Friday, February 10, 2017

I Follow an Executed Savior

This week in Mississippi, state lawmakers advanced a bill that would bring back execution by means of firing squads, gas chambers, and electric chairs in response to lawsuits claiming the inhumane nature of lethal injection is exacerbated by the illicit nature of the procurement of the drugs used in execution protocols.

Reading the stories about this bill initially, I thought it pretty standard fare for the death penalty-happy South, which has typically used capital punishment as a means to rid itself not of the worst of the worst criminals, but of violent black people while more frequently sparing the lives of its violent white people (a phenomenon that is most certainly not limited to the South--rather, quantitatively, most executions take place there, especially in Texas and Virginia).

And truthfully, the firing squad may in fact be more "humane" (air quotes very much intentional) means of execution. By this point, drug companies that want no business in state-sponsored death have refused to sell their drugs to state governments for the purposes of executions, which in turn has forced those state governments to search for alternate drugs from alternate sources, usually shady compounding pharmacies that operate on the very boundaries of DEA and FDA law--and likely sometimes over said boundaries.

Put a different way--it would be like, instead of going to a government-regulated marijuana dispensary (which I'm not condoning either) here in the Pacific Northwest, you instead went to the home of your friend's sketchy-as-balls friend who hands you a bag of something that may or may not in fact be marijuana. And then it is used by the state to kill you.

So I'm more than happy to see lethal injection go the way of the dodo. Honestly, I always saw it as a convenient sort of mask that shaded from us the true sadism of what it is we were doing, which basically entailed forcibly paralyzing a person and then inducing a massive and painful heart attack until they died. All of which they may or may not have felt--but could not register pain thanks to the paralytic--because the sleeping agent administered at the very start may or may not have actually worked. It's a lie to tell ourselves that we execute people humanely--we execute pets more humanely than we execute people.

None of which might matter to the fine folks down in Mississippi, but it sure as hell does to me, if for no other reason than I serve, follow, and worship a Savior whose execution by the state was not only unjust, but torturous as well. If there ought to be a common maxim in Christian political ethics, it must be that regardless of whether you believe in killing in self-defense or as a part of just war theory, Christians do not gratuitously kill, and certainly do not gratuitously torture.

Yet capital punishment constitutes both of those things. It is not as though methods like lethal injection have made us more humane, no, they have simply masked our sadism, and in truth, we were always that sadistic. We still are.

While the shock and awe I have seen from friends so far is the mention of methods like the gas chamber and the electric chair, what bothered me most about this entire story is a thrown-away line in the middle of the Washington Post article--the legislator sponsoring this bill is, among other things, a Baptist pastor. And this pastor-turned-lawmaker spoke of the need for justice for the parents of a daughter raped and killed twenty-five years ago.

To which I would simply say--justice has and is being served. Life imprisonment without parole is human justice, and this condemned wretch who did this still awaits God's justice. After all, it was Paul (who himself, like Jesus, was unjustly executed by the state) in Romans 12 who wrote, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'"

I want to know what this pastor-turned-lawmaker does with verses like these. I want to know what he does with the reality that he, like me, professes faith in, and allegiance to, an executed Savior.

I wear a cross around my neck for a reason--it isn't to identify me as a Christian, although it does. It is to remind me that in the inhumanity of the cross there lies my own humanity. It might well have been me crucified and hurling insults at Christ like the two who were crucified alongside Him did. Not because I would have been a violent rebel against Rome in a past life, but because Jesus wasn't a violent rebel against Rome and yet He still found himself flogged and crucified. Which means that it could just as easily have been me up that cross too.

It is, by the by, why the cross I wear is also equal-armed--an equal-armed cross, in the tradition of the Red Cross and the flag of Switzerland, represents peace. I find peace in the knowledge that I follow an executed Savior. I find peace in knowing that it was not enough simply for Christ to die and be resurrected, but that we had to kill Him and yet He was still brought back to us.

I hear similarly moving sentiments from many of my colleagues about the power of the cross, and I would well imagine that this fellow in Mississippi might say something similarly reverential about the cross as well. But it is hard for me to see how the cross has made him a better servant to his fellow children, not when he seeks still more crosses upon which to lash the bodies of the wretched.

But was not one cross enough? Did it not take one death of a single condemned man to save the world?

Why can we not leave our barbarism at that?

It is something that I continue to fail to comprehend.

Vancouver, Washington
February 10, 2017

Image of church and cross courtesy of Wikimedia


  1. I don't get it either. Not at all.

  2. As the search for drugs gets more desperate, the methods of State-sponsored killing get riskier and shadier. And we surrender more of our humanity by permitting such grossly inhumane acts. The God that I know weeps beside the gurney.