Sunday, July 27, 2014

Of executions and of Christians

If John McCain says it, he probably knows it when he sees it, at least in this case:

"I believe in the death penalty for certain crimes. But that is not an acceptable way of carrying it out. And people who were responsible should be held responsible," he told Politico. "The lethal injection needs to be an indeed lethal injection and not the bollocks-upped situation that just prevailed. That’s torture."

On Arizona's brutally fouled up execution last week. TPM

Let's hope this latest "botched" killing moves us closer to ceasing to seek justice through more killing.

That horror aside, it wasn't a good week for the death penalty. A federal judge, appointed by George W. Bush no less, declared California's dysfunctional death sentences unconstitutional.

The state has placed hundreds of people on death row, but has not executed a prisoner since 2006. The result, wrote Judge Cormac J. Carney of United States District Court, is a sentence that “no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death.”

That sense of uncertainty and delay, he wrote, “violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.”

Let's hope this holds up. Will state Attorney General Kamala Harris, a death penalty opponent, appeal this ruling? So far she's not saying.

Longtime Sacramento political pundit Dan Walters has suggested that the California death penalty is "dying of old age," just like more sentenced inmates than are ever close to being killed by the state.

Clearly, polls show, support for capital punishment has waned. A 2012 ballot measure to abolish it failed, but very narrowly, and afterward, [Governor Jerry] Brown said he had voted for it.

Brown and a liberal Legislature would not counter Carney’s ruling by speeding up executions, and a ballot measure to do it probably would fail.

I certainly hope he is right.

With all this good news, it seems a little churlish to take issue with some of the coverage of Judge Carney's decision, but I feel I have to. In the "Christian" section of the Examiner, MJ Kasprzak includes this odd sentence:

There are several compelling reasons ... that this ruling by a George W. Bush-appointed judge should be lauded by more than just anti-capital punishment advocates among Californians or even just Catholics among Christians.

My emphasis. Apparently Mr. Kasprzak is unaware that most mainline Protestant denominations have been advocating an end to the death penalty for a generation or more. That includes United Methodists -- the largest of these churches -- also the Presbyterians, the Evangelical Lutherans, the Episcopalians, and the United Church of Christ. Southern Baptists support the death penalty, but American Baptists do not. Now maybe the people in the pews aren't all ardent evangelists for their denomination's position, but then again, neither are many Catholics. But unless you use a cramped definition, most U.S. Christians belong to churches that oppose the death penalty.

Approximately 78 percent of U.S. residents are Christians according to the Pew Forum. Catholics -- whose church authorities strongly oppose capital punishment -- make up nearly 24 percent of us. Mainline Protestants (largely abolitionist about the death penalty) are another 18 percent. Black Protestants who are often (though not always) highly suspicious of racial bias in capital sentencing are another nearly 7 percent. It's true that the 26.3 percent of us who are Evangelicals belong to churches that are more likely to support the death penalty. But the preponderance of us who are Christians very likely belong to religious bodies that have discerned that putting offenders to death violates our moral commitments.

Mr. Kasprzak is erasing an awful lot of Christians from his coverage.

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