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Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Execution of Saddam

Most of you have seen video clips and photos of the hanging of Saddam Hussein. The death penalty is a controversial subject in this country. Most of Europe has eradicated it entirely. I know that the Vatican has condemned Saddam's execution though I have not yet read the reports.

Romans 13 is the traditional biblical text supporting the death penalty. God has established government to oversee law and order in a society. From my brief review of the Roman Catholic Catechism, the Church of Rome recognizes this God-given role of government but states that the imposition of the death penalty should be exceedingly rare.

Is it right to take the life of a mass murderer? Yes, it is. But it does not work as a deterrent. That's probably true although I don't know how anyone could know that for sure. But I don't support the death penalty because I think it will deter other criminals. But shouldn't we focus on rehabilitation? That's a great idea. But the fundamental role of government is to make and enforce laws, to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty. Punish.

Some crimes, such as mass murder, are so repugnant and reveal a character so corrupt that the only just response is to resort to capital punishment.

What about forgiveness? There are two realms. The realm of grace, the church. And the realm of law, the state. God is the ruler in both. But he works through them very differently. It is given to the church to preach the gospel and to absolve penitents. That is not and must not be given to the state. That's why we don't ask our governors to be evangelists or missionaries. And that is why judges should not absolve murderers, robbers, rapists, child pornographers, embezzlers, etc.

The state is to raise armies, enforce laws and punish wrongdoers. That is not given to the church. So the church must not imprison people, raise armies, or burn people at the stake.

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Rob said...

Shouldn't agents of the state who are Christian be expected to act according to Christian principles?

Or are you saying that, in public service, people have to check their religion at the door to political office?

The Vatican's point is that, in extreme circumstances, when the State is so weak that the death penalty is the best of all the bad options, it can be exercised. A modern, healthy society has no need of the death penalty and instead should ensure the criminal is imprisoned for life where he can cause no further harm to self or others and there is always the chance that said person might repent and seek forgiveness from God.

In 1982, who was supporting Saddam's regime? Who gave him the technology to kill those he was convicted of murdering? Who was willing to accept his atrocities because he was an ally against the Iranians?

If Saddam deserved to be executed, what does that say about those who supported him -- and also trained Osama Bin Laden and others who would eventually form Al Qaeda? Check out the second picture on this page.

Percival said...

If it's right to take the life of a mass murderer how do we define a mass murderer?

I would say a mass murderer is a leader responsible for the deaths of large numbers of innocent people. Does that sound right?

I'd hesitate to say it's ok to take the life of a mass murderer. George Bush may have invaded a country on lies and pretexts and caused a civil war and created growing mass murder and mayhem that's now rivaling what Saddam did.

But he did it in good Christian faith, guided by God, and it would be wrong for us to execute him.

It was God's will that George Bush lead us into the doctrine of "preemptive war" and there is a mysterious plan in apparent folly.
For as the good book says, wisdom is foolishness and foolishness is wisdom. It's a very post modernist outlook, really. We should always be guided by the bible at its best, i.e., the parts we personally like to quote while leaving out other parts.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Do I think government should follow Christian principles. Yes, of course. That's what I said. Justice is a Christian principle. Punishing evil is a Christian principle. And according to Romans 13, punishing evildoers is the God-given role of government.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Someone asked why I don't necessarily respond to every comment. Three reasons:

1) I don't have time.

2) I'm stumped and don't have a good response.

3) Or I don't consider the comment worthy of a response.

It could be any or all of the above.

Rob said...

My point is that while a Christian might be required to punish an evildoer, that punishment does not require the death penalty.

organshoes said...

Such certitude against the death penalty, especially by Christians, and taken as a Christian position, strikes me as sanctimonious tool instead of a religious tenet. It's driven not by faith at all, I suspect, but in personal smugness.
It doesn't hope to render any satisfaction to any human being--no victim and no blood-thirsty bystander is meant to benefit from a criminal's death. It's justice that benefits, that some crimes are held in such contempt that only the perpetrator's death can begin to satisfy justice itself. If there is to be such a real thing as justice, that is, in a real, really sinful world.
It's not just a concept, that men are to live in harmony and evil can be punished in real-time; it's a reality. What can be more real, than a murderer dying for his egregious breach of that harmony?

Carl Vehse said...

If it's right to take the life of a mass murderer how do we define a mass murderer?

How about those who authorize, conduct, aid, and abet the murders of 40 million people within their own country, and some by the most gruesome means of tearing their bodies apart or sucking out their brains?

That is what elected and appointed government officials have done in the continued legalization of abortion on demand.

One of these days the American people through the justice system, trials, and juries, will have the duty to convict and sentence those people still alive to be executed for their crimes.

It is a future I hope members of the demonrat party ponder at night in sweat-drenched terror.

Darrell said...

Hi, Pastor Scott.

If I understand it correctly, the passage in the Catechism basically means that anyone who kills another person while defending himself/herself/others from that person isn't guilty of the same kind of sin that a blatant murderer commits. I think that it can be said that the passage in the Catechism sees reasons for the death penalty in the rarest of cases, but I don't think that's the primary aim of that passage.

Your entry about Saddam gave me a lot to think about, although I do see it differently. Today at work I wrote a piece about the hanging from another point of view, and I just finished typing it and posting it. It's here, if you care to read it and/or comment.

Here's wishing you and the family the best in the new year!

Kelly Klages said...

It seems a little disconnected to say, on the one hand, that the government should treat (say) mass murderers with all the love and Christian charity that the Bible commands towards our enemies therefore not exposing them to the death penalty. Because on the other hand, I hear those same Christians, opposing the death penalty for this reason, suggesting that the torture of a slow, painful death rotting in prison is preferable, and we should not be so kind as to put them out of their misery. How is this attitude justified on the argument of "Christian principles" and a spirit of non-vengefulness?

Government authority is not a matter of revenge, but justice. Revenge is a personal thing. I do not have the right to go out and hunt down someone who murdered my loved one, and kill them. But the government does bear the sword. Likewise, some Christians have the vocation of government official, or soldier, or the like. Theologically I would say that a soldier is not committing vengeful murder when he carries out his vocation properly, even if it means the death of his nation's enemies. Pacifist Christian groups, such as Mennonites, would disagree. Some say that if you yourself are not willing to throw the switch, you should never approve of the death penalty under any circumstances. The problem is, it is not your vocation or mine TO throw the switch. It is not a man's vocation to give birth to children, but that hardly means he should therefore oppose childbirth on the principle that it's painful and a job exclusive to women.

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

I find that the biblical doctrine of the two realms (or two kingdom theory) really does answer most of these questions. So much of the confusion today is because of a lack of understanding of this important doctrine.

Individuals do not have the right to wage wars, imprison people, or execute criminals. But the state does have that God-given authority. When St. Paul talks about the government having a sword with which to punish evildoers, he meant the government has been given jurisdiction by God, to act as His agent, to punish, even to the point of killing (which is what one generally does with a sword.)

Bob Waters said...

I'm amazed by the bad logic in the comments above. That the U.S. supported Saddam at one point against Iran hardly makes the U.S. as responsible for Saddam's crimes as Saddam himself, and the Vatican's point is simply ill-taken. The comments about Osama are similarly illogical.

The ultimate penalty being imposed for the ultimate crime is hardly contrary to historic Christianity, and is in fact endorsed explicitly by both testaments of the Bible.

The point is not that people should leave their consciences behind when the enter the public arena. Far from it. It is rather that God has given the government the authority to execute murderers (see Romans 13).

The comments about George W. Bush's opposition to Saddam's tyranny are simply more of the transparent raving that we have become all too familiar with from the haters during these past six years. The saliva drips from the post so wetly that no further response is really needed.

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