007 11:56:17 AM

It is every man's right to quote the bible for whatever political purpose that he wishes. Jesus would do whatever you want thim to. Trust me on this.

Posted by: S.cotus | Nov 30, 2007 1:16:36 PM

Steve, maybe you are right, and Jesus wouldn't have a problem with capital punishment - but I think you are missing the inherent fallacy in your argument - which is that the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament (when taking as a whole) say that no person is free of sin and that nobody is beyond redemption. Thus in order to be a Christian one must be capable of forgiving anyone no matter how grievous their sin. Additionally, because we are all sinners, we cannot sit in judgment over another person because ultimately we are all guilty of the same sins that they are.

The death penalty is based on the notion that some people are beyond redemption - this is clearly contrary to what Jesus taught. To execute someone is to say that rehabilation and forgiveness are impossible. Thus in order to see why the death penalty inheriently conflicts with the teachings of Christianity, you have to look at the underlying premises behind the death penalty. It doesn't make it past the first premise before it fails.

As to the second premise, you seem to believe that mankind is capable of sitting in judgement over another person's mortal life, but I just don't have that much faith in our justice system. God may be infallable, but judges and juries definitely aren't. And while Jesus was specifically speaking of adultry when he said "let he who is without this sin, cast the first stone," that teaching applies to other sins as well - such as killing others. And don't forget what else Jesus said about adultry - one who has lust in their heart has already commited adultry (of course, ask Jimmy Carter what happens to politicians who take that passage seriously!). Thus, having the desire to commit a sin (in that case,lust) makes a person already in need of forgiveness. Thus, applying that teaching towards "thou shall not kill," you can see that if you have a desire to cause violence to another (generally this sin would be anger) in your heart (even if you believe it is justified as punishment or vengence) you have already committed the same sin they have. Thus, the second premise behind the death penalty also fails when viewed in light of the teachings of Christianity.

Hey, Steve I know I'm not going to convince you, but it is a rather fascinating debate. Cheers!

Posted by: Zack | Nov 30, 2007 5:46:58 PM

Anonymous poster @ 2:11:31 PM: Yes my post was meant to be entirely serious. The Republican Debates (much like a G.W. Bush "Town Hall Meeting" vigorously controls what questions are asked of the candidates. Things like "How will you fight the war on terror better than Hillary Clinton?" or "The Democrats want to destroy Social Security, how do you feel about that?"

A question like the jesus/death penalty one was obviously asked by a ringer, who was promptly thrown out of the debate after the 2 candidates tried in veign to answer it.

I was also completely serious about asking a Republican if he would have gay sex (he can take it or give it, his choice) if doing so would end the war on terrorism. Yes I know gay sex would never end the war on terrorism, that's not the point. The point is to see where their values and prejudices stand when they collide.

Posted by: bruce | Nov 30, 2007 11:14:51 PM

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