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June 26, 2009

"A chaplain's take on capital punishment"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary appearing in the Austin American-Statesman.  Here are snippets:

The last time I checked, seven out of 10 Texans approved of the death penalty, and not surprisingly, Texas executes more people than any other state (and for that matter, most foreign countries).  Hence, it should surprise no one that our current governor has sat by while 200 fellow human beings have been executed over in Huntsville.  If he commuted death sentences, he'd never be re-elected.

But I wonder about those pro-death penalty Texans.  Don't they know that Jesus was a victim of the same state-sanctioned murder to which we've become so tragically inured here in the Lone Star State?  The Jewish Sanhedrin did not kill Jesus.  Rome did!  And from the very beginning of his brief three-year ministry, Jesus opposed any and all expressions of violence.

By far, the most authoritative book I've read on the subject of the death penalty was "Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain," written by a fellow Presbyterian minister, Carroll Pickett.  The Rev. Pickett begrudgingly began assisting with executions back in the '70s when capital punishment was once more ruled legal.  Today Carroll Pickett travels coast to coast, advocating passionately and effectively against the death penalty, but more importantly he witnesses to the life and to the radical love of Jesus.

I think Pickett's book is a must-read for every human being who, like me, believes that all human life is sacred. Pickett has come to understand that Caesar's kind of justice all too often looks and smells a whole lot like vengeance, while for God justice is quite simply always the same thing — an incomprehensible love made public.

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

June 26, 2009 at 09:35 AM | Permalink


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Posted by: | Jun 26, 2009 9:48:34 AM

I believe the Taxas governor does not even have the power to commute a death sentence. He can only delay it temporarily.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Jun 26, 2009 10:12:43 AM

From whom does the reverend derive his income? The bigger the sinner, the bigger the need for his service. He has an economic conflict of interest. Not a word about the murder victims executed without due process, by butchery style methods, and often for no or a trivial reason.

Those with filthy hands should not point fingers. Wasn't the churches of the world that roasted people over an open fire for failing to accept their sick orthodoxies.

Follow this misleading chaplain, abolish the death penalty. That immunizes all crime including subsequent murder by their client.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 26, 2009 1:32:42 PM

So legal execution is now "state sanctioned murder." Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. There is nothing unlawful (or unconsititutional for that matter according to the plain language of the 5th and 14th Amendments) or malicious about legal execution. The inmate has his day in court (although in some states it amounts to decades in court), and then gets what is coming to him under the law. No more, no less.

Supremacy Claus is right. If this chaplain would spend but a moment of his time dealing with the neverending grief of the families of murder victims, then he probably wouldn't be so cavalier about how he defines "God's justice."

Posted by: Large County Prosecutor | Jun 26, 2009 2:48:59 PM

Marc is correct. Perry can only grant 30 day reprieve or grant clemency if it is recommended by BPP.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 26, 2009 4:29:12 PM

Large - didn't the Nazis of Germany use the same excuse - that they were following orders; that gassing Jews (often German citizens) was legal in Germany? Didn't the Russians in the time of Stalin and later, kill civilians in their gulags and worse, according to the laws of the USSR? In both instances I seem to recall that America was less than impressed. Today, the death penalty is illegal in Germany. Today, a moratorium exists in Russia. Today, some American States execute civilians.

The chaplain spent time with the families of murder victims and with families of those executed by the state - their grief is the same. People make laws, and in America people in different States have made different laws. Having a death penalty law does not absolve those who administer it, or who are responsible for its maintenance, from the moral judgment of others that they are wrong - just as we condemned the Nazis of Germany and we condemned the communists of the USSR. Such practices are history in those countries. It is time the death penalty was history in ALL of the States of America. Rather than mock someone who has dedicated his life to the spiritual needs of others, and formed a view from practical experience that the death penalty is wrong, perhaps you should listen. The only "cavalier" attitude around here is shown by yourself and Claus. As the Chaplain has the authority of the greater bulk of Christian churches behind him, a little humility is in order in questions of God's justice.

Posted by: peter | Jun 26, 2009 5:15:02 PM

People who bring up the Nazis and communist tyranny in discussions of the death penalty in the US clown themselves.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 26, 2009 7:00:45 PM

Peter: In a chess game, at the expert level, a player will know his position is hopeless, and will knock down his King in conceding defeat. It is not necessary to play the final, inevitable 20 moves to checkmate. In a debate, bringing in Nazis, Stalin, or Taliban is the same.



Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 26, 2009 11:14:40 PM

A very thoughtful commentary of a perspective that rarely gets heard in the death penalty debate. Thanks for posting, Doug.

Posted by: K. | Jun 27, 2009 11:25:20 AM

My prayer is that the god W Bush publically gushed about actually exists and that W someday will answer for his sometimes gleeful role in Texas' ritual killings.

Perry's just an ordinary political tool, as opposed to a born-again one, so I have no interest in his afterlife.

Posted by: John K | Jun 27, 2009 1:01:45 PM

Large Prosecutor has at least one error: a legal execution can be malicious.

Also, the holocaust was likely legal under German law at the time.

However, I think we need to ask why Texans tend to be criminals. The Texan soul seems to prefer violence and law-breaking to more peaceful uses of their time. Although it is doubtful that Texans could ever be educated about how to comport themselves lawfully, perhaps a more forward-looking solution would be to require certain Texans to use various forms of birth control so as to prevent the further spread of the Texan mentality.

Posted by: S.cotus | Jun 27, 2009 7:46:03 PM

There goes S.cotus again . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Jun 28, 2009 12:18:45 AM

Someone else opened the door on the Nazis. It is fair to address the Nazis. It would be unfair to label me as an example of Godwin's Law.

The Free Law Movement of Germany directly spawned from its disgusting syphilitic loins, both the Nazi judiciary and American Legal Realism. The German Llewellyn of contracts fame directly infected Cardozo and others in a set of indoctrination sessions. (Michael Ansaldi, The German Llewellyn, 58 Brooklyn L. Rev. 705 (1992)) Llewellyn was a traitor who fought with the Prussians in World War I. He should have been executed.

The Nazi judiciary reinterpreted enacted statutes that precluded the persecution of Jews who committed no crime. They legislated from the bench, violating clear procedural and substantive law requiring charges of a crime.

The same may be said of legal realism, which is the orthodoxy of all American judges. None may become a judge who disagrees with this sicko, lawless doctrine. These judges violated enacted statute and constitutional Articles to eradicate millions of viable fetuses.

The answer of the left wing, rent seeking lawyer? It is too late and legal realism is too ubiquitous to reverse.

Well, heck no. The Nazi judiciary's legal realism was reversed by the hangman. Dozens of Nazi judges went to the gallows a dozen at a time, after brief fair trials, where their decisions were the sole evidence.

In fairness to the Nazi judiciary, they had one dissenter. He wanted to obey the letter of the law, in accordance with his oath. He was offered retirement or the firing squad. That is one more dissenter than the American judicial butchers have ever had.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 28, 2009 4:55:44 AM


Are you saying that a facially legally prosecution can never be vindictively undertaken?

Posted by: S.cotus | Jun 29, 2009 10:50:53 AM

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