taking the words of Jesus seriously

Yesterday, I stumbled across an Op-Ed piece on CNN’s blog.

Unsurprisingly, it was written about the recent controversial execution by lethal injection Tuesday in Oklahoma – a ‘botched execution’ that went so wrong the same news agency wrote previously that ‘it will also prompt many Americans across the country to rethink the wisdom, and the morality, of capital punishment.’

As it well should.

Enter Al Mohler’s Op-Ed piece yesterday.

Much to my dismay, the title of the article written by the widely respected President of the flagship school for the largest Protestant denomination in our country (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) with 16.2 million members was this ::

Why Christians should support the death penalty

How have we gotten the message of Jesus so damned wrong?

One way I believe we might’ve taken a wrong turn or two in following the Way of Jesus is by not heeding his own teachings and example. In the article, Mohler quotes passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 9) and even dabbles a bit into the writings of Paul (Romans 13). But he curiously ignores the red letters of the gospels which could shed a little light on what a Christian (i.e., a follower of Jesus Christ) should or should not support.

Related: My Trip to Death Row

Regarding retribution, Jesus teaches ::

‘You’ve heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you…’ 

Additionally, we do actually have an example of Jesus being confronted by the religious leaders of his day – the teachers and scribes of the Law – in the middle of his sermon in the synagogue.

In the oh-so-well known and yet curiously ignored passage of the 8th chapter of John, Jesus is faced with what the Law says that the woman caught in the act of adultery needs to be stoned and is guilty of death and yet he elevates the conversation to the point of saving her life.

In fact, as you look carefully at the text it becomes clear that Jesus not only risked his reputation to save this woman of ill-repute, but also risked his very life in standing (or in this case,  stooping) in solidarity with her while saying the phrase,

‘you who is without sin, cast the first stone.’

In his very proximity to the woman who had been caught red-handed (so there was no room for doubt of her guilt) he put himself at risk to be killed as he stepped in to spare her life.

That’s what Jesus would do. We know this, because it’s what he did.

As others have written here at RLC,  we live in a society where both literally and figuratively (read :: spiritually) everyone is a law-breaker. Yet the continued misguided and misappropriated punishment of the death penalty continues and the debate rages on, as folks attempt to determine whether or not it is appropriate to take the life of another.

As Mohler claims in his article,

‘Christian thinking about the death penalty must begin with the fact that the Bible envisions a society in which capital punishment for murder is sometimes necessary, but should be exceedingly rare…’

and later,

‘In a world of violence, the death penalty is understood as a necessary firewall against the spread of further deadly violence.’

Finally, and in his concluding sentence, Mohler writes,

‘God affirmed the death penalty for murder as he made his affirmation of human dignity clear to Noah. Our job is to make it clear to our neighbors.’

Actually, on this one, Mohler is terribly misguided.

How can I make such a strong statement? Because both Al and I consider ourselves Christ-followers, and Jesus makes our job in regard to our neighbors clear – we are to love them. This is, in fact, what Christ claims is the way to salvation and an abundant life.

Also by Michael: Gag Me

We can do all sorts of theological and mental gymnastics in an attempt to reconcile the journey of the people of God as recorded in the Scriptures with our rules and regulations as 21st century Americans in regard to the death penalty.

But to claim a Christian response without acknowledging the teachings of the One we claim to follow seems to me to be an adventure in missing the point.




About The Author

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Michael Kimpan is an organizer with OPEN networks, bringing together progressive evangelical and non- denominational churches, organizations and individuals to connect with, resource, and learn from one another in expressing a just and generous evangelical expression of faith in the United States. Michael has worked around the country helping individuals and institutions think critically about matters of faith and culture. He blogs regularly on cultural and theological issues from a Christ-centered perspective in an ongoing effort to create thoughtful conversation and intentional movement toward reconciliation.

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