Replying to Gossenius. In line with the comments from A Waco Farmer, it appears to me that it is a reach to interpret the story of Jesus and the Woman Taken in Adultery to signify Jesus’ absolute condemnation of capital punishment. First, note that Jesus' affect is not at all what one would expect if he were indeed making a categorical command. He is neither active (cf. driving the money changers from the Temple) nor angry (cf. “Woe unto you . . . hypocrites”). Second, note that there is no explicit teaching statement attached condemning the death penalty per se. (cf. “You have heard it said, but I say unto you . . .; “But in the kingdom . . .”). Third, the case itself is said to be a trap laid for Jesus (“to test him . . .”) with only one of the two guilty parties brought to him. Any new interpretation of a biblical story must bear a heavy burden of proof. I am not yet convinced.

In addition, Paul will not go away. Specifically Romans 13:1-7 gives the state the sword, the right from God to take human life. It seems to me that with his explanation of John 8:1-11, Gossenius has only two options with regard to Romans 13: either throw out Paul’s teaching here; or, take the Anabaptist option and forbid Christians to participate in government and public justice.
The Bosque Boys are blessed with a host of brilliant friends, one of whom is a noted legal scholar, who happens currently to be investigating the problem of capital punishment and Christianity. In response to an Okie Gardener's "Zacarias Moussaoui, the Death Penalty, and Christianity," I asked "Gossenius" to provide a concise contrasting perspective. Many thanks for this contribution:

Christ and the Death Penalty

In attempting to reconcile the Christian faith with support for the death penalty, the Okie Gardener asserts that he “needs a New Testament warrant, explicit or implicit, to dismiss an Old Testament command.” I certainly agree with that. What I think the Okie fails to consider is that Jesus explicitly condemned the death penalty.

In John 8, Jesus is asked to opine on a lawful execution which is about to occur. There is no suggestion that the defendant was innocent, or that the crime was minor by the standards of that day. Contrary to the Okie’s position, Jesus did not shrug his shoulders, summarily conclude that the death penalty is necessary, and walk away.

Rather, he challenged the gathered crowd: That a person without sin should cast the first stone of the stoning. Famously, no one does. They do not have the moral authority to execute another person, even when the law of man calls for it. Could his teaching be any clearer? Jesus came upon the death penalty, about to be conducted, and stops it. Imagine if he had come upon an abortion about to be committed and condemned it. Wouldn’t that be our first argument in fighting against abortions? Why should we draw a different lesson regarding his direct condemnation of capital punishment?

Of course, there is also the fact that the execution of a convicted criminal is at the very center of our faith—the execution of Christ himself. Can we truly reflect on that killing of the truest of innocents and support the death penalty, a punishment which threatens (and has inflicted) death on those who were innocent of the crime?

Oddly, once Okie dismisses the gospels as a basis of authority, he justifies the death penalty by saying that “a dead murderer cannot kill anyone else.” Zacarias Moussaoui won’t have that opportunity, either, living out his days in the Supermax prison.

But what of general deterrence—the theory that the bare fact there is a death penalty deters some who would kill from doing so. As Albert Camus observed nearly 50 years ago, if we really believed in this, we “would exhibit the heads. Society would give executions the benefit of the publicity it generally uses for national bond issues or new brands of drinks.” Even if executions were public, would they deter murder? Consider this: In early 20th-century England, where public executions were common, 170 of 250 condemned convicts had, prior to their crime, actually witnessed an execution. Some deterrent.

Camus was wise, but he does not settle my mind on the issue, for Camus is not at the center of my faith. Christ is, and his direct condemnation of the death penalty is plenty good enough for me.

--- Gossenius
As almost all readers of this blog know by now, Zacarias Moussaoui has been sentenced to life in prison, probably in a Federal “supermax.” Do I think this was a good sentence? No. On the one hand, imprisonment probably will be hard on the fanatic would-be martyr who believes he has a divinely-ordained role in history. By the 3,000th morning in his concrete cell he may begin to wonder how his life fits into “Allah’s” plan. On the other hand, the punishment does not seem commensurate with the crime, he will be a constant threat to prison guards and staff—he still wants to kill infidels, he will try to spread his religion of hate, and I await the day when terrorists seize hostages demanding his release. I think he should be executed.

So how do I reconcile my affirmation of the necessity of capital punishment with my status as a Christian? Neither easily nor comfortably. Taking a human life is a momentous, tragic action. And I have helped do it many times. So probably have you. Whenever the Federal or state government of which I am a part (“We the people . . .”), to which I pay taxes thereby enabling its actions, whose services I use including police protection, and whose legitimacy I affirm each time I vote, takes a human life I am involved. I can be involved and support executions, or I can perhaps minimize my involvement by protesting executions and moving to a state without capital punishment. We all of us are involved already (unless maybe you are in prison for nonpayment of taxes and have renounced your citizenship)

So how do I reconcile my affirmation of the necessity of capital punishment with my status as a Christian?

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