Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Reactions of Some to Execution of Williams Disturbing

Stanley Tookie Williams was a deadly killer who, in spite of books and statements condemning gangs, never repented for the four brutal murders he committed and refused to cooperate with authorities wanting to bring his gang, the Crips, to justice.

But unlike some commenters this morning, I can derive no glee from his execution.

I have no desire to debate the issue of capital punishment here. Once upon a time, I was utterly opposed to it. Today, I would describe my attitude as ambivalent about it. I recognize that there may be some whose crimes are so heinous and who are so remorseless, that the state is within its right to take their lives. Stanley Tookie Williams seems to have been one of those people.

I have no argument with the prosecutors, jury, appeal judges, or Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the decisions they've made. They did their duties as they saw fit and seemed to do so with appropriate gravity.

But I describe myself as being pro-life. I'm not using that term politically here. (Although when I ran for the Ohio House of Representatives last year, I did have the endorsement of all the right-to-life groups.) I mean to say that life is a gift from God. I mean to say that the taking of another life is a gravely serious matter.

I can think of situations when the taking of life is unavoidable--an intruder threatens a loved one, or an attacker kills many in an act of war, just to name two examples. But as a Christian, I have a bias for the protection, the preservation, and the nurturing of every human life.

This is why I've found the past several weeks' almost gleeful pleading for Williams' execution by people who describe themselves as pro-life so disturbing.

And I find it difficult to understand the near-celebratory attitudes of some of these same people in speaking of his execution early this morning.

It seems to me that it's one thing to advocate capital punishment, and a legitimate thing, but quite another to appear to enjoy it when it's used.

This is no time for glee, but a time for everybody, no matter what their feelings about capital punishment or about Stanley Tookie Williams, to pray that the glorification of violence endemic to our culture these days will be destroyed by the power of the God of peace Who came to us on a Bethlehem night long ago.

It's only the God-Man Jesus Christ Who can transform hearts darkened by sin and give us all such an appreciation for the humanity of others that murder will become unthinkable and capital punishment rendered unnecessary.

Of course, it would be naive to think that violence or murder will cease to be part of the human experience. The last people to succumb to such naivete should be believers in the God of the Bible. After the first human parents, Adam and Eve, fell into sin, one consequence was that one of their sons, Cain, murdered another, Abel. The condition of human sin, that state of alienation from God and neighbor, into which we all are born, means that, until Jesus returns to the earth, there will be other Cains...and other Stanley Tookie Williamses.

But I have seen much evidence that when Jesus Christ enters the lives of once-violent people, transformations begin to happen. So, as a Christian, I intend to do three essential things following Williams' execution:
  • I intend to keep praying that God will open the wills of those hardened by sin and to send the Prince of peace to them in ways of God's choosing in order to begin softening them.
  • I intend to ask God, as Jesus commands, to send "workers into the harvest," that is, people who will share Christ with those whose lives are ripe for living with God.
  • I intend to try, in my imperfect and sin-infested way, to share Christ with others.

9 comments:

reader_iam said...

I actually came over here to e-mail about something, but instead ended up reading this.

Powerful post, Mark; I too am ambivalent, and have found some of the rhetoric, on blogs and elsewhere, very upsetting.

Think I'll just go back to my place and link ...

Charlie said...

Thanks for this, Mark. Christians disagree about the death penalty, but I think a biblical view of the sacredness of life should cause all of us to feel grief and sadness when someone is executed, even if we believe that it has balanced the scales of justice.

Pastor_Jeff said...

Mark,

Thanks for your as-usual thoughtful relfections. While I agree with the death penalty, I do so with regret and longing for the return of Christ.

Williams' death should serve as a reminder of our universal guilt and need for a Savior. "Today is the day of salvation." And it should renew our gratitude for God's grace to us in Christ. My sins deserve punishment. Thank God that Jesus took it for me so that I might live.

Linked to and commented on here.

Julana said...

I am absolutely opposed to the death penalty. Even those who accept it in theory should find the unjustness with which it is practiced in this country intolerable.

Mark Daniels said...

Thanks to all for your comments. I think that the diversity seen in just the four that have been posted here indicates that even within the Christian community, there are varied and nuanced positions on the issue of capital punishment. (These varied reactions to this issue also demonstrate the folly and hubris of any Christian leader presuming to say of his or her preferred political positions, "Thus saith the Lord.")

But I think that all five of us would agree that every execution represents a series of failures, the reversal of any one of which, in retrospect we see, might have allowed for a different outcome.

Thank you so much for your interesting comments. Reader and Jeff, thanks for the links on your sites.

God bless.

Mark

ME Strauss said...

Hi Mark,
The comfort I find inside your writing is that you have the stregth to be gentle--humanity. You see the world through a prismatic lens that doesn't let you look without losing sight of yourself. Amen.

My heart hurts that we can so quickly clean others' houses without noticing the mess within our own. It aches that so many questions get answered black or white, when love would not choose either and forgiveness would say this must be done, but not with glee.

How can one human, any human, take pleasure in the downfall of another? We are all of the same stuff--If I can feel the hurt, why can't they? I could never let a murderer go free, but take joy in his punishment--whatever that might be? No. I can't get there.
I fear those who do and then call themselves loving people. What will they find wrong with me?
Liz

Thank you Mark, I know you've read enough of what I write to understand of what I speak.

Horace Finkle said...

Hey, I like your blog! Definitely worth a bookmark!

If you want a really good laugh, visit www.horacefinkle.blogspot.com - People these days just don't get to laugh enough, and here's my remedy!

Clarke said...

Interesting post. I'd have to say I fall on the anti-death penalty side of the fence. Though, it would be tough to say how I'd feel if a loved one was killed by someone unrepentent about it.

I would agree with you that the glee some show for an execution is quite troubling, especially if they are Christians. Not unlike the Christians and the Romans in another time, with the roles reversed....

Mark Daniels said...

Liz:
I really thank you for the kind comments about my posts. Some of the time I even live up to the high ideals I express here.

It's so considerate of you to take the time to express your views on this subject, Liz. I love your writing and visitors here ought to click on your name and take a look at what you have to say over on your blog!

Horace:
Thanks also for your kind words. I will definitely have to check out your site. Thanks for the bookmark!

Clarke:
The death penalty thing is a daunting subject. But we would be terribly remiss if we didn't wrestle in dealing with such a big subject. Thanks for your comments.

Mark