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Abeyance. Sounds a bit like obedience but it means practically the opposite. More Christians abey the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount than obey them. Abeyance means a state of temporary suspension. It’s legal term for a temporary abeyance of a law or requirement.

Never would a Christian consider any sort of abeyance of Jesus’ teaching about lust or adultery. There is a never a situation where those are acceptable, even temporarily. However when it comes to not swearing to oaths, turning the other cheek, not-retaliating, not killing anyone… the compromised Church issues all sorts of abeyances.

Tolstoy puts it best:

Do the ministers of the Gospel believe the Sermon on the Mount, including the commandment of non-retaliation, to be of divine origin?… [do they] consider the Sermon on the Mount and the commandment of non-resistance obligatory upon a Christian…. Did Christ practically require his disciples to do that which he taught in the Sermon on the Mount…. May a Christian remain a Christian and still disobey the direct command of Christ; may he promise or conduct himself in a manner directly opposed to the doctrine of Christ, by entering into military service and putting himself in training to be a murderer?… How are we to reconcile those lessons of forgiveness, humility, patience, and love towards all mankind, our neighbours as well as our enemies, taught us by the Teacher, which dwell in the heart of each of us, with the necessities caused by military aggression against our own countrymen as well as against foreigners?  (36-37, The Kingdom of God is Within You)

The commandment against fornication they [clergy] acknowledge without reservation, and in no case will they ever admit that this sin is not evil. There are no circumstances mentioned by the clergy when the commandment against fornication may be broken, and they always insist that the occasions for this sin must be avoided. But in regard to non-resistance that is a very different matter. Every clergyman believes that there are circumstances wherein this commandment many be held in abeyance, and they preach accordingly…. Clergymen have never been known to advocate the breaking of any other commandment, but in regard to the doctrine of non-resistance, they distinctly teach that this prohibition must not be taken to literally, that so far from always obeying this commandment, one should on occasion follow the opposite course– that is, one should sit in judgment [on a jury], should go to war, and should execute criminals. (p 40-41, The Kingdom of God is Within You).

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Is trophy hunting okay for a Christian?

No.

For starters I’ll share my journey as it relates to the ethics of killing anything. Since my dad was killed violently and then watching my mom go painfully slow, and after countless death notifications with the police department and s many hard funeral in my decades as a pastor, and considering my lung disease and facing my mortality, and studying the senseless loss of innocent life in all our various war-of-the-day, my view on killing changed. It was fuelled also by a desire to take the non-violence of the Sermon on the Mount serious – didn’t figure Jesus was offering it as a suggestion, or optional for extra credit.

Over time I lost a desire to kill anything. So I started to push back against violence in society where ever I could – fighting cage fighting in the legislature, and as many know I entirely changed my mind on the death penalty and came to believe we ought to teach our kids it’s never okay to kill. It will increasingly become a topic I comment on how this whole red-state, red-blood, red-meat, Cross yourself and pile’em high, ammo and Bibles thing in our churches really is so unChristlike. God comes to the aid of those who are weak in battle not those who trust in their chariots and horses.

These days I marvel at animal beauty and diversity and enjoy their personalities and all that prompts me to turn to the Creator of Life in gratitude and worship. Jesus said look at the birds because they will reveal something about God to you. He did not say shoot the birds. My increasing love for life in its most vulnerable forms changed my view of hunting too. I’m not against responsible hunting for you or others, just saying that personally, I’m done with it. But I have come out strongly against safari hunting and trophy hunting as anything ethically justifiable for a Christian.

Deuteronomy 22:6 revealed to me the concern God has for animals: “If you come across a bird nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on her young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young…. so that it may go well with you and you may live a long life.”

I began to note the capacity in animals to respond to God… “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths… [Praise the Lord] wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds…” Psalm 148:7, 10.

Small creatures and flying birds… like fox and pheasants? Note to self; that text is not one to pull out if asked again to give the breakfast devotional at the Fellowship of Christian Sportsman’s Pheasant Hunt.

A book also shifted my thinking on animal cruelty and animal misery and abuse in modern agriculture. It’s not some liberal PETA book. It was written by a Sarah Palin speechwriter. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy, Matthew Scully states: “Go to the largest livestock operation, search out the darkest and tiniest stall or pen, single out the filthiest, most forlorn little lamb or pig or calf, and that is one of God’s creatures you’re looking at, morally indistinguishable from your beloved Fluffy or Frisky.”

A longing in me to see God’s kingdom come on earth drew me to the passages that describe that time to come when we aren’t at odds with the animal world. I figure, why wait till then?? I’d think animals didn’t run away when Jesus walked by, shouldn’t they recognize Him in us when we walk by?…. “And in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground; and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them lie down in safety. And I will betroth thee unto me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving kindness, and in mercies.” Hosea 2:18-19

In his extensive Dogmatics on The Doctrine of Creation, Karl Barth reminded us God the Creator did not originally intend for animals to be our food; “Whether or not we find it practical or desirable, the diet assigned to men and beasts by God the Creator is vegetarian. This makes it clear that the supremacy given to man over animals is not one of life and death. Man does not enjoy any capital jurisdiction.”

Yes, that changed after the Flood, even after the Flood when killing animals for sacrifice and food was permitted, Barth contends “the prohibition of homicide and eating the blood of animals will be a reminder that the life of another being does not belong to other living beings but to God alone.” For Barth, “the introduction of capital jurisdiction between creature and creature, will not in any sense signify a kind of divine submission to creaturely degeneration.” In regards to the subsequent legitimisation of animal sacrifice, Barth says God now accepts “the surrender of the life of the animal for that of man” as “a substitutionary sign” in the “reconciliation thereby signified.”

David Clough writes: “…human beings may use their superfluity for food but should not wilfully destroy them; in relation to other animals, Barth says they can be killed only as a matter of necessity, and then as a sacrificial act with gratitude and repentance. In a modern context where few humans need to kill other creatures for food, this is a radical ethical stance.”

The reason I have all this handy is I have written on my love and regard for Animals in an essay elsewhere. Here are the opening lines of that essay….

Meet Gordon Howie. A visit to his United States Senate campaign website and you would first notice his campaign bumper sticker slogan; God, Guns & Gordon. Click on the tab for videos and up comes a god tube . com link to his video: “Take a World Hunting Tour With Gordon Howie.” The six and a half minute clip shows dozens of still photos of Gordon all over the world holding rifles or his bow, standing or kneeling, but always smiling next to the corpse of every conceivable animal one can legally shoot with a gun or a bow; deer, fox, coyote, rabbit, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, antelope, sables and roans, gazelles and African dik-diks, spiral-horned kudo, a half a dozen different bears, leopards, mountain lions, moose, plains buffalo, zebra, and various sub-Saharan wild boars.

An additional feature in the video is the background music of Gordon singing Christian country music songs, recording being another one of his pastimes, actually one of his ministries. The photos advance every three seconds and there are enough hunting pictures to require the entire audio of three of Gordon’s songs. While he sings “I’m going home to be with Jesus” the viewer sees dozens of animals who Gordon recently sent on ahead of him. It is not clear what putting a video compilation of decades of safari hunts on a campaign website is supposed to communicate about a political candidates’ philosophy of governance except perhaps it does communicate something of his understanding, or misunderstanding, of the dominion mandate of Genesis one.

Here is that video to which I’m referring:  Take a World Hunting Tour With Gordon Howie

Good theology is essential when bad things go down. So, to start with some theological preciseness, the question in the title would be better phrased: Is Scott Westerhuis hell-bound? The reason for that clarification is because it isn’t until after the Great White Throne Judgment that the books are opened and each one judged. It is then both Death and Hades are gathered up and together thrown into the Eternal Lake of Fire (aka Hell). The temporary abode for the unredeemed dead is Hades, not Hell. So no, no one is presently burning in hell.

The question was posed yesterday on Facebook by a seasoned journalist friend in South Dakota who, since last September, has been covering the horrible unfoldings in Platte, South Dakota. He took some criticism for even posting the question. Understandably this is still a very tender topic in our small home state.

Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children, Michael, Connor, Jaeci and Kailey, died in Sept. 2015. Pic: Facebook/Nicole Westerhuis

Scott Westerhuis was husband and father of four, an active member of First Reformed Church and an involved member of a close knit  small town community. Made aware he was soon to be in serious trouble for plundering a million dollars from a fund set up to help young Native Americans, late that night he took his shotgun and killed his wife and their four children all in their beds, and then set fire to their house and taking his own life.

For the benefit of others in our state, here were my contributions in the midst of a most interesting string of comments to the question.

Me: One doesn’t spend eternity separated from God for anything they did or didn’t do. The way you end up there is rejecting what Jesus did to make possible eternity with God.

A reply to me: Can someone profess Jesus is their Lord and Savior and then commit multiple murders? Were they lying when they made the profession or did they change their mind? Or did they not even think about it? (a subconscious decision)

Me: People profess Jesus as Lord and then commit adultery or break any of the other Ten Commandments. Our various traditions differ a bit on whether some sin is worse than other sin. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said if we are angry it’s the same as murder. A lawyer friend in Sioux Falls who has/is defended some of those facing the death penalty in South Dakota told me once that every murderer he’s ever met felt justified from their vantage point at that time to do what they did, and he and I agree that includes the State when we kill killers. We do what they do and then have our rationalisations for it. Psychologically suicide and killing occur in when we aren’t thinking clearly and rationally. Killing is irrational. Unless a person decidedly rejects Christ and then kills, I’m not sure we can say they go to hell– at least not for killing. I’m grateful I’m not judged according to the worse thing I’ve done. The Gospel is about what Jesus did, not about what we’ve done. Did he do enough on the Cross to pay the price for all our sin or do we need to add to his finished work by doing more right and less wrong? Reject him and we are on our own to stand before God on our own good merit.

This is pure speculation: perhaps this guy dearly loved his family and couldn’t imagine life without them or imagine ruining their lives and shaming them all so horribly with his crimes and to spare them that greater pain, in a colossal act of misguided mercy, and moment of irrational panic- hardly thinking clearly about anything – believing in Christ and heaven- reasoned to himself that they could all go together and be together and that God would understand.

Good people in society concoct all sorts of justifications for killing to save themselves and others.

I’ll wrap up here with some Gospel basics: Salvation is not genetic or hereditary any more than marriage is– your grandparents being married doesn’t mean you are– your parents being Christians doesn’t automatically make you one– a individual choice to receive what Jesus did for you appropriates salvation to an individual. Salvation is not by ritual or ceremony. Salvation is not by addition– doing more right. It is not by subtraction– doing less wrong. It is not second hand– not mediated by anyone other than Jesus. Salvation is not by comparison– we are less bad than those people down the street – those gays or Muslims or compared to that guy on death-row. It is not universal– you can decidedly reject what Jesus did for you and many do. He doesn’t force people to spend eternity with him when they make it clear they don’t want him part of their lives here. Salvation is not by showing up to church. It can’t be bought or sold. Salvation is not by sincerity. The 9/11 hi-jackers were sincere, sincerely wrong. You get the idea. And, by the way, our loving God doesn’t send anyone to hell. Hell-bound people chose that course themselves by rejecting the only way God set forth for salvation. If all religious paths were viable options, he wouldn’t have sent his only Son to die on a Cross to atone for our sin. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

As hard as it is to accept, I’m doubtful Westerhuis is hell-bound. The reason is because salvation isn’t based on what he did. It is based on what Jesus did. From what I can tell, he was a believing Christian. And yes we aren’t to judge or try to read hearts, but people in my line of work get asked these hard questions– and usually people like me have 2-3 days max to think of something to say at a funeral. It’s not a time to give false assurances. It’s a time to be clear about how it is that Jesus defeats death for us all. God has an amazing way to bring life from death and draw out good from bad. The possibility of salvation for Scott Westerhuis will hopefully result in the assurance of salvation of many others.

This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.

The Watertown Public Opinion Editorial board says I’m wasting everyone’s time. Phooeey on that. Here’s my retort:

Dear Editor,

It was disappointing to read today your partially informed editorial opinion that my Victims Wish bill (HB 1159)is a waste of time. The bill allows an adult South Dakotan to indicate opposition to the death penalty in the unfortunate case they later become a victim of a homicide themselves.
In the recent murder of Maybelle Schein in Sioux Falls, her personal opposition to the death penalty was not allowed to be a consideration by the Court in sentencing James McVay to death. Like the organ donor designation currently on our drivers license, this bill is for those of us who would rather another life not end just because ours did. After the fact, a friend or relative coming forward to say we were opposed to the death penalty amounts to only hearsay.
46% of our state opposes the death penalty and that means several hundred thousand South Dakotans want nothing to do anymore with institutionalized vengeance and the values of ISIS. We believe it accomplishes nothing, that it delays closure, that it is not limited government and that this isn’t about what they did, it’s about what we do. We believe taking away a person’s life without taking away their breath is a consistent life ethic – that doing something inhumane doesn’t mean you have no more value as a human. We believe it’s better to introduce a person convicted of a crime to their dignity as a human being instead of simply punishing their depravity.
We believe stories of forgiveness and redemption ought to be encouraged in our increasingly violent culture. For us to want someone dead is the same dark sentiment that was in them to kill. There are many in our state who have given thought to the day we stand before our Maker asking for mercy ourselves. We want it said of us we were willing to extend it to those in our lives who least deserved it. It’s the dying prayer of Jesus and Stephen; Father forgive them.
In most other crimes law enforcement will ask you if you wish to press charges. This is along those same lines. This is vigilante mercy. Our society could use so much more of it. By the way, this bill (HB1159) is a sister bill of HB1158 which allows a victim’s opposition to the death penalty to be presented at a pre-sentence hearing. The reason I’m asking for this on the driver’s license application is because there are 680,000 drivers licenses in our state. Only one in six people age 35 have a will. It is no cost to add a confidential field in our DMV database for this record.
Rep. Steve Hickey, (R-District 9, Sioux Falls)

There are a lot of “firsts” in the Bible, particularly in books like Genesis and Acts as they are books of beginnings. Bible scholars speak of the Law of First Mention to refer to the importance of paying close attention to the first mention of something in the Bible. The reason being, the very first time something is mentioned in the Bible we are usually given God’s original intention or pattern for it.

For example, in Genesis we find the first marriage– one man, one woman, for one life –as God’s pattern for that institution. We also find the first murder and God’s first punishment for that crime.

It’s interesting that God didn’t order Cain killed. In fact, his punishment was to be banished from society to spend his life away from the place of life God gave Adam and Eve.

It’s also interesting Cain replied: “My punishment is more than I can bear”  Genesis 4:13). Putting our worst offenders out of their misery is less excruciating than decades of life in a small cell.

It’s also interesting that God marked Cain. He wasn’t allowed to blend back in but he’d forever bear stigma and separation because of his horrific deed.

It’s also interesting how God basically said to the rest of society… don’t anyone lay a finger on him: “...if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over” (Genesis 4:15).

Apparently God wants us to leave the vengeance up to Him.

[See also: Romans 13:4, The Death Penalty and the Ethics of Nero]

In my current efforts to lead a repeal of the death penalty in South Dakota, Christian friends quickly bring up Romans 13:4 to make a case that God is pro-death penalty. (I’ve laid out a larger Biblical and theological case against the death penalty here.)

Romans 13:1-4 has long caused Christians to squirm because it teaches that God is the one who sets guys like Nero and Hitler in power. However, it doesn’t say God agrees with their governing philosophies. And, it does not say God agrees with the death penalty, only that he gives secular governments the authority to use it.

In Romans 13:4 Paul was writing to believers in Rome saying they need to revere Roman authority as God gives governments even the authority of the sword. He was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the mercy path when they one day get in power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of the Romans and the ethics of Nero?

Shouldn’t governments in the Christian corners of the world be based on the ethics of Jesus instead of the ethics of Nero? It’s amazing to me how much weight Christians today give Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy. Even so, these verses are not in conflict.

I’m for a government that is more like Christ than Rome. Whichever government we happen to live under we are to live in submission to it, that’s the point of Romans 13:4. The leaven of the kingdom (the ethics of Jesus) should permeate society and government eventually and if we don’t contend for that now, when will we start?

We know what incarceration looks like under the value system of Islam and Sharia Law. However, what should incarceration look like in the Christian corners of the world?

Real prison reform happens when we view prisons as places of reform (and redemption) not retribution. Once behind bars what if we did more than punish their depravity? What if we introduced them to their dignity?

[See also: Cain, the Death Penalty and the Law of First Mention]

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