Sunday, December 12, 2004

Christmas... and the Death Penalty

Yesterday, we went to the Dallas Christmas Festival 2004 put on by Prestonwood Baptist Church. It was a very good performance, three hours long with professional production values throughout (great costuming, 30 piece orchestra, live animals, etc.).

Act I was series of popular Christmas songs with some fun little acts. This was my favorite section. Act II was choral music, which was fine, but I'm not a huge fan of choral stuff. It was definitely interesting to see a 300-350 person chorus at one time. Act III was a musical covering the life of Jesus Christ. Very well done given the time constraints.

The most moving scene of the entire play came when they recreated the scene from Matthew 27:15-22.
15Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. 17So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" 18For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.

19While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him."

20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21"Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor.

"Barabbas," they answered.

22"What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked.

They all answered, "Crucify him!"

23"Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!"

24When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!"

25All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!"

26Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
To help you understand why this was so moving to me, please let me explain more of the scene. The crowd was cast by their huge chorus, so there were hundreds of people chanting for the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Christ. And if you've ever stood in a crowd and watch for potential mob dynamics, it was relatively easy to see how this event could have been orchestrated for the saving of one man or the death of another.

But what really hit me, was how this mirrors the political climate I live in. Here in Texas, the death penalty is considered a good thing. Of all the prisoners executed in the U.S., my state executes about 40% of them.

In a topically related event, the Supreme Court is reviewing a case for the second time. This rare event is because the Fifth Court of Appeals did not appear to follow directions on reviewing the longstanding history of Dallas' District Attorney's active discrimination in jury selection; because jury discrimination makes it easier for the DA to get a guilty verdict and the death penalty.

I have a hard time understanding how the people of this state can be so sure of their belief in a Christian god, and so sure we should be taking the lives of other human beings.

From a religious perspective, I understand the theological position that Christ needed to die on the cross, but I cannot understand how people can hear or read about this event and then think it is okay to have public exectutions of others. If only out of sympathy for their savior, it makes sense they would want to avoid this debacle. For how is what we do today much different than a mob calling, "Crucify him. Let his blood be on us and our children."

It's time to stop this nonsense.


ABCD II said...

I didn't even read this post. I saw a reference to church and a verse from the bible and just tried to keep my wine down.

Glenn said...

Regarding ABCD:
That sounds like an open-minded response.

Regarding Death Penalty:
I do not have a moral objection to the death penalty in and of itself. I also have no objection to Texas holding such a hagh percentage of the executions in the United States. However, I have many objections to the current method of the application of the death penalty in this country.

First, I object to the variability in its application. First degree murder is first degree murder. *If* the penalty for murder is death, let that be the penalty always. Let the "extenuating circumstances" currently used to justify the death penalty be instead applied to the reduction of a sentence to life in prison. Why *shouldn't* the death penalty be applied to someone who has committed *first degree* (premeditated, planned and executed) murder?

Second, I object to our system of jury selection (as exemplified in its arbitrary application in Texas). Until our methods of jury selection change, I am not confident that we are getting folks capable of judging guilt or innocence adequately. If I do not trust the judges (the jurors) then I cannot place much trust in the sentences.

Third, I find our system of follow-through to be abyssmal. I actually commend Texas on the frequency with which it follows its sentences through to completion.

California just (recommended a sentence) of death for Scott Peterson. The judge is likely to comply. He is now the 642nd person sentenced to death in California since the Supreme Court re-permitted the penalty of death in 1974. And if they executed Scott Peterson tomorrow, he would be 11th to die. The 11th. His appeals are unliklely to begin for at least six years. An appeal generally lasts 20 years.

If we are going to have a death sentence at all, it should be carried out consistently and in a relatively timely manner. 20 years is not relatively timely. 1.7% is not consistently.

Clean up the death sentence system, or ditch it. Either course of action is fine with me. But no action is unacceptable.