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Opponents Hope Book Can Help End Death Penalty

posted by nsymmonds

NEW YORK (RNS) Religious opponents of the death penalty hope a new book about a Texas death row case by a best-selling author can help their efforts to end the practice of state-sanctioned executions.
Thomas Cahill’s just-published book, “A Saint on Death Row,”
chronicles the life of Dominique Green, who at the age of 30 was executed by lethal injection in 2004 for his role in a robbery that resulted in one man’s death. Though the victim’s family asked that Green’s life be spared, the execution went ahead anyway.
“Dominique Green’s was one of the many needless Texas executions,” said Cahill, the author of such best-selling books as “How the Irish Saved Civilization” and “The Gifts of the Jews.”
Among those championing the case of Green, who underwent what has been described as a sincere embrace of the principles of non-violence, was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Tutu, long a proponent of non-violence and forgiveness, became a hero to Green and visited the young man while Green was on death row.
At a March 11 appearance with Cahill at New York’s Riverside Church, Tutu upbraided the United States for its continued practice of the death penalty. The South African cleric noted that the United States, were it a European country, could not join the European Union because the EU bars membership to nations that condone the death penalty.
“Why do you do this?” Tutu said. “What are you doing to yourselves, you wonderful, generous people? You are brutalizing yourselves. … It is making you an obscene nation.”
David Atwood, the founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told the Riverside audience that he and other death penalty opponents in Texas, many acting out of religious convictions, realize they are fighting an entrenched “system of death,” but remain hopeful that ultimately the death penalty will end in Texas.
Texas leads the nation in the number of executions; Atwood said 435 have been carried out in the state since 1982. Twelve have been carried out this year, with the latest occurring the very day Cahill and Tutu spoke at Riverside.
By Chris Herlinger
Religion News Service
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.



  • Dudley Sharp

    Rev. Tutu:
    Let’s look at some of the people from the European Union.
    This, from the French daily Le Monde, December 2006 (1):
    Percentage of respondents in favor of executing Saddam Hussein:
    Great Britain: 69%
    France: 58%
    Germany: 53%
    Spain: 51%
    Italy: 46%
    (USA: 82%)
    We are led to believe there isn’t death penalty support in England or Europe. European governments won’t allow executions when their populations support it: they’re anti democratic. (2)
    South Africa:
    “(Pres. Mandela says ‘no’ to reinstating the death penalty in South Africa – Nelson Mandela against death penalty though 93% of public favors it, according to poll. “(JET, 10/14/96). Pres. Mandela explained that “. . . it was necessary to inform the people about other strategies the government was using to combat crime.” As if the people didn’t understand. South Africa has had some of the highest crime rates in the world in the ten years, since Mandela’s comments. “The number of murders committed each year in the country is as high as 47,000, according to Interpol statistics.”
    As of 2006, 72% of South Africans want the death penalty back. (“South Africans Support Death Penalty”, 5/14/2006, Angus Reid Global Monitor : Polls & Research).
    Two-thirds of Czechs for death penalty reintroduction – poll
    Prague- Almost two-thirds of Czechs believe that death penalty should exist in the Czech Republic, while one-third believes the opposite, according to a poll the CVVM agency conducted in May and released. June 12, 2008, Ceskenoviny.cz/news/
    97%+ of Guatemalans support the death penalty. 2.6% oppose
    (telephone survey, newspaper Prensa Libre, 2/14/08)
    www(dot)latinamericapress.org/article.asp?lanCode=1&artCode=5545
    79% support the resumption of hanging in Jamaica. 16% oppose. (Bill Johnson Polling for The Gleaner (Jamaica) Newspaper, 1/12-13/08
    (1) The recent results of a poll conducted by Novatris/Harris for the French daily Le Monde on the death penalty shocked the editors and writers at Germany’s left-leaning SPIEGEL ONLINE (Dec. 22, 2006). When asked whether they favored the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, a majority of respondents in Germany, France and Spain responded in the affirmative.
    (2)An excellent article, “Death in Venice: Europe’s Death-penalty Elitism”, details this anti democratic position (The New Republic, by Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/31/2000).

  • Dudley Sharp

    Qhaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey:
    Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer:
    “. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” (p. 116).
    ” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none.”
    “It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” (p. 111-113)”
    synopsis of “A Bible Study”.from Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992. Dr. Carey was a Professor of Bible and past President of George Fox College.

  • Dudley SHarp

    An obscene nation, Rev. Tutu?
    What do you think of these?
    God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother must certainly be put to death.’ Mathew 15:4
    Jesus stated: “You have heard the ancients were told, ˜YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court”. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, “Raca”, shall be guilty before the supreme court and whoever shall say, “You fool”, shall be guilty enough to go into fiery hell.” Matthew 5:17-22.
    The Holy Spirit: God, through the power and justice of the Holy Spirit, executed both Ananias and his wife, Saphira. Their crime? Lying to the Holy Spirit – to God – through Peter. Acts 5:1-11.
    Saint Paul, in his hearing before Festus, states: “if then I am a wrong doer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die.” Acts 25:11.
    St. Thomas Aquinas finds all biblical interpretations against executions “frivolous”, citing Exodus 22:18, “wrongdoers thou shalt not suffer to live”. Unequivocally, he states,” The civil rulers execute, justly and sinlessly, pestiferous men in order to protect the peace of the state.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 146
    St. Thomas Aquinas: “The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers.” Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.
    Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. In addition to the required punishment for murder and the deterrence standards, both Saints find that executing murderers is also an act of charity and mercy. Saint Augustine confirms that ” . . . inflicting capital punishment . . . protects those who are undergoing capital punishment from the harm they may suffer . . . through increased sinning which might continue if their life went on.” (On the Lord’s Sermon, 1.20.63-64.)
    Saint Thomas Aquinas finds that ” . . . the death inflicted by the judge profits the sinner, if he be converted, unto the expiation of his crime; and, if he be not converted, it profits so as to put an end to the sin, because the sinner is thus deprived of the power to sin anymore.” (Summa Theologica, II-II, 25, 6 ad 2.)
    St. Thomas Aquinas: “If a man is a danger to the community, threatening it with disintegration by some wrongdoing of his, then his execution for the healing and preservation of the common good is to be commended. Only the public authority, not private persons, may licitly execute malefactors by public judgement. Men shall be sentenced to death for crimes of irreparable harm or which are particularly perverted.” Summa Theologica, 11; 65-2; 66-6.
    “St. Thomas Aquinas quotes a gloss of St. Jerome on Matthew 27: “As Christ became accursed of the cross for us, for our salvation He was crucified as a guilty one among the guilty.” As Prof. Michael Pakaluk writes: “If no crime deserves the death penalty, then it is hard to see why it was fitting that Christ be put to death for our sins and crucified among thieves.” ” That Christ be put to death as a guilty person, presupposes that death is a fitting punishment for those who are guilty.” The Death Penalty: An Opposing Viewpoints Series Book, Greenhaven Press, (hereafter TDP:OVS), 1991
    Saint (& Pope) Pius V, “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).
    Pope Pius XII: “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52.
    St. Augustine: “The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, for the representative of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to the Law or the rule of rational justice.” The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 21
    Christians who speak out against capital punishment in deserving cases ” . . . tend to subordinate the justice of God to the love of God. . . . Peter, by cutting off Malchu’s ear,. . . was most likely trying to kill the soldier (John 18:10)”, prompting ” . . . Christ’s statement that those who kill by the sword are subject to die by the sword (Matthew 26:51-52).” This ” implicitly recognizes the government’s right to exercise the death penalty.” Dr. Carl F.H.Henry, “A Matter of Life and Death”, p 52 Christianity Today, 8/4/95.

  • Mordred08

    Sadly, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Sharp. There are plenty of times that the bible condones killing. That’s one of the reasons I tend not to rely on it for moral guidance.
    “Percentage of respondents in favor of executing Saddam Hussein:
    Great Britain: 69%
    France: 58%
    Germany: 53%
    Spain: 51%
    Italy: 46%
    (USA: 82%)
    We are led to believe there isn’t death penalty support in England or Europe. European governments won’t allow executions when their populations support it: they’re anti democratic.”
    Which illustrates the problem with democracy: “popular” becomes synonymous with “right”.

  • jestrfyl

    The Bible is a large book representing a minimum of 600 years and a maximum of 12oo years of human development. God in the Torah is different than God in Samuel & Kings is duifferent than God in Daniel. And by the time of the Epistles and Gospels, God is different again. Although I am fascinated by who humanity was and how they understood and related to God, and I more interested in who we are now, and how we relate to god tomorrow and beyond. Just because it was done one way or another is no more mature an argument than a kid telling their parents that “xxx does it and their parents let them”.
    Sanctioning the death penalty as a nation and a culture is our own condemnation. It is sanctioned murder that does nothing to prevent further killings and heinous crimes. We clearly are not all that careful about it either. It is a sad judgment against us.

  • Mordred08

    Dudley SHarp, I must admit I’m impressed that someone with a “Dr.” in front of his name managed to interpret “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword” as “Jesus said it’s ok for the government to kill people”, seeing as the man “living by the sword” was protecting JESUS CHRIST from being killed by the government.

  • nnmns

    I’m not familiar with Mr. Green’s case but his conversion to non-violence (or Buddhism or Christianity or ???) should not affect whether the sentence is carried out.
    I have no doubt Nobel Laureate Tutu’s feelings about the US are sincere. We are among a very small number of first world countries still using it. One list makes that group to be Singapore, Japan and the US. The list of executions, most to least, given in the Wikipedia article on the death penalty lists the probable order as China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, USA, Iraq, … . That’s not a morally exalted group.
    The advantages of it I see are that it gives a feeling of revenge and it insures a person won’t be released or escape.
    The disadvantages I see are that innocent people get executed, poor people get executed but rich people committing similar crimes don’t (and that’s probably true for majority/minority as well), it clearly doesn’t stop people from committing heinous crimes and it may not even slow them down. It’s apparently more expensive than life in prison. And revenge is not one of our finer emotions, in fact carried to its extreme there’d only be one of us left. And it keeps some states in the killing business, which may influence some disturbed people to decide killing is ok.
    So, while there have been people I’ve been happy to see executed, and there’s still a list, I find myself coming down against its use.
    Now as to Mr. SHarp, I’d guess you had a loved one killed or some other heinous event that’s led you to want someone executed. If so, I’m sorry. But that doesn’t justify innocent people being killed in Texas and elsewhere when they could be left in Prison and, if later shown to be innocent, released.
    And surely the thinking of Aquinas and Augustine you mention helped lead to the Inquisitions. The farther we stay from that kind of thing, the better!

  • JBTILT

    The prisons in the United States are full of “born again” victims of misguided justice who never did a thing wrong.
    The Bishop Tutu is a wise and kindly man, but our outrage at the taking of innocent life is what prompts United States citizens to favor the death penalty and applying it to the predators that haunt our environs. The inability of any government to protect it’s citizens from the violence and bloodshed that permeate so much of the industrialized world only exacerbates the attitude. American regard for human life is the overriding reason for maintaining the death penalty in as many states as it now continues to be used in. When you say, “we must detain you and maintain your life and health for the rest of your life for this horrendous crime” we minimalize the life of every victim of murder or meyhem.

  • Dudley Sharp

    to Mordred08 – popular and right can go together, but, often, they do not.
    to jestrfyl – there are many examples of how the death penalty does preserve innocent lives. Obviously, living murderers harm and murder, again, executed ones don’t. 16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence. Not surprising, as all prospects of a negative outcome deter some. And, at least in the US, no knowledeable person questions that the death penalty process has the most thorough due process protections, which means that those sent to a life sentence are more likely to be actually innocent and are more likley to die in prison, than it is that an actual innocent will be executed.
    Yes, the bible is a big book. But I think the voices that I presented, all have a pretty good idea of what it says.

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