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This morning I sent a note and the following to Gov. Daugaard as he thinks more this weekend about this execution on Monday. It is from my Ph.D dissertation. It’s the story of Tolstoy writing a letter to the Tsar to stop six executions. Here’s the backstory…

CZAR’S ASSASSINATION, 1881.
The assassination of Czar Alexander II at the Catherine Canal in St. Petersburg, 13 March 1881: contemporary wood engraving.

5.2 Letter #257; To the Emperor Alexander III, 8-15 March 1881

Tolstoy’s letter to Emperor Alexander III demonstrates the scope of Tolstoy’s Sermon on the Mount application extended to the furtherest point of application; that the Sermon on the Mount is best course for Tsars and nation-states also. In his letter to Alexander III appealing for mercy on behalf of the soon to be executed assassins of the Tsar’s father Alexander II, Tolstoy pens with passion and prophetic clarity a letter quite comparable to Martin Luther King Jr’s famous and widely-circulated Letter from a Birmingham Jail (King’s 1963 open letter written to fellow clergymen to defend his strategy of nonviolent resistance in the fight against racism). Alternatively it could be seen as Tolstoy’s Philemon in that as the Apostle Paul penned a mercy plea for Onesimus the runaway slave, Tolstoy penned a mercy plea for the doctrine of Jesus to be applied to matters of civil, criminal and social justice. Tolstoy’s letter to the Tsar has had virtually no circulation and consideration by Christians or people in government. This must change so a new generation can consider his prophetic epistle.
On the first of March 1881 in Petersburg, six members of the revolutionary party, The People’s Will, assassinated Tsar Alexander II. A little white package wrapped in a handkerchief was tossed on his carriage and exploded. He survived that initial explosion and emerged from the carriage unharmed, however the team of assassins had a second and third bomb ready and it was the second explosion that took down the Tsar. With his face mutilated, disemboweled and with his legs blown away, members of the Romanov family and a physician rushed to the scene. Lying in the snow, the Tsar bled to death shortly after being given Communion and Last Rites. The reaction to the assassination was violent on both sides. The new Tsar Alexander III, having witnessed his father’s gory demise, immediately ordered the suppression of civil liberties in Russia and a mean wave of police brutality ensued. Revolutionaries and anarchists took “their inspiration from the murder of Czar Alexander II in 1881, advocated ‘propaganda by deed’—the use of a spectacular act of violence to incite revolution.”
During the trial and execution preparations to come, as violence was begetting more violence, Tolstoy had another one of his prophetic dreams; “he lay down in his study one day after dinner, fell asleep and dreamed vividly that he was both the executioner and the victim in the punishment of the assassins.” Upon waking from this dream Tolstoy wrote his letter to Alexander III asking for mercy for those who killed the Tsar’s father. Initially the letter was blocked by Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev, the Orthodox Church official and advisor in the Emperor’s court. Through an emissary, Tolstoy redirected the letter around the hostile and bloodthirsty church official to get it into the hands of the Tsar. After reading the letter, the Tsar sent an informal reply to Tolstoy to convey that because the criminal act was not against himself but against his father, he felt it was not in his right to pardon them.
Thirty-four days after the assassination, the assassins, one of whom was a General’s daughter, were executed. Unlike Tolstoy’s Letter to a Hindoo which was warmly welcomed in India and, through Gandhi, profoundly influenced an entire nation to heed the non-violent doctrine of Jesus, Tolstoy’s letter to the Tsar, to date, has had no discernible effect or further circulation. Had Russia heeded Tolstoy’s prophetic word (the doctrine of Jesus) as did India, perhaps they also would have known a peaceful revolution and been spared the horrible bloodbath to come.
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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).

We have an execution in our city today and I made some comments on that yesterday in church and repeated them again this morning on a blog in our state. I thought I’d post them here as well.  Both Catholic Bishops in our state have issued a statement asking for a stay of execution. Here’s why I support the Governor’s decision execute Eric Roberts today. My comments are a reply to this article: Bloodlusters Justify Capital Punishment with Sloppy Relativism, Wishful Thinking.

Cory, I’ll give you some slack on this comment understanding from our previous interactions that the Bible isn’t a book you have much time for: “The only place God seems to say, “Go ahead, kill bad guys” is the Old Testament...”.

Actually, in Romans 13:1-5, it’s real clear that until Jesus returns, God has established our governing authorities as his agents, his instruments to punish the wrongdoer even to the extent of bearing the sword. That passage says the governing authorities are “God’s agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” These agents of God are deemed with the sobering responsibility of bringing justice – at least as much justice as is possible until he returns himself to right every wrong. If all that sounds harsh, consider that God ceases to be loving if he isn’t just. His love fuels his justice.

Another important text to consider on this somber day is Ecclesiastes 8:11 — “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” That is referring to how, via the passage of time (endless appeals), compassion gets displaced, it gets shifted off the victim onto the murderer and when that happens justice is lost and that is wrong. That is why I support the Governor in his decision to execute justice today.

Another thing that is clear in the Bible is the difference between the shedding of judicially innocent blood and the shedding of judicially guilty blood. One is forbidden, the other is allowed but ONLY at the hands of these governing authorities. The doctrine of bloodguilt for the shedding of judicially innocent blood is throughout both the Old and the New Testaments.

How consistent are you willing to be in your abhorrence to the shedding of blood? Should a biological human being ever be executed for the crime of it’s father?

Today is a sad day. No one should be happy. I was thankful to read yesterday that Eric Roberts was spending today fasting and the paper said that is because he is a Christian. We were praying he’d get right with God while he still had time. No one goes to hell for anything they’ve done; even murder. That place of eternal separation from God is reserved only for those who reject his Son and his offer of forgiveness. According to the paper, it looks like Eric Roberts has made peace with God and will spend eternity with him. To people who’ve spent a lifetime being good this hardly seems fair but here again, goodness isn’t the ticket to eternity in paradise with God. Jesus the ticket. This parable comes to mind: Matthew 20:1-16. Even so, Eric Roberts making peace with God does not exempt him from reaping the consequences of what he has sown on earth. Apparently his last decision accepting Christ was his best decision and the most important one.

Another thing from a theological vantage point; the Bible teaches a first and a second death. Roberts faces the first death today; some of us face it earlier than others and for various reasons that relate to our own doing or due to unfortunate circumstances beyond our control. The second death, it appears, is not something Roberts will face as Jesus took that penalty for him. So today, we can thank God for that and should all reflect on our own standing before God.

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